Whichever business takes over the largest concession contract in Grand Teton National Park will have the predetermined OK to build new employee housing at Jenny Lake Lodge, Jackson Lake Lodge and Colter Bay Village.
The coming contract holder, (the current one is Grand Teton Lodge Company), will have to retrofit buildings in those same developed areas so that they’re compliant with modern fire protection codes. Other expectations include reconfiguring the kitchen at Jackson Lake Lodge’s Blue Heron Lounge and installing RV hookups and relocating a warehouse at Colter Bay Village.
After twice “scoping” these plans, Grand Teton National Park has now finalized them. By completing an environmental assessment ahead of issuing a prospectus for the contract currently held by the Lodge Company, the park reversed the usual order of operations.
“It is a bit of a novel approach,” said Katy Canetta, a concessions management specialist for Grand Teton. “We believe that we are one of the first parks to do it this way. We may be the first.”
By flipping the script and completing its National Environmental Policy Act obligations ahead of time, the park aims to increase transparency and clarify the financial burden for businesses bidding on the opportunity, Canetta said.
But when that opportunity will become available remains to be seen, according to Jennifer Parker, chief of commercial services at the Park Service’s Intermountain Region.
“We are in the prospectus development process, but there’s currently a moratorium on issuing any new prospectus,” Parker said.
The reason for the moratorium is COVID-19, which complicates site visits and clouds future financial forecasts.
Currently, Parker said, the moratorium extends through Nov. 30. Since the novel coronavirus first flared up domestically in March, the temporary prohibition has been extended 60 days at a time.
Grand Teton Lodge Company’s current contract runs out on Dec. 31, 2021. Another moratorium extension, were it to occur, would mean that the Grand Teton concession contract couldn’t come out until February.
Parker said running a prospectus process and issuing a new concession contract typically takes a year to complete.
“I don’t really want to speculate on what would be the ‘point of no return’ to not get a contract awarded by Jan. 1, 2022,” Parker said. “Generally, you see a new prospectus a year before expiration. Anything within a year, you’re probably running the risk that we could not get a new contract awarded.”
When the National Park Service extends a concession contract it’s for a one-year period with identical terms.
For the time being the National Park Service is still sorting out what exactly the prospectus will look like. Parker did not have an estimate for the financial outlay of the infrastructure improvements that will be required in Grand Teton.
Based on history, there can be significant price tags for such work. When Yellowstone National Park sought a bidder in 2012 for the 20-year contract that was eventually won by Xanterra, park officials estimated required investments of $135 million — including $45 million right away — for infrastructure projects in Canyon, Fishing Bridge, Lake, Mammoth and Old Faithful.