Park City acquires Bonanza Flat, grandest of all land deals

City Hall on Thursday completed the $38 million acquisition of Bonanza Flat, the municipal government’s grandest open space purchase, as the Park City Council cast the necessary votes during a joyous meeting that seemed a far-fetched possibility over the decades that Park City desired ownership of the land.

The City Council approved three items related to the Bonanza Flat acquisition – two dealing with the County Courthouse’s $4,250,000 contribution and another one tapping the not-for-profit Utah Open Lands to hold and enforce an instrument known as a conservation easement that will outline the restrictions on the land. Bonanza Flat stretches across 1,350 acres of high-altitude land in Wasatch County downhill from Guardsman Pass.

The seller was a business entity called Redus, LLC. It is tied to Wells Fargo and Midtown Acquisitions, L.P., the two financial firms that took control of Bonanza Flat in a foreclosure case brought against the Talisker corporate family. United Park City Mines had held the land for decades before it came under the umbrella of Talisker.

Park City voters in November approved a $25 million ballot measure for Bonanza Flat even though a deal had not been negotiated. City Hall announced the $38 million acquisition price in January, leading to a broad fundraising effort involving government institutions, corporations and individuals to close the $13 million gap. The fundraising was successful, culminating with a $165,000 contribution from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, a well-known philanthropist in the region, that was announced at the City Council meeting.

“It’s really amazing how everyone came together to be a part of this whole effort,” Mayor Jack Thomas said during the meeting.

The mayor acknowledged the work of Wendy Fisher, who is the executive director of Utah Open Lands, and Tom Daley, a City Hall attorney. Fisher was instrumental in the fundraising efforts to secure the $13 million while Daley largely worked behind the scenes as the acquisition was negotiated. Thomas also said lots of work is still to be accomplished as City Hall crafts plans to manage the land.

Fisher said in an interview the fundraising efforts were one of the group’s great successes. She said numerous parties contributed as the $13 million gap was closed.

“I have never seen so many different community partners come together to raise such a significant amount of money in such a short amount of time,” Fisher said.

She said Bonanza Flat is the “heart of the Wasatch” and is accessible to the masses, from people out for a scenic drive to those interested in a challenging trail ride. That’s why more than 3,500 people contributed to the fundraising efforts, she said. Fisher said Utah Open Lands in early June issued an “urgent request” to George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation for assistance.

The crowd at the meeting was not especially large, but many of the people in attendance appeared to be in the room to watch the historic City Council votes.

Bonanza Flat is a popular recreation area that attracts hikers and bicyclists in the summer and snowshoers and cross-country skiers in the winter. The ownership had allowed the public on the land for decades even though it had been privately held. There was concern at City Hall about the development prospects of Bonanza Flat. Park City secured a cap on development on the land as part of the 1990s-era agreement with United Park City Mines regarding the Empire Pass project in Deer Valley. Bonanza Flat at the time was seen as a golf-and-ski resort. There was never significant progress on development plans there. In the past year, though, there was chatter that a high-end developer, Discovery Land Company, was interested in acquiring Bonanza Flat. City Hall sees the municipal acquisition as blocking a major development.

A Redus, LLC representative in attendance on Thursday acknowledged in an interview that a sale to the developer was under negotiation. Doug Ogilvy, a development consultant for Redus LLC, said the firm was “well along to selling” to Discovery Land Company.

“It’s a spectacular development site, absolutely, but it’s also a site the community is emotionally attached to,” Ogilvy said, describing the acquisition by Park City as something that is beneficial to the community and the seller.

Park City leaders celebrated the acquisition at an event Friday afternoon at the base of the Marsac Building stairs. The municipal government, though, now has a substantial workload regarding Bonanza Flat. Drafting the conservation easement will be critically important as various interest groups pore over the details. City Hall also plans an environmental study as a part of the necessary research into the acreage.

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