Though Hohensee won't provide their names, some directors have been named to the two subsidiaries. So far, they're all members of the current WPRA board. Trustee Jim Willard, a Denver hospital executive, chairs Winter Park Services, while Winter Park Village is run by Jim Swanson, Rick Pederson and Gerald Groswold. In an interview last spring, WPRA in-house counsel Mike Repucci said the WPRA hadn't ruled out allowing those spin-off companies to become independent entities themselves, controlled by majorities of outside directors. "It may well turn out that Winter Park Village becomes a board of those folks that are actually doing the development," said Repucci. "It's just too early to tell."
The resort also has the option, under the agreement with the city, to simply sell off the development subsidiary itself--and with it, the city land. But Hohensee says it's too soon to tell exactly what Groswold and the others will decide to do.
The attorney stresses that WPRA boardmembers are prohibited from profiting personally from resort development, and denies that the ski area is being overly secretive about its objectives at the base area. Real estate development is a sensitive undertaking, he notes, and "premature disclosure of plans or candidates for potential development partners can be damaging to the final result. Especially when we haven't made any decisions yet."
The uncertainty surrounding so much of the resort's development scheme doesn't seem to bother Webb assistant Andrew Wallach. "This is one of the few enterprises the city has an interest in that's actually in the competitive marketplace," he says. "If you asked me whether we should disclose everything going on in public works or the mayor's office, I would say, `Yeah, no argument.' Here the concerns are, at least as represented by Winter Park, that they're in a very competitive industry, and you can't argue with that."
The extent to which the ski area has distanced itself from the city's interference was made clear last year when the Webb administration signed its new agency agreement with the resort. As part of that agreement, Denver was given four new spots on the WPRA board--positions that ironically were referred to in the document as "city trustees," even though the city itself owns the resort. At the same time, the board was increased to 22 members, a move that guaranteed that the WPRA, with the power to appoint 15 members, would retain the two-thirds bloc necessary to okay any significant real estate transactions.
The function of the city trustees is to "watch out for the city's interests," says Wallach. But how closely they're watching is an open question.
One of those trustees, former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives and Webb campaign treasurer Ruben Valdez, reportedly plans to step down from the WPRA at the end of the month. Valdez did not return calls from Westword. The only city trustee Westword was able to contact was Augustine "Gus" Pannell, a retired ski instructor. Pannell says he doesn't view himself as a watchdog, doesn't know about the resort's development plans and has no plans to find out. He was unaware of how much WPRA president Groswold earned per year until informed by a reporter. The boardmembers are "very unselfish people" who receive no compensation other than a free ski pass, adds Pannell, who notes, "If Gerry [Groswold] tells you something, it's going to be true. He's not going to mislead you."
The 1994 agreement between the city and the WPRA does give Denver's manager of parks and recreation the right to "review" and comment upon all master plans for the base area. However, getting Denver parks and recreation manager B.J. Brooks to comment at all on Winter Park can be difficult. The new parks boss refers questions about the resort to a familiar source: WPRA attorney Eugene Hohensee.
Brooks's predecessor at the parks department, Bruce Alexander, had plenty to say about the resort. It was Alexander who sat on the city's $40,000 appraisal for eight months to allow the WPRA to delete anything sensitive. Alexander explained his action by noting that base-area development would help Winter Park evolve into a first-class resort. Alexander had good reason to take a fatherly interest in the ski area's future: He used to be the WPRA's banker at First National, and he personally signed off on the 1979 loans that were collateralized by the city. "Bruce would laughingly say in negotiating sessions, `It was the easiest loan we ever had to make,'" recalls Barnes.