Developer shares details about his tram plans for Bridal Veil Falls

Developer Richard Losee says he loves the falls as much as anyone and wants to make it safer and more accessible.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) This file photo shows Bridal Veil Falls on Nov. 23. A developer who wants to build a drug rehabilitation center at the top of the falls in Provo unveiled more details about his proposal on Friday. The Utah County Commission, which now owns the popular spot, has a hearing scheduled on a proposed conservation easement protection on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

A developer who wants to build a luxury drug rehab lodge at the top of Provo Canyon’s Bridal Veil Falls issued a statement Friday saying he intends to rebuild the attraction into “the beautiful and inspiring landmark it once was.”

Richard Losee, owner of the fancy Cirque Lodge treatment centers, made waves this week after news emerged that he’d been working with Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee behind the scenes to privatize part of the waterfall. Along with his lodge at the top, Losee wants to build an aerial tramway up the falls and associated base station, parking and helicopter pad.

Commissioner Nathan Ivie is working to place Bridal Veil Falls under a conservation easement before he leaves office in January — an effort supported by Commissioner Tanner Ainge that would block Losee’s plans.

All together, Losee wrote in his proposal that he wants to develop less than an acre at the site. He suggested three ways of doing it. First, he could buy the whole property from the county for $2.5 million, then deed back the land he didn’t need for the county to place under conservation. Second, he could purchase just the land he needed for the tram for $1 million. Last, he could lease the land he needs for $20,000 a year over 50 years, which also works out to be $1 million.

Either way, the tram would be available to the public from about Memorial Day to Labor Day for a “reasonable” fee.

The developer made his case by noting that the falls used to have an operable tram, starting in the 1960s, until an avalanche damaged it in the 1990s.

“I believe that I love the Bridal Veil Falls area as much as anyone,” Losee wrote. “In the early 1980s, I was a signature away from purchasing the tram operation and surrounding 21 acres.”

He added that the county has done little to improve or beautify Bridal Veil Falls since the commissioners agreed to purchase the site in 2015 from a private operator for $2.4 million.

Last year, the commission approved $900,000 to build restrooms, improve trails and maintain the landmark. But budget concerns from the pandemic meant that work was deferred this summer.

Losee further noted his vision could help with safety concerns.

“I hope to give the public an option of viewing the Falls from a spectacular tram experience rather than perpetuating the ongoing injuries and even deaths that occur from people precariously climbing the cliffs,” he wrote, although it’s unclear how a tram will deter people from attempting to scale the falls by foot.

Losee concludes his proposal by noting that he approached commissioners Lee and Ainge “several years ago” with his plan.

“They both expressed their support of the endeavor, and Commissioner Ainge and I agreed to have Commissioner Lee’s office take the lead,” Losee wrote. “In good faith, I have spent considerable time and resources preparing a proposal to give to the County and public.”

The statement confused Ainge, who only met Losee after he was elected to the commission in 2018.

“Several years ago, I was living in California,” Ainge said, adding, “perhaps it was clear to him that I was not going to take the lead.”

Emails show Lee began working with Losee and an architect on Losee’s vision after the commission initially rejected the idea in 2018. Lee has since distanced himself from the project, writing in a statement earlier this week that he rejects “any plans to sell some or all of the Bridal Veil Falls property.”

“For me, the preservation of the Falls for safe public use will always be a top priority,” Lee wrote. “I view Bridal Veil Falls as one of the crown jewels of Utah County, and I will continue to do what I can to protect it for the enjoyment of all.”

The commission is holding a public hearing on the conservation easement plan at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9. Ainge said all are invited to submit ideas for the future of the falls.

“Anyone who feels they have a vision [can] come forward to share that vision. [Losee] and his team are more than welcome to do that,” Ainge said. “I’m prepared to move forward with a conservation easement.”

Losee’s proposal is included below.