Amid the economic gloominess, Park City is on the verge of becoming more opulent.
Two luxury hotel brands with time-tested pedigrees -- St. Regis and Waldorf-Astoria -- are poised to enter the market next spring: Waldorf-Astoria through the Dakota Mountain Lodge at The Canyons while the St. Regis Deer Crest is in Deer Valley, on a ridge overlooking Snow Park Lodge.
Farther uphill in Deer Valley's Empire Pass region, foundations also are in place for a Montage hotel. Although Montage does not have the history of St. Regis or Waldorf-Astoria, having been formed in 2002, it just opened a 201-unit luxury hotel Nov. 17 in the heart of Beverly Hills. Montage Deer Valley is set to open in the winter of 2010-2011.
Nearby, East West Partners is developing Flagstaff, a 37-residence condominium, each with more than 5,000 square feet and full membership in the Talisker Club, part of the Canadian company that owns The Canyons.
The addition of these elite establishments is yet another step in Park City's ascendency into the ranks of international resort communities. To reach that perch, a community must have a mix of nice, really nice and super-nice attractions. Once these hotels open, Park City can boast of having luxury chains with global followings to go along with the home-grown elegance of Stein Eriksen Lodge and other more localized, upscale lodgings.
"These help make us something special," said Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer. "What's important to Summit County is that we are home to three world-class ski resorts [The Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley]. High-end hotels are an amenity that the people who frequent those resorts expect. It's in our economic best interest to make sure a Summit County vacation experience is a special experience for these people."
The Dakota Mountain Lodge and St. Regis projects benefited from being under way before the financial crisis. St. Regis spokesman Mark Fischer said most of that hotel's 27 residences and 64 condo/hotel suites (the latter will be rented when the owners are away) have been sold to an array of buyers -- Hollywood actors, entrepreneurs, residents of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Kentucky.
"We hit the market at the right time," concurred Dakota Mountain Lodge developer Reza Fakhrieh, saying 95 percent of the 104 units in its first building are sold, along with 23 of the 66 in the second.
In addition, the projects provided work for hundreds in the construction trades industry.
The cachet of being able to cite these brands' presence in the community became evident to Leigh von der Esch earlier this month when the managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism was in New York City to speak with publications as diverse as National Geo and bridal magazines.
"It turned people's heads that we were getting a Montage, a St. Regis, a Waldorf-Astoria," she said. "Utah is clearly known for great skiing, national parks and outdoor adventure. But our image survey from a couple of years ago was not as strong for high-end amenities and entertainment.
"The commitment of these properties shows additional high-end options [that] bring their established brands worldwide with them, which bolsters the already recognized brands of Deer Valley, Alta, Park City, Sundance and Snowbird."
Fakhrieh, executive vice president of DuVal Development, which owns Dakota Mountain Lodge at The Canyons, said his appreciation for what the Park City area has to offer was enhanced when Hilton Hotels Corp. officials vetted his project to see if it was good enough to be part of the Waldorf-Astoria Collection.
"We spent three weeks with the Hilton feasibility study group. They wanted to make sure they were putting their brand on something worth their while," he said.
Goldman Sachs officials came to the same conclusion in helping finance the project, added DuVal founder Lee Hindin. "They really related to the fact people from the West Coast should never fly over Utah any more. There's no need to, not with the access and brands we have."
Those brand names start with Waldorf-Astoria, which will manage the 104 hotel/condominium units in the lodge's first U-shaped building, scheduled to open midspring. Sixty-six more units are in a second planned building. Another brand lined up to increase appeal is Golden Door Spa, which will have 18,000 square feet of space divided into 15 treatment rooms, a fitness center and a beauty salon.
Designed by Architecture Belgique Inc. of Midvale, the three-story structure is oriented to take advantage of the 360-degree views around The Canyons. Its limestone fireplaces, Mohair drapes, curving staircase, two-story water feature and color schemes are geared toward giving Dakota Mountain Lodge a contemporary, sophisticated feel rather than a rustic one.
The lodge also will have a golf course, 15,000 square feet of meeting space, a 7,100-foot ballroom, screening rooms suitable for Sundance Film Festival debuts and a gondola (called Frostwood) that will carry skiers to the The Canyons' base village.
"We didn't cut any corners," Hindin said.
Scheduled to open about the same time, the St. Regis Deer Crest also emphasizes elegance. Its 92 units, many of which can be subdivided to create up to 190 rooms, take up just 50 percent of the 11-story structure's available space. The rest is public space -- a 15,000-square-foot spa, tiered swimming pools, restaurants and bars arranged to engender a feeling that the hotel is a "gathering place," said Fischer.
"Owners will be able to enjoy privacy, but it will be a public hotel with lots of activities," he added.
Nestled into a saddle on a ridge above Snow Park Lodge, the St. Regis Deer Crest's common areas can be reached easily by owners and guests skiing at Deer Valley. "You can walk right in and have lunch or a cocktail," Fischer said, noting that clients will be served by one of the hotel's highlights -- ski butlers.
Another prominent feature will be a funicular, a railway system in which a cable moves tram-like cars on rails up and down the steep slope separating Deer Valley's base from the hotel. Used in hilly European cities, such as the International Olympic Committee's hometown of Lausanne, Switzerland, the funicular can be used by members of the public who want to visit the hotel.
"As you come into Deer Valley, it's the first thing people see next to Snow Park Lodge," said Fischer, expecting the hotel to be a popular destination during Sundance and World Cup skiing competitions. "Deer Crest is a gated community, but we want the public to be able to enjoy this, to come up and have lunch here or a glass of wine."
The arrival of these elite establishments follows last December's opening of The Sky Lodge in Park City. A small luxury hotel that offers one-eighth fractional ownerships of its 33 ultra-modern residences, it is replete with amenities, such as a Japanese spa, a deck with a fire pit overlooking Main Street and bathroom doors adorned with African copper artwork.
"We're looking forward to a full season," said greeter Chris Johnson, expecting the hotel to do better than last year with international visitors, especially since Delta Air Lines started direct flights between Salt Lake City and Paris.
Those well-heeled travelers are just what's needed to survive -- even thrive -- in turbulent times. "Being a luxury hotel, we're doing well," Johnson said.
St. Regis Deer Crest » The 27 residences sold for $2.2 million and up, while fractional ownerships of 64 condominium/hotel suites went for upward of $1.5 million.
Dakota Mountain Lodge at The Canyons » Residences range from $479,000 to more than $2.5 million.
Montage Deer Valley » Prices are being determined. Sales are expected to begin next fall or winter.