Bay Area group buys Homewood | SierraSun.com

Bay Area group buys Homewood

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

The largest privately owned piece of land in the Tahoe Basin sold last Thursday to a development company based in the Bay Area.

Homewood Mountain Resort sold to JMA Ventures, the company that bought Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco and specializes in historic redevelopment. The resort occupies 1,260 acres on Tahoe’s west shore.

JMA President Art Chapman, a longtime Truckee resident who skis at Homewood, said the company wants to keep the feel of the resort the same while upgrading the base of the mountain.

“We’re not proposing a bigger mountain,” Chapman told the Sierra Sun this week. “We’re not going to expand the ski operation.”

The company hopes to build a retail and lodging project at the base of the mountain and upgrade the ski lifts, but at the same time keep the mountain’s uncrowded, family-owned character, he said.

“We don’t want to make it look like a Squaw Valley,” Chapman said. “We want it to be Homewood.”

The Yurosek family, former owners of the mountain who own a pistachio farm in Southern California, will stay on as minority partners. The Yuroseks bought the resort in 1998.

Chapman is still hoping for a deal with the U.S. Forest Service to preserve the property, and said the resort is seeking $22 million from the Santini-Burton Act. The act reaps money from surplus federal land sales around Las Vegas and uses it to buy environmentally sensitive properties in the Tahoe Basin.

If the mountain does sell to the Forest Service, the money from the sale would be re-invested into the resort, Chapman said.

The Forest Service asked for between $60 million and $65 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund in its 2007 budget, which the federal agency determined was a “high-end estimate for the land” since no serious negotiations had taken place, said Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman.

“It was not based on an appraisal or anything,” Norman said.

That request was blocked by a spending bill rider inserted by area Congressman John Doolittle, who said neither the Forest Service nor the land owners involved him enough in the process.

A purchase of the property had never been nailed down, according to the Forest Service.

“It is important to keep in mind that there has not been any acquisition underway,” Norman said.

Chapman said the Forest Service’s involvement in the resort purchase is critical to the continued operation of Homewood.

“We truly think that it has to be a public/private partnership to ensure that Homewood remains open to the public,” Chapman said.

The resort has been losing money for years, he said.

The partnership with the federal government would allow lift upgrades and renovation of facilities that, coupled with a commercial development at the base of the ski resort, would allow the ski area to remain open to the public and financially viable, Chapman said.

“We never wanted to develop the mountain,” Chapman said. “We looked at it from the standpoint of ‘How do we preserve this?'”

Homewood currently operates four chairlifts and two surface lifts.

Chapman said he believes that Doolittle’s opposition to the plan will evaporate once the Congressman is fully briefed.

“I can understand a Congressman from the district saying he will not support this until he fully understands it,” said Chapman.

The Forest Service is waiting to see how the Department of Interior spending bill progresses. If the House of Representatives’ version of the bill passes and is signed, then the Forest Service will be blocked from buying Homewood until a new budget cycle comes around, Norman said.

“There is the provision in the appropriations bill and if that stays then 2007 is out,” Norman said.