Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Saddleback Timeshare Decision Due

The proposed creation of house lots and timeshare condominiums on Saddleback Mountain is only the beginning of much more extensive development at the ski resort.

The Land Use Regulation Commission is due to hand down a decision today on the creation of five private house lots and 18 timeshare condominium units, along with associated roadwork, parking and utilities at the ski resort.

The plan also calls for the extension of two skiing trails, the expansion of snowmaking facilities and the construction of a water storage facility. If approved, construction on the new facilities could start as soon as this summer.

According to a Land Use Regulation Commission memo dated July 3, the staff of the commission has recommended that the commission approve the plan. That makes final approval likely but not definite.

Bill Berry of Farmington, who bought Saddleback Mountain in 2003 when the resort was facing closure, said the proposal is the first step in a much larger 10-year plan to expand housing and associated amenities on the mountain.

An application for that long-term plan has been submitted to the commission but is in the very early stages of the process.

Berry said it is clear that the timeshare resort needs more housing, although he said that even when it is complete, the development will be relatively modest compared to larger resorts, such as Sugarloaf/USA.

"Originally, when we bought the resort we knew that bedrooms on the mountain were a critical issue" said Berry. "Rangeley does not have the facilities to house people, particularly when the town is full of snowmobilers."

By creating more places to stay on the mountain, Berry said Saddleback hopes to not only make a profit through its real estate enterprises, but also expand weekday skiing.

He said the expansion is necessary to help support overall operations on the mountain because most of the profits related to skiing come only on winter weekends and holiday weeks.

"Most ski operations throughout the country, at least the large ones, tend to be real estate operations with the skiing a prime amenity," he said.

Eventually, he said, plans call for turning the ski mountain into a four-season resort, although using a different model than used at many other ski resorts. The idea at Saddleback will be to create a resort based not just on Saddleback, but the entire Rangeley area, he said.

Those long-term plans call for the creation of a number of amenities associated with the timeshare condominiums, including an indoor pool, tennis courts. A water tubing facility is also planned.

The creation of more amenities will also help the resort keep more key employees and create jobs year-round, although Berry said he is not sure yet how many new jobs would be created.

Developing other profit centers will also make the resort less dependent on ski tickets, which is important because low ticket prices have been a goal since Berry bought the resort.

"We are trying to keep our rates down so the people in Maine have a place to ski," Berry said.

Since 2003, Berry has spent over $15 million on improvements, the most visible being a three-level, 36,000-square-foot timeshare lodge, with a food court capable of seating more than 500 people.

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