No one likes to pay for what they used to get free, something that became clear this weekend when Village parking landlord Intrawest hired a local third party to begin charging $10 for formerly complimentary parking in the lot across Minaret Road.
“I’ve never been flipped off so many times in my life,” said Robin Thompson, who managed the lot with partner Mike Hoover from Saturday to Monday. “That first day, people were yelling and screaming at us.”
The third party management was made possible when Intrawest signed a lease with parking lot owner Credit Suisse in November of this year. “For the past couple of years, Intrawest has effectively been squatting in the parking lot,” said former Intrawester Doug Ogilvy, who acted on behalf of Credit Suisse in the
lease negotiations. That lease-less arrangement changed when Credit Suisse received direction from its insurance company that, due to liability issues, Intrawest must either sign a lease or close the lot. The lot did close on Nov. 1, prompting Village owner CNL (which hired Intrawest to oversee the parking lot property) to sign a temporary lease on Nov. 4. A 7-year lease was signed on Dec. 16.
The new lease allows Intrawest to manage the lot for the first time. Until now, as Thompson described, the lot has been “chaos.” He noted that not only do 60-90 cars frequently park overnight in a lot specifically designed for day use, but that users litter the lot with bottles and trash after events. As a manager of the Berner Business Park, Thompson has also experienced firsthand the problem of Village parking overflow. When the lot is full, drivers end up taking much-needed spaces in the Burgers, Alpenhof, and Berner Business Park lots. “We have a horrendous time every time there’s an event at the Village,” Thompson said.
It was because of his complaints to Intrawest that he and partner Hoover were hired to manage the lot. “[Intrawest] tried to talk to a number of professional companies who manage parking and no one wanted to touch it,” he said. So he and Hoover stepped in for a short-term contract “as a kind of dare to see if we could help.”
On Saturday, Thompson and Hoover charged all cars $10. Hoover reported that for every 10 cars that accepted the charge, another 10 turned around and chose to park illegally along Forest Trail near the Community Center, along Berner Street, and in the Berner Business Park. Village employees were part of the crowd affected by the unexpected charge, angering Village business owners.
But by Sunday afternoon, due to overwhelming business owner complaints, the parking lot began admitting employees for free, while Village shoppers were refunded their $10 if they left the lot within two hours. Skiers and snowboarders continued to be charged a non-refundable $10. This was because, as Intrawest Attorney Mark Carney noted in November, the Village parking lot isn’t intended for Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) parking. It is intended specifically for Village retail parking.
Nevertheless, Thompson reported, the Mountain told its own employees to use the lot for access to the Gondola on the Night of Lights.
But neither Thompson nor Carney blamed MMSA for the current parking lot troubles. Instead, most parties agreed that the real culprit is the Town, which under the original Intrawest Development Agreement (DA) held the responsibility for building a Village parking structure. About a decade ago, Intrawest gave the Town a $3-5 million acre of land next to the Westin for development. But as local John Vereuck recalled, the Town was relying on TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funding that never materialized. The Town then tried to get the Mountain involved in building a projected $15-18 million parking structure, Vereuck said, but that deal fell through, after which the Town never again attempted to supply the Village with parking.
Worse still: $2.3 million in funding for the Town’s parking structure, which was supplied to the Town by Ward Jones as part of an easement on the 3 corners lot at Lake Mary Road and Minaret, disappeared without a trace the year after it was received, according to Vereuck. The property at Whiskey Creek, which Jones later sold, has subsequently never been developed.
While Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht wasn’t working for the Town during the time of the Town/Jones deal and therefore could not comment on the money, he did say that the Town still owns the property next to the Westin and has no intention of selling it. Currently, economic issues are preventing the Town from moving forward with building parking, but if everything lined up in the future, Wilbrecht said the Town would be interested in a partnership with the Village.
The Town’s failure to build a parking structure left the Village without any parking for retail customers. CNL’s solution: pay Credit Suisse for rights to the current parking lot. That cost was bundled into the $100,000 Common Area Maintenance (CAM) charge paid by Village commercial tenants. These tenants were understandably upset to discover that a parking lot which should have been provided by the Town was now being provided without management at their own expense.
The lack of management left the parking lot in such a state of disrepair that Thompson said much of his and Hoover’s profit over the weekend went into maintenance. “No one had a key to the booth,” he said. “All the bulbs inside were burned out. The heater was broken. No one even knows where the booth gate arm is. That’s tens of thousands of dollars of equipment, and no one knew where it was.” Thompson also noted the holes in the pavement, the lack of striping, and the “black hole” on Berner Street that many cars use as a back entrance and exit to the lot.
As unpopular as it was, Thompson said the 3 days of third party management made a positive difference to the parking lot. “In 3 days, we went from having 78 cars parked illegally [overnight] to 12,” he said. Thompson also noted that while he and Hoover didn’t bring in much of a profit—$80 to $200 per day, a low number in part because of the cost of maintenance of the facility, and in part because of free parking given to shoppers—the lot fees could eventually raise enough money to help offset the $100,000 in CAMs paid by commercial owners every year.
If Intrawest could turn a profit on the lot, it might even be able to afford the lease for the unpaved “employee” parking, adjacent to the paved lot, which currently remains closed.
Thompson and Hoover’s contract concluded on Monday, and on Tuesday, Thompson reported that Intrawest had declined to renew it. “I’m relieved, actually,” he said. “We were thrown into the alligator pit. Now it’s over I can go back to my real life.”
But Thompson added that, “Unless the lot is managed, it’ll go back to the way it was.” How Intrawest chooses to manage the lot remains unclear (Intrawest Asset Manager Jason Roland declined to comment). Nevertheless, Carney sees the lease, and the changes to parking management, as a step in the right direction. “For the first time, the landlord does have control of the parking lot for a long time, which will enable them to create a management program,” he said. “CNL has every intention of addressing this issue once and for all.”