The big news Tuesday in Vermont (thankfully nothing to do with Trump) was that AIG International will be selling their ski operations at Stowe Mountain to Vail Resorts Inc. for $50 million. It isn’t a complete break from Vermont for AIG which acquired Stowe in the 1940’s. Bloomberg news reports: “[AIG] will retain majority ownership of the base area, which includes a 312-room lodge, along with a country club and future development rights”
After hearing the AIG/ Vail Resorts announcement several times today I recalled a January 2015 VT Auditor’s report. Auditor Doug Hoffer’s office released a report for the Agency of Natural Resources on state land leases to ski resorts that deserves a second glance from the powers that be.
The study, titled State Land Leases Boost Ski Industry, but Are Dated and Inconsistent, reported on long-term leases of valuable state land to Vermont ski resorts. The leases, some dating back as far as 1942, were designed to help the then-new and developing ski industry. Lease revenue to the state is based on a percentage of lift ticket sales; however, now a larger part of resort revenue is from other sources, such as hotels, water parks, golf, etc. State Auditor Hoffer: “Our review points to old lease terms that may not be suitable for today and questions whether taxpayers are receiving fair value for these spectacular public assets.”
Maybe some legislator or group of them could again marshal the courage as Senator Tim Ashe did in 2015 to suggest revisiting some of the sixty-plus-year-old bargain-basement leases. The 2017 legislature is just getting warming up for another in what seem to be their endless rounds of service cuts and fee increases driven by revenue shortfalls. Updating existing leases seems more realistic than some of the desperate-crazy revenue ideas that pop up from time to time in legislature. Privatizing rest areas, state-run online daily fantasy-sports betting, legalizing resort gambling, and even floating casinos on Lake Champlain have all been kicked around at one time
Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz told a business magazine in 2016 the key to making money in the ski industry isn’t necessarily finding more skiers–it’s getting more money from the ones you already have.
Perhaps for Vermont State the key to getting more revenue is revisiting the leases we already have with wealthy out-of-state corporations, not in pretending floating casinos make sense.