Owners of the Homestead Resort in Utah’s Heber Valley are seeking to sell the historic property to a high-end Salt Lake City developer with tentative plans to demolish most of its iconic buildings and construct a new resort.
Steve Eddington with Legacy Homestead, the site’s current owner, said Thursday that Watts Enterprises has signed a purchase agreement for the 50-acre landmark, known to generations of Utahns for its rustic character, hillside golf course, trails and unique hot springs crater.
Talks are preliminary, according to Eddington, as the two parties work through due diligence to complete the sale.
“We don’t have anything solidified yet. We’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do at this point,” he said, declining to comment further.
Watts Enterprises — headquartered on Highland Drive in Salt Lake City — bills itself as a luxury developer with 30 years of experience in building residential and commercial properties at what it calls a “platinum standard.” It has built or is nearing completion on as many as 17 upscale assisted-living communities and apartment complexes, along with a couple of commercial buildings in Salt Lake City and Erda, according to its website.
Russ Watts, president of the company, did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
Midway City Planner Michael Henke said initial plans call for revamping the resort in five phases that would raze all but one of its existing structures. Only Virginia House, adjacent to the resort’s main building and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is likely to remain.
According to city documents, the Homestead’s old main building, adjacent cottages and other structures would be replaced with up to 290 new dwellings and support buildings, including hotels, condominiums and a series of residential-style estate lodges, bungalows, villas and so-called glamping sites. The overhaul would also add a conference center, spas and a wide range of recreational amenities.
Up to 74.5 percent of the development would be open space, according to Watts' application, referred to as the "Homestead Resort Revitalization" in city documents.
The resort is expected to remain open throughout the overhaul.
The Homestead Resort was constructed in 1886 by Swiss-born Simon Schneitter to serve guests enjoying its hot and naturally flowing mineral waters that pool inside of a large rock crater.
Known for its placid, old-fashioned feel, the family resort and its tree-lined grounds and golf course are closely associated with Midway and Heber, about three miles to the east.
Wasatch County is growing rapidly, with new residents drawn by its clean air, easy access to recreation and relative proximity to Salt Lake City, Park City and Utah County. Much of that growth has centered on Heber, the county seat, which has seen its population rise from 11,500 in 2010 to about 15,800 today, according to U.S. Census Bureau.
Midway’s elected leaders have given initial approval to transferring a 2008 land-use master plan governing the Homestead Resort to Watts Enterprises.
And the prospective owner’s formal request to alter that master plan is scheduled to go before Midway’s planning commission next week, Henke said.
“This is our first view at this,” he said — although Watts, at the city’s request, has held at least one “public participation meeting” so far to float some of its ideas. Additional public hearings and meetings are forthcoming, Henke said.
“Our goal is to really make sure we engage the public early,” he said. “It’s going to take quite a while to go through all of this.”
Members of a group calling itself Pure Midway, dedicated in part to preserving the city’s rural character, are urging the developer to coordinate with Midway residents and historic preservationists for guidance on saving more of the resort’s old buildings, using historic-facade easements and locating new construction in ways that protect the resort’s mature trees.
"Many Midway citizens as well as many visitors are hopeful development of the area will maintain the integrity of The Homestead as a special and unique Utah resort that exudes a calmer, simpler yesteryear," the group said in a statement.
"We realize the developers’ investment in a project like this will be substantial with hopes for a healthy return," it continued. "Citizens’ hopes are that this group might be sensitive to the community and how this site has shaped Midway."
Henke said the city of Midway intends to place at least two conditions on any changes to the Homestead master plan.
City officials want to keep at least 90 percent of the residential units at the revamped resort as rentals, as opposed to permanent residences, in order to maintain Midway's revenues from what are known as transient taxes, levied on overnight stays.
Midway also wants more connectivity between the resort’s many biking and hiking trails and the city’s Main Street, Henke said, in hopes of both improving safety and boosting retail activity from visitors.
The city planner said Midway also has leverage through the Homestead master plan to set architectural standards on new construction. City officials, he said, are debating whether to require that the resort keep its existing look of a Southern plantation or whether it should match the Swiss-European theme of architecture in Midway’s downtown area nearby.