VERNON — Intrawest has sold Mountain Creek resort to an investment team at Crystal Springs Resort in Hardyston, a “natural suitor” that will explore how to connect its wide swath of Vernon Valley.
The companies did not disclose the terms of the deal that came to fruition Tuesday. Intrawest approached the Sussex County investors about one year ago, according to Andy Mulvihill, whose well-known father, Gene, pioneered development in the region, including the area once known as Vernon Valley Great Gorge that is now Mountain Creek.
Vernon Mayor Sally Rinker praised the move as a business spark in a vital area stuck in a development quagmire.
“We were all on the edge of our chairs for the if-and-when. I knew it was close in the last couple weeks,” Rinker said of the deal. “We have to get moving on these work projects that have not been handled adequately in the past.”
The younger Mulvihill, a principal in the investment team, Mountain Creek Acquisition LLC, said he would love to create an activity trail for hikers and bikers as a way to connect his investment group’s holdings along the valley.
“There’s a tremendous opportunity in terms of integrating the two resorts,” he said. “It’s early and I don’t want to over-promise, but we certainly have some very large ideas how to take this platform and go to the moon with it.”
Mountain Creek is home to the Mountain Creek water park, Diablo Freeride Mountain Bike Park and the Mountain Creek ski area. Crystal Springs Resort includes the Grand Cascades Lodge and Minerals Hotel and Spa, located adjacent to the Mountain Creek ski facility. Crystal Springs also operates seven golf courses, two hotels, two spas, a conference center and a number of restaurants.
According to a statement from Crystal Springs, the purchase of Mountain Creek sets the stage for development of a “mega-resort,” combining the best of high-end amenities and outdoor recreation, from golf courses to zip lines, and everything in between.
Mulvihill said his team hopes to improve the ski area and water park and explore new facilities, noting plans to build an international village on the property had stagnated in recent years.
In spite of this, he said Intrawest had made substantial investments at the site in recent years.
“In no way is it a depleted or dilapidated asset,” Mulvihill said.
Intrawest, part of the Fortress Investment Group, announced in late April it had refinanced loans that caused public angst during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.
The company owns the Whistler Blackcomb Resort in British Columbia, raising speculation that Olympic ski events would be disrupted amid financial wrangling that caused Intrawest to sell off other resorts.
Mountain Creek is a high-profile boon for its buyers — it has hosted Olympic qualifying rounds and the Special Olympics and attracts celebrities and numerous tourists from New York City, particularly for its snowboard slopes.
“Snowboarding has transformed the industry,” Mulvihill said.
The new owners hope to take advantage of approvals for 1,500 more residential units, joining more than 100 units each at the Appalachian Condo-Hotel and Black Creek townhomes.
Intrawest had no official comment and declined media interviews Thursday.
New ownership will likely solidify jobs at the site, according to Mulvihill.
“All Mountain Creek employees were communicated to in a personal meeting this morning preceding the release to the public,” said Bill Benneyan, vice president of marketing for Mountain Creek Resort.
Mountain Creek was started in the mid-1960s by Jack Kurlander and John Fitzgerald, who opened the Great Gorge Ski Area. Gene Mulvihill was a member of an investment group that helped develop a nearby Vernon hill, known as the Vernon Valley Ski area. The two ski areas combined in the 1970s into Vernon Valley/Great Gorge, which was also the home of Action Park.
Intrawest purchased the Vernon resort in 1998 and renamed it Mountain Creek.
Andy Mulvihill said his investment group could invigorate the Vernon tax base the same way it did in Hardyston by acquiring Crystal Springs out of bankruptcy in 1995.
“We’re hoping we can bring some of that magic, experience to Vernon,” Mulvihill said. “The problem is municipalities can’t survive as bedroom communities, because the taxes are destroying people’s lives.”
Rinker said Vernon residents carry about 92 percent of the township’s tax burden, compared to 8 percent in commercial ratables.
“The ideal scenario is 60-40,” she said. “We may never see that, but we certainly have to improve on that number.”