As Missoula’s pre-eminent resort-in-progress announces an amended Forest Service proposal for ski trails, other more sensitive negotiations are underway involving money.
The official news from the Bitterroot Resort, south of Missoula, involves what resort manager Jim Gill calls a “give-and-take” with the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests.
“That’s what we’re focusing on right now, the permitting with the Forest Service,” Gill said. He wants to offer Nordic skiing and mountain biking trails. In some cases, those activities could affect habitat for lynx and elk and areas with sensitive soils. So a new plan has been proposed to mitigate those impacts, he said.
That sounds easier than navigating the tanking real estate industry while pursuing Tom Maclay’s plans for a four-season resort. How’s that working?
“Well, we’re constantly re-evaluating our plans,” Gill said. “There have been changes in the some of the directions we’re going. We’re keeping them close to the vest. We’re not divulging.”
One imagines it could be difficult to find financing for a high-end resort in the Mountain West. More than a few developments this year have been forced into or sought protection from bankruptcy. Last fall, Arkansas-based ANB Financial’s new branch in Jackson, Wyoming, sent people to Missoula to court Maclay with the goal of backing his resort plans. Maclay didn’t bite. (This May, the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency shut down ANB FInancial, calling it undercapitalized and saying it used unsafe and unsound practices.)
Yet with no real infrastructure yet, the Bitterroot Resort may be in an enviable position. Without big loans, the resort has the luxury to change strategy, Gill said, rather than being forced to try to sell homes or property in order to make debt payments – into the teeth of an unforgiving market.
That leaves Maclay free to talk to potential investors, Gill said. While the credit crunch has some of them balking, the right projects still look attractive to the right people, he said. He declined to say more.
But what about those skiing and mountain biking trails? Gill said he thinks his new plan has legs, but there’s a lot of work to do.
“We’re not there yet,” he said.