BRECKENRIDGE — It was an uncomfortable couple hours for Vail Resorts chief Rob Katz, but he persevered, even laughing for most of the time.
The annual Park City Follies show — where a troupe of locals lambasts and lampoons local leaders and issues in the Utah ski community — this year was named "An Epic Follies," after Vail's popular season pass. The highly contentious lease dispute that has Vail vying to take over Park City Mountain Resort provided rich fodder and swirled around a character playing Katz.
"Sitting in the audience for two hours where you are the primary villain was hard," said Katz, in an interview at the Mountain Travel Symposium in Breckenridge on Sunday. "Putting aside, candidly, all the strife, we are new (in Park City) and I think it's totally appropriate they take their best comedy shot at us."
Speaking publicly for one of the first times on the litigation that pits Powdr Corp.'s Park City Mountain Resort — or PCMR — against Vail Resorts over the future lease of nearly 80 percent PCMR's terrain, Katz said he was hopeful, regardless of the lease litigation, that both sides "would do the right thing."
The right thing seems far away.
In spring 2011, Park City Mountain Resort missed its deadline to formally renew its long-term lease for some 3,700-acres with Canadian landowner Talisker Corp. Talisker took the opportunity to raise its lease terms from roughly $155,000 a year, which PCMR had paid since the 1970s, to much more. PCMR refused. Talisker declined to renew the lease. PCMR sued Talisker, arguing it had done everything but file the paperwork to renew the lease.
Enter Vail Resorts, which last spring leased Talisker's 4,000-acre Canyons ski area adjacent to PCMR for $25 million a year, plus a percentage of earnings. The deal had Vail defending Talisker in the PCMR lease lawsuit, giving Vail an opportunity to control the busiest 7,000-plus acres of ski terrain in Utah. Both sides presented their case to a Utah judge earlier this month and a decision on whether PCMR had in effect renewed its lease despite the paperwork delay is expected in June.
Katz said he wasn't stalking PCMR when he courted Talisker for Canyons.
"Our focus at the point really was on the Canyons," Katz said, but Talisker only offered Canyons with a legal battle for PCMR. "His position with us was 'Look if you want to do something with me you've got to do something for both these places. You cannot do something for just the Canyons. There's no question he got us to pay more money for that."
Vail filed an eviction notice to PCMR last fall. Katz offered to buy Powdr Corp.'s base area and parking lots property this spring. Powdr Corp. chief John Cumming rejected the offer, saying he would pull out his chairlifts if Vail prevailed in the lawsuit.
"I think there's a lot of bluster that goes on with litigation but I think when its done everyone is going to do the right thing," Katz said, noting Powdr Corp.'s talk of removing chairlifts from Talisker-owned ski terrain. "You fight the good fight, and if you lose ... not everything goes your way. That's just the way things play out in business. Could be because of a lease issue, could be because of the economy, could be because of different competition. My message to the industry is admit it, accept it and then deal with it and move on. I really believe that will happen here."
Cumming made the decision to not pay Talisker's new terms, Katz said. He chose to pursue litigation with his landlord.
"As a business person, I respect that," Katz said. "But ultimately, at the end of the litigation ... if the courts don't agree with you ... its time to move on and put the community front and center."
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, email@example.com or twitter.com/jasontblevins