Article by: DAVID SHARP , Associated Press
NEWRY, Maine — A real estate investment trust that's considering getting out of the snow business could sell more than dozen ski resorts from Maine to California that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
CNL Lifestyle Properties owns 16 resorts including Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine, Bretton Woods, Loon Mountain and Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire, Okemo Mountain in Vermont, Crested Butte in Montana, Brighton in Utah, and Northstar-at-Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe in California.
If CNL sells them all to one buyer, industry officials say it would be the largest single ski resort transaction in the history of the sport — though skiers might not notice the sale at all.
CNL will evaluate options for its remaining properties including ski resorts, theme parks and marinas "in the near future," said Steve Rice, senior managing director of CNL Financial Group. Besides selling them, alternatives include a private buyout or listing on a publicly traded exchange.
"We're taking a studied and careful approach," Rice said.
REITs are an investment vehicle for a variety of properties including hotels, office buildings and malls, but they're new to the ski industry in the last 15 or so years. There's only one other REIT that's a big player in the ski industry, Missouri-based EPR, said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.
CNL Lifestyle Properties was valued at as much as $3 billion in 2012 with ownership of more than 100 water parks, ski resorts, marinas and senior housing developments before the value dropped in the aftermath of a real estate downturn.
The REIT is nearing the end of its projected lifespan and anticipates having an "exit strategy" in place by Dec. 31. In June, CNL agreed to sell 48 golf properties for $320 million. In December, it announced an agreement to sell its senior housing for $790 million.
Ideally, the remaining ski properties, theme parks and marinas would be sold, and the company enlisted Jefferies LLC, an investment bank, to evaluate options.
Any sale wouldn't have any significant impact on skiers because the resort operators' long-term leases will remain in place even if the properties change hands.
"At the end of the day, from a customer standpoint, it's not going to alter reality that much," Berry said.
Ski resorts, which are at the mercy of weather and the economy, can be good investments as long the owners have a long investment horizon, said Michael Krongel from Mirus Resort Capital in Burlington, Massachusetts, who's been involved in buying, selling and developing ski resorts for 45 years.
REITs like Florida-based CNL bring in revenue through rent paid by ski resort operators like Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, which holds long-term leases for Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Loon Mountain.
A Boyne official said skiers needn't worry about the potential sale of their beloved ski mountains.
"For the skier, it's a nonevent," said Steve Kircher, president of eastern operations for Boyne, which will remain the lease holder, regardless of ski resort ownership, for several more decades.
Bob Rogowsky, who skies 70 to 80 days a year at Sunday River, said most skiers are pleased with the investments that have been made since CNL bought the resort and Boyne began running it in 2007.
He's confident enough in the stability of the resort that he recently bought a retirement home in the area.
"I wouldn't have made that kind of financial commitment and lifetime commitment if didn't believe there was stability and a good future," Rogowsky said.