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The WPRA's deal with the Arlberg Club came as part of a flurry of activity that occurred after Gerald Groswold took over as president in 1975. An attorney and former division manager for Transamerica Title Insurance Company who grew up skiing at his father's Arlberg digs, Groswold wasted no time putting the city's resort on a fast track to expansion.

"He's always smarted over the fact that Winter Park is not really a resort area like his friends' in Vail and Aspen, and he always wanted to break into that league," says Barnes. Groswold, an imposing figure who stands six feet, six inches tall and is known for his mercurial temper, had little trouble taking control of the board, a largely subservient body that pays him an annual salary of $218,377 plus pension benefits. (For several years, Groswold also got to live in the "manager's residence," a 4,600-square-foot, fully furnished house maintained by the resort that sits adjacent to the ski jumps. He now lives in a $150,000 condo in Fraser; the manager's residence is apparently used to house visiting VIPs.)

Groswold's hefty compensation package from the board has allowed him to traverse the slopes in a BMW and to nurse his penchant for collecting classic 1932 Ford automobiles (he has two). But for Groswold, who did not return calls from Westword, building an empire on the mountain has proven to be a more difficult task. His first big push came in 1979, when the WPRA persuaded Grand County to issue $7.5 million in tax-free revenue bonds to finance additional improvements at the resort. According to Grand County Attorney Jack DiCola, the lender on the bond issue was the First National Bank of Denver, which simultaneously loaned the ski area an additional $5.25 million. The bank was happy to make the loan but also anxious to secure the resort as collateral. In order to nail down the long-term financing, Groswold and the board got the city itself to gold-plate the loan; in a new agency agreement signed by then-mayor Bill McNichols, the WPRA was given the right to control real estate development on the city's original ninety-acre parcel until the year 2078. In return, the city got the promise of a 12.5 percent cut of any profits the WPRA might make in the land business.

The next year the resort renegotiated another highly favorable deal, this time with the Moffat Tunnel Commission. Again to satisfy First National's need for security on its loans and open the doors to long-term development, Groswold and the board convinced the commissioners to extend the lease on the state land to the year 2078--and to continue not charging the WPRA a penny in rent. (That sweetheart deal is now the subject of a lawsuit in Grand County District Court, in which the current panel of tunnel commissioners is seeking to void the freebie lease and force the resort to pay fair rental for the state land. The WPRA, in turn, is trying to have the tunnel commission disbanded.)

Despite Groswold's carefully laid plans, land development at the resort proved to be a risky business. The real estate collapse of the 1980s hit hard, and the only significant project completed at the ski area was the troubled Vintage Hotel, which wound up in the hands of both Silverado and the federal Resolution Trust Corporation before being sold at a fire-sale price to Utah hotelier John D. Cahill in 1991. (The hotel reportedly is now profitable.) The city's 12.5 percent piece of the Vintage lease turned out to be just $7,000 per year.

These days, however, Groswold is convinced the time is again ripe for development. And, true to the spirit of the original Arlbergers, he's trying to attract "desirable" people to the resort: namely, wealthy skiers likely to drop large amounts of cash during their stay.

The WPRA laid the groundwork for its latest real estate campaign in 1990, when it filed for a planned-use development with the town of Winter Park. That "base village" concept, recently updated by the resort in a meeting with the town's planning board, has little to offer middle-class day-trippers from Denver. "The thing that's really nice about what they're proposing is, they're proposing a very upscale kind of experience for the ski visitor," says Mark Marchus, the town's community-development director. "The person they're catering to is an upper-level-income-type person."

In order to build the village, the WPRA needed to obtain title to U.S. Forest Service land that sat at the base of the ski runs. Apparently without consulting the city, it began buying up prime real estate in other mountain areas and negotiated a swap with the government for the base property. But Groswold's inventive use of city assets led to trouble when the resort prepared to close the deal, notes Barnes. When the government asked in whose name the base land should be titled, he says, "the WPRA just said `Put us down. It's our land.'" But title insurance companies balked when they realized the resort was actually just an agency of the city. That, says Barnes, is what got the WPRA to the table during the negotiation of last year's new agreement with the city--negotiations that, ironically, pitted an agent of the city against the city itself in a discussion of what to do with a city asset.

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Andy Van De Voorde