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Pa. agency wants to buy Whitetail

September 12, 1998|By DAVE McMILLION and DON AINESs

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - A government agency that was formed to finance projects in the Harrisburg, Pa., area wants to buy Whitetail Ski Resort in Franklin County for $20 million, officials said Friday.

Whitetail is on a list of properties the Dauphin County General Authority has bought or is negotiating to buy, and this is causing concern among the Dauphin County Commissioners, who chartered the authority, according to commissioners spokeswoman Amy Shivers.

Shivers said the commissioners are questioning how the purchases benefit Dauphin County government.

A Whitetail spokeswoman said the Dauphin County General Authority already has bought 350 acres from Whitetail Ski Co. Inc. that is being developed as a golf course. Whitetail spokeswoman Rachel Nichols said she did not know the purchase price of the land, but said the authority issued $2.4 million in municipal bonds for the purchase and development of the course, where play is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2000.

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Government ownership of recreational facilities "is not at all unprecedented in this country," Nichols said, citing government-owned ski resorts in New Hampshire and New York.

But concerns remain over the authority's actions.

The Dauphin County Commissioners are considering tighter regulation of the authority, and three competing ski resorts have filed suit in Dauphin County Court to stop the proposed Whitetail deal.

Ski Liberty of Adams County, Pa., Ski Round Top of York County, Pa., and Snow Time Inc., based in Delaware, say the government authority would be unfair competition.

Unlike the ski resorts, Dauphin County is tax-exempt, issues its own bonds and can borrow money at cheaper rates.

"We're very concerned about it," said Eric Flynn, president of Ski Liberty, which is about 40 minutes northeast of Whitetail.

Shivers said the authority has bought properties that "in the eyes of the commissioners have questionable value." She added that the authority's actions have been "sort of a hot topic" in the Harrisburg area.

Sidney Reese, executive director of the Dauphin County General Authority, would not respond to any questions, citing the lawsuit.

Asked if the resort has financial problems, Nichols said, "Whitetail is a new business, relatively. We experienced two devastatingly warm winters, one of them the warmest in 100 years."

Nichols added that the company has "an extremely complicated debt structure."

If the deal goes through, Nichols said Whitetail Ski Co. would continue to run the resort and the golf course. The Dauphin County General Authority would issue bonds to be paid off over a period of years and at the end of that it would either decide to continue ownership, or sell.

"No matter whether the deal worked out or didn't work out, Whitetail Ski Resort had every plan to open for the 1998-99 ski season ... even if that meant we had to tighten our belts one more notch," Nichols said. She said the authority plans to retain the resort's management team if the sale goes through.

Separate from the ski resort and golf course deals is Whitetail Land Partnership, Nichols said. The partnership would retain land around the slopes and links for residential development. Nichols said 40 units have been built and 10 more are under construction.

Plans call for building and selling as many as 1,300 vacation and year-round homes over 10 or 15 years, she said.

The Dauphin County General Authority was formed in 1984 to finance a parking garage project in Harrisburg, which was successful, Shivers said.

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