SI Vault
 
SNOW JOB
Donald L. Barlett
December 10, 2001
Thanks to Utah politicians and the 2002 Olympics, a blizzard of federal money—a stunning $1.5 billion—has fallen on the state, enriching some already wealthy businessmen
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 10, 2001

Snow Job

Thanks to Utah politicians and the 2002 Olympics, a blizzard of federal money—a stunning $1.5 billion—has fallen on the state, enriching some already wealthy businessmen

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

The state's Olympic partisans seemingly sensed the danger for negative publicity if there was a paper trail from the grant to Myers's road. To avoid that pitfall, Utah's finance division, with the agreement of Summit County officials, dumped the $2 million into a pool of other state money that was to be used to build the winter sports park. Now the grant dollars were no longer traceable—even if the intent remained firmly on the record. Furthermore, there would be no annoying breakdown of how the money was spent. In an internal memo state finance director Gordon Crabtree wrote, "Since the $2 million grant will be pooled with these other revenue sources, budgeted expenditures for the grant are not applicable."

One obstacle remained to the speedy construction of the two-mile access road, to be known as Bear Hollow Drive. If the Utah Department of Transportation, the state agency responsible for highway construction, handled the job, it could insist on building the road to meet both county and state standards, a costly requirement. Again, not to worry. The Olympics make all things possible.

The Utah Sports Authority assigned responsibility to the state's Division of Facilities Construction & Management, an agency that builds buildings, not highways. The result might have been anticipated: a winding, two-lane road with grades exceeding county standards and prone to slides and sinkholes.

The road paid off handsomely for Myers and his partners. County assessment records show that in 1990 the Summit Ranch land was valued for tax purposes at about $3 million. Ten years later the land alone—excluding the houses that had been built—was valued at $48 million, a sixteenfold increase. In the last year sale prices for homes in the partnership's development, known as Sun Peak, have ranged between $320,000 and $1.5 million.

A spokeswoman for Myers, Linda Clifford, a C.C. Myers Inc. executive who managed the project, told SI that "whatever the assessed value is now, it's because homes have been built there. People have bought lots and built homes, and that's why there's an assessed value of [$48 million]."

As for Bear Hollow Drive, Clifford said, "The only reason that there was a road on the property was that [we gave] the property to the state at no charge. For nothing. Zero. So it could put the jumps and the bob and luge and everything in there, and the state owns that property now and has been using it for quite some time, and it is a public attraction."

The value of Summit Ranch development was further enhanced in 1999, when a second access road was built into Utah Olympic Park. This three-mile stretch cost U.S. taxpayers $3 million. The second road will benefit not only Myers, in part by diverting sports-park traffic around his development, but also the most powerful organization in Utah: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church's real estate arm, Property Reserve Inc. (PRI), owns 430 prime acres through which the road runs, a tract long coveted by developers for its gorgeous mountain backdrop (which now includes the ski jumps) and its proximity to Park City (10 minutes) and other nearby resorts.

Shortly after the asphalt was laid for this road, PRI presented plans to Summit County authorities for an ambitious development: 994 single-family homes and town houses, nearly one million square feet of commercial space, an office campus and a town center with its own main street, school and library. No one knows how soon construction will begin. The one certainty is the role of the federally built road. It is the spine of the development, the feeder from which everything else flows.

INTERSECTION OF INTERESTS

Utah has used $13 million in federal money to rebuild die Kimball Junction exit off I-80. The reconstruction has come complete with artwork. Colorful bas-reliefs on the walls of the underpass, depicting various winter sporting events, pay homage to the Olympics. Unfortunately, except for the occasional motorist who stops to change a tire, few will get to appreciate the murals. It's hard to study them while whizzing by at 65 mph.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11