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The City's Slippery Slope

Winter Park gets ready for a run at the city council.

The ski area is already arranging financing for the $1.4 million transaction, which Hohensee says he expects to close in early to mid-September. (The resort has a healthy incentive to see that it does: Should the deal fall through, a lawsuit filed against the WPRA by the tunnel board seeking to boot the resort off its land could be resuscitated.)

But there is a scenario under which Winter Park could quietly recoup its expenditure. Proceeds from the sale of the tunnel board land will be distributed to the counties whose taxpayers helped build the railroad bore, and because Denver taxpayers footed most of the bill, the city expects to receive roughly 90 percent of the money. Would the WPRA then ask the city to subsidize the purchase by simply forwarding the money back to the resort?

"We don't have any final decision on that," Hohensee says. The Webb administration's Andrew Wallach says he's heard rumors that the WPRA may ask for the cash. "My reaction is I think it would be a difficult sell," he says. "But I'm assuming people would listen with an open mind."

Equally uncertain is the final resolution of the resort's base village. On February 27, the WPRA announced it had selected Hines, an international real estate firm, to build the village, a mix of condos, retail shops and a hotel. The resort added that a definitive agreement between the WPRA and Hines was expected within ninety days. But more than six months since the letter of intent was signed, there is still no definitive agreement, leading to speculation that the Hines deal may be in jeopardy. Hohensee, however, says the deal is alive and well.

"The delays are attributable to nothing more than the number of parties involved," he says. "We believe it'll be signed. It's just not ready to be signed." The lawyer adds that the WPRA has negotiated an extension of the letter of intent and expects the agreement to be signed in time to begin construction on the base village in 1997 or 1998.

Before it breaks ground on that development, though, the WPRA has a tougher nut to crack: the city council, which after years of ignoring the city's multi-million-dollar asset in the mountains is now beginning to ask tough questions. Hackworth, for instance, has been fighting to force the WPRA to turn over minutes of its board meetings, which the group claims are confidential. "If we don't get a lot more cooperation," says the councilman, he and his colleagues may subpoena the records of city parks manager B.J. Brooks, who holds an honorary seat on the board.

That means the September 9 meeting with the council may represent a break with tradition for the WPRA, which has grown accustomed to smooth downhill runs at city hall. For the city's controversial ski area, it could be all uphill from here.

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