The Jackson Town Council on Tuesday continued its monthslong discussion and debate over a lease for a gondola proposed to run from Phil Baux Park to the summit of Snow King Mountain Resort.
The council inched forward on an agreement, with some councilors looking for more “gives” from Snow King in return for what they say is a less-than-market-value lease rate on the town-owned park property where the new gondola and accompanying ticketing facility would be based.
But Snow King board member Jeff Golightly, who has represented Snow King throughout its negotiations with the Town Council and staff, said the council may be asking the ski resort — long referred to as the “town hill” — to concede too much. Near the end of discussions about the leases and council members’ priorities about what they would like it to include, Golightly noted that accommodations being sought could make any proposed lease untenable for various reasons.
Councilor Jim Stanford led the charge on behalf of the town, saying that if the council were to approve a lease, the town would need to see more benefit and enjoy continued access at a reasonable, affordable price to the public lands on which Snow King sits.
Among the possible concessions Stanford proposed was bringing back two-hour passes for locals who wanted to make a few laps during their lunch hour.
As recently as 2014, Snow King offered such a two-hour ticket for $20 for adults. As pass prices currently stand, skiers have to pay $59 for a full-day lift ticket, $49 for a half-day ticket beginning at 1 p.m., or $30 if they knock off work early and want to ski between 4 and 6:30 p.m.
The council is considering three leases for Snow King. One is the lease for the gondola base in Phil Baux Park. The other two are a “facility and use” agreement that is proposed to run through 2024 with an option to renew for another three years, and a lease for nearly 4,000 square feet of space at the Snow King Sports and Events Center that would run for three years and include the option to renew twice for another three years each time, according to Community Development Director Tyler Sinclair.
The gondola lease was at the center of the lease discussion and took up the bulk of the 2 1/2 hours the council, Sinclair and Golightly spent deliberating the leases.
Ultimately, the council gave Sinclair its priorities for continued negotiations with Snow King and continued the matter to its next meeting.
Chief among council members’ concerns — particularly Jim Stanford and Arne Jorgensen — were the length of the gondola lease and the rent amount.
Snow King is seeking a 19-year initial lease with an option to renew for an additional 49 years. Those numbers are in line with its ongoing lease with the U.S. Forest Service for land at the top of Snow King Mountain and its expected lease renewal with the Forest Service, respectively.
Jorgensen also balked at the proposed lease’s rent structure, which would start at $3,000 a month and increase annually in accordance with the Consumer Price Index.
“I feel like CPI is just not going to be adequate to keep us at a lease number or term that I think we’re all, in good faith, talking about today,” he said.
Golightly then proposed that Snow King would be willing to drop the 49-year renewal option if the council agreed to the initial 19-year lease with annual CPI increases.
The issue was again tabled, with Sinclair and town staff instructed to continue the negotiations with the councilors’ priorities in mind.
Mayor Pete Muldoon conceded that it was likely neither Snow King nor the Town Council would come away from the matter completely happy with any agreement.
But, he said, “It’s a priority to me that the gondola is built. We want to make sure that this thing actually happens. ... There is a public benefit there.”