Juneau’s urban Native corporation wants to help Eaglecrest Ski Area pay for its gondola project and expand summer operations.
Officials with Goldbelt Inc. could not be reached for comment, but city officials said the company is interested in backing Eaglecrest with up to $10 million. In return, Goldbelt wants a slice of summer ticket revenue. It’s unclear for how long.
“We can all keep our fingers and toes crossed,” Eaglecrest General Manager Dave Scanlan said to an Eaglecrest board committee on Thursday. “I think this potential partnership with Goldbelt is really, really exciting in many, many ways.”
The particulars of the deal would have to be negotiated, which requires action from the Juneau Assembly. The city manager could get permission to start those talks as soon as April 11. In a memo, City Manager Rorie Watt called the potential partnership a “remarkable turn of events.”
Last month, the Juneau Assembly narrowly voted to commit up to $2 million to buy a used gondola system in Austria. Eaglecrest officials said the gondola is the cornerstone of the plan for expanding summer operations.
But several assembly members were reluctant because they felt rushed, unsure about the public’s desire, and that they were unfairly leapfrogging other established priorities. The Assembly did not fund the installation of the gondola, which ski planning consultants recently estimated at an additional $5.5 million.
Scanlan said Goldbelt wants to finance more than a barebones gondola experience.
“The installation of [a] gondola, a small summit house and the mountain coaster are the things they want accomplished,” he said.
A mountain coaster is a gravity-driven ride, where people sit in one- and two-person carts attached to a rail or fed down a chute.
According to the estimates, that’s all doable with $10 million.
Eaglecrest and city officials were eyeing an upcoming local ballot question for possible funding of the gondola’s installation. In October, Juneau voters are likely to be asked to extend a 1% sales tax to cover debt financing for a package of city projects.
“I know a lot of our assembly members were very nervous about $2 million for the gondola because of the big price tag that followed behind it, and how are we going to handle that? If this partnership handles that, then it may create opportunity,” Scanlan said.
That means there could be opportunities for other Eaglecrest projects to go into the package. Scanlan suggested replacing the nearly 50-year old ski lifts. He even floated an idea for an employee dormitory, because the lack of affordable housing is often a deal breaker for potential seasonal employees. The ski area has been especially short staffed this season.