True to Winter Park's history of interwoven relationships, Webb last year asked Alexander to serve as a city representative in negotiations with the WPRA. Alexander has denied any conflict of interest.
The WPRA cleared $7.8 million in cash last year, according to its latest financial report. After taking accounting charges for depreciation and amortization expenses--the declining value of aging machinery and the repayment of bank debt--the resort reported a net profit of $3.9 million for the year ending April 29, 1995.
Total revenues at the resort were $34.7 million last year, down $429,000 from 1994 due primarily to a slight dip in ticket sales. Food-service profits dipped slightly to $1.7 million, while interest income, most of it from the resort's commercial paper loans to corporate giants American Express and Ford Motor Credit Corporation, climbed to $375,000.
The resort's audited financial statements were obtained by Westword under a Colorado Public Records Law request--and over the initial objections of the WPRA. In a letter attached to the document when it was mailed to the city auditor's office in late September, Groswold instructed Don Mares not to release the report to the public. "This statement is for your use in connection with the Winter Park Resort and is not for publication or general distribution," wrote Groswold.
After Westword filed a written request for the document with the city attorney's office, Groswold sent a hand-delivered letter to Mares, Webb and B.J. Brooks. In that letter, Groswold said that he wanted to "amend" his earlier letter and "consent" to the distribution of the statements.
Hohensee says Groswold never intended to prevent Mares from releasing the document. "The WPRA and the city are working together in cooperation to attempt to present the public with information which the public has a right to know," he says.
Specific information about the WPRA's real estate investments, however, won't be forthcoming. In the agreement signed last year, the city gave the resort permission to consolidate the financial statements of the WPRA and its two new subsidiaries for reporting purposes. Hohensee says that measure was intended to make sure that the city gets its share of development revenues. However, it will also make it impossible for outsiders to arrive at accurate profit or loss figures for the subsidiaries.
Critics such as Trampler point out that the 1994 agreement, heralded by the administration as a $2 million-per-year masterstroke, is riddled with numerous other legal loopholes. The agreement puts the interests of lenders including First Interstate Bank (formerly First National) above the interests of the taxpayers. It allows the resort to miss payments to the city if it has a bad year. It allows Winter Park to skip one payment every five years--for any reason--with no penalty whatsoever. And it allows the WPRA to keep the first $3.5 million in gross revenues from the real estate subsidiary.
Assuming the base-area development does generate profits, the WPRA and a private developer would apparently split the take (how the money would be divvied up is another issue yet to be resolved, says Hohensee). According to the terms of the 1994 agreement, the city would then receive a 3 percent cut of the WPRA's share. During last year's negotiations, notes Barnes, the question came up of why the city shouldn't just sell the resort on the open market, put the money in Treasury bills and collect the interest, which would amount to well over $2 million per year and be virtually guaranteed. "I and one other person on the committee felt strongly that the city should just sell it," he says. "I always thought that a relationship between developers and the city, a public-private relationship, was headed for disaster."
But city aide Wallach says that even though the city was initially willing to sell the resort to the WPRA, it later came to the conclusion that it should hang on to its asset. Denver expects to profit in the long run not from direct development revenues, he says, but from increased skier visits generated by a glitzy new base area. The administration "didn't really talk in detail" about the nuts and bolts of how development would occur in its negotiations with the resort, he adds. But Wallach says he expects that real estate profits may be limited, anyway, given the up-front costs--roadways and other improvements--involved with any such project.
The mayor's aide also downplays the element of risk inevitably associated with land deals. "I'd say generally there's a risk in all real estate development," he says. "But I think you have to measure that against how the city is insulated from risk. We're talking about a corporation [Winter Park Village] separate from even the WPRA. So the risk to the city is just the overall risk to the asset."