Tamarack Muddles Through Extended Limbo

Feb 8, 2013

Credit Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The real estate crash triggered some big bankruptcies in the Northwest, but few are as spectacular and convoluted as the foreclosure of the unfinished Tamarack Resort in western Idaho.  The
resort remains in extended legal limbo, but plucky homeowners are keeping it alive until a new buyer arrives.


A foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps is an outcome most people want to avoid.  But in the case of Idaho's Tamarack Resort, the surrounding community and visitors are now itching for a sheriff's sale.  That's because they want a fresh start with a new owner.


Skier Joe Allen of Boise glances around at the fenced off, uncompleted
base village as he puts away his gear after a day on the slopes.  He
describes the resort as "odd" and like "a ghost town that was just
brand new."


 "I don't know why it's not doing bette," he says. "It's beautiful.
The terrain is kind of odd up there - lots of ups and downs. It's not
a consistent downward slope all the way.  But it is still beautiful,
great terrain."


Like a lot of newer Western ski resorts, Tamarack’s business model
depended not so much on lift tickets sales, but on real estate.  When
that sector when from boom to bust, so too did the resort in short
order.  Sign maker Cody Fisher was one of more than a hundred workers
laid off in 2008.


"It was just a rush of construction, you know," he says. "It's a big
gold boom in a way.  To see so much money get poured into such a big
dream and then have such bad management to go in a wrong direction,
that was a hard thing to see, and still is every time I come out
here."


The Tamarack property lies about a two hour drive north of Boise. The
complex includes 2,000 homesites, chairlifts, an eighteen hole golf
course and a European-style base village - at least the shell of one,
now nicknamed "Tyvek Town" after exposed insulation panels. There were
plans for much more, but then the developers went bankrupt.  The
majority owner is now an international fugitive.  Bank of America sent
the repo man to claim a chair lift. Lawsuits started flying like the
snow.

Credit Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

In 2010, many of the original homeowners banded together to restart
the ski lifts.  The homeowners association now also operates the golf
course. Tamarack Municipal Association director Tim Flaherty says both
operate on a "break even basis." The idea is to keep the resort alive,
maintained and more attractive to a buyer.


 "We'd never thought we'd be running it for a third year and now
developing budgets to run it continually until something happens,"
Flaherty says.


Flaherty says the homeowners association has signed non-disclosure
agreements with "more than one" investor group. Those groups want
operational data which could form the basis for foreclosure auction
bids.  Flaherty expects there to be high interest when the resort
comes back onto the market.


"It's just too big to go away and too attractive," Flaherty says.
"Somebody will go, 'Hmm, ten cents on the dollar, hmmm.'  You know,
there's money out there."


Skiers we spoke to at the end of a sunny day on the slopes were
universally optimistic about the prospects for a revival someday.


 "I'm hopeful, says Ryan Day. "It's an awesome place to ski. It's been
real fun. But it's like, we're just going to have to keep hoping."


"There's so much potential here, in this community too," adds Jessica
Fisher.  "Anybody could have a chance at making something happen
here."

Credit Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

"They definitely need to get on solid financial ground so that people
have more than just the skiing to come here," says Brian Powell.
"They want to come and enjoy the base village and the restaurants and
things of that nature."


The Tamarack foreclosure proceedings have dragged on for nearly five
years.  A review of recent court filings suggests the jockeying of
creditors for priority to be repaid is nearing conclusion.  Then the
ball will be in the court of the lender, Credit Suisse, to file for a
sheriff's sale.  The multinational bank declined comment, citing
ongoing litigation.

On the web: Tamarack Resort