Phoenix Mountain Talk, Revisited…

First Trax

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Hello everyone…

(There IS an 11am update shown at the bottom of this column)

We are in the last three days of the 2005-2006 ski season unless somebody pulls a last second surprise on us.  We hinted yesterday that Cataloochee MIGHT do just that, but we’re thinking that’s not going to happen.  Snowshoe Mountain and Timberline Resort in West Virginia are definitely closing up shop on Sunday as is Wisp Resort in Maryland . We’ve heard from some of the Cat Crew that they are planning on being at Cataloochee’s season-send-off on Saturday and we look forward to seeing some t-shirt and shorts skiing photos from that bunch.  Mary McKelvy wrote that he and CB Koontz are headed to Snowshoe for one last weekend of skiing and it sounded like Beech Mountain patroller, TnKen is also going to be there.  So there is some last days skiing being squeezed in and they should provide us with some great closing photos.

We’ve had a lot of people email us asking that we NOT post Spring Flowers as the final photo of the season, so we’re digging in our archives for the “Photo of the Year” to post until the snowguns crank up in November.  We’ll post this coming weekend’s closing photos on Sunday and Monday, then post the best of the crop for the off-season.  So you guys can relax now.  There will be NO Spring flower photos!

Ending the Season – Like we Started the Season – Talking About Phoenix Mountain!?!?!

For the record, we HAVE heard all of the talk (AGAIN) resurfacing about Phoenix Mountain and the news of Jay Vincent of Blowing Rock meeting with Jefferson, NC Alderman this past Monday night.  During that meeting he announced the partnership between himself and Prestige Builders Group of South Florida to bring a “ski area” to Ashe County .

We’ve gotten a truckload of emails this past two weeks inquiring about any new news…and we’ve replied to each one honestly.  What we “knew” was not anything new.  Back on September 27, 2005 we wrote about the Phoenix story as it was being rumored at that time.  We followed up with much deeper details of the “dream” of Phoenix Mountain land owner and millionaire, Eric Hunter.  During conversations with Mr. Hunter it was deeply apparent that HE wanted to see a ski resort in Ashe County . As we reported at that time, this is a man with the resources to get it done and in fact he had already laid the basic infrastructure to see his dream become a reality.  He’s put in many roads; he’s built a pond that would provide snowmaking capabilities and he’s even had preliminary snowmaking tests ran to prove the ability to make and keep snow on the mountain.

During our only server crash in ten seasons, we lost the article we wrote, so we’ll have to re-write the story again to satisfy all of the questions that we’re getting about this potential project.  However, we’d chosen to stay quiet about the “news” despite the fact that some local papers are already reporting the project as a done deal. However, since we’re getting asked by many about this AND since some messageboard posters have pasted the newspaper articles on the board…our hand has been forced.

Here is what WE CAN tell you —-

I have a call in to Blowing Rock real estate broker, Jay Vincent.  When he contacts me, perhaps we can divulge even more.  However I have spoken with Ernie Horsley of Prestige Builders Group and Mr. Horsley was very forthcoming.  However what he told me should raise as many questions as answers.

When I asked if he could share any insight into the plans and purchase, etc. he said, “Mike, we’re VERY, VERY early in the inspection stage of the project. We have only met once last Friday (a week ago today) with county and city commissioners, county planners and other Ashe and Jefferson leaders.  It is so very early and while we have every intention of TRYING to develop there – it is very premature to begin promoting the project with ANY kind of details as to what it will be.”

He also stated that Prestige and Vincent were “considering all of the options” and Horsley DID say that they wanted to develop what the people of Ashe County were willing to receive up there.  Mr. Horsley also shared this important sentiment for all those that are prone to jump the gun a little bit; he said, “I’d hate to send ANY signals that might not come to fruition and leave people disappointed.”  He further stated some additional (and very important) new when he told me, “We NOT ski operators, we are developers and we’re not married to anyone or any one idea just yet.  As I said, it is very early in the process. We still have 30-40 days in the inspection period and then another 60-75 days before we’d close on the purchase.”

In case you guys missed that important bit of information – THEY HAVE NOT EVEN CLOSED on the deal.  So ANY talk of what Phoenix Mountain will or won’t be is just that – TALK. I don’t have many talents, but one that I do possess is the ability to see a conversation for what it is.  I was impressed as much with what Ernie Horsley did not say…as with what he did express during our 10-15 conversation. He did NOT share any commentary that would serve to ‘excite’ the ski enthusiasts.  In fact, he was very reserved and strongly expressed that Prestige Builders Group wants to provide a great product in Ashe County and potentially grow their presence in the region.  Mr. Horsley shared that he had purchased a home in the High Country (in fact we’re relatively close neighbors) and he also said that the thing that convinced them of exploring the opportunities here WAS the willingness and appreciation of the people of Ashe County to see economic growth in the area.  He alluded to the beauty of Ashe County , and he also shared some of the same information that we had reported on earlier…that a ski area at Phoenix Mountain could even host the Southeast’s longest ski trail at nearly THREE MILES. However Horsley also said that they were due to fly in again shortly with contour maps in hand to look at their options and see the lay of the land and how they might best use it.

Back in September we reported  that the nation’s largest real estate auctioneer, Sheldon Good & Company was involved and had been trying to sell 700+ acres of land owned by local millionaire Eric Hunter, AS a potential ski area.  However, several calendar deadlines passed without a strong bid. Hunter owns some 1200+ acres on Phoenix Mountain and the original details proposed a sale of 480+ acres, then added some additional acreage and when nobody came beating their doors down Sheldon Good & Company actually changed the way that they were promoting it.  Instead of pushing the ski resort idea, they began promoting it as a prestigious community.  We spoke with Sheldon Good & Company spokespeople who agreed with that revelation and then subsequently with Eric Hunter – who didn’t like that we had noticed that and then within another day or two the promotion included the idea of any development to include ski slopes.

It is obvious that Hunter and his team of marketing pros kept the search going for development partners and Jay Vincent and Prestige stepped forward.  However, any INITIAL excitement that has been created in the local papers and amongst the people of Ashe County (and over-enthusiastic snow lovers) should be tempered a little while longer as the development partners are not married to ANY idea just yet.

Ernie Horsley did leave me with this comment, “Mike, our FIRST option IS to build a beautiful community that WILL include some slope or slopes. However I wouldn’t want to go any further than that because things are so much so in the early stages and we certainly don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

We have played phone tag a couple of times with local project partner, Jay Vincent as we’ve traded and missed calls from each other and as soon as we speak, we’ll update you guys further.

11am Update: I just spoke with Jay Vincent and he pretty much mirrored the exact comments above and it was obvious that he was not aware that Mountain Times and The Jefferson Post had already posted stories inferring that this was a done deal. Vincent also stated that they have only met with commissioners and discussed some "what ifs" and part of those what ifs include the potential for a three mile long slope…but as Mr. Horsley said earlier…everything is ALL in the preliminary stages.

Jay Vincent did share some comments that he ask that we not print just yet and we’re honoring that request.  He did say that he was soaking up input from as many parties as possible (including SkiNC) and that he anticipated a PRESS RELEASE in about 30-40 days which he would share with us as part of the regional media.  Until then…I think it’s safe to say that THE INTENT to develop a community and associated ski area is there. However it us too early in the process for anything more than speculation.

He did mention the prospects of the three mile trail, but stopped short of being able to discuss "how many" slopes the area might be able to provide.  When we know more…you guys will know it.

Until Next Time…

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