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Olympus Aerial Surveys, Inc
Aerial photo looks southward from the northwest side of Bear Lake. The Black Bear Resort project could generate 16,000 jobs in the area.

Bear Lake and the nearby mountains may seem bucolic, but a planned three-part development could turn the area into a center for shopping, snow- and water-skiing, hiking, fishing, snowmobiling, swimming, tennis, horseback riding, sailing, golfing and dining.

The founders, managers and investors of Black Bear Resort on Thursday unveiled plans for a 4,000-acre development that could take decades to complete on the Idaho side of the lake.

Bruce Barrett, president and co-founder of Black Bear Resort, said the developers visited many resorts to determine what to include in their membership community, which will have some portions open to nonmembers.

"What we wanted was something a little bit different, something that was family-oriented, that was safe, that operated much more like a golf-course community, but was on a larger scale and had more activities," Barrett said during a news conference in Salt Lake City.

Black Bear Resort's development will begin with a Mountain Village, set atop a plateau about 12 miles northwest of the lake. The Lake Community will come next, followed by The Ranches, several miles away from the mountain phase.

Black Bear Resort came about after Bradley Auger, now the development's co-founder and construction president, and Barrett bought the plateau property in 2004 with plans to create hunting lodges. But the possibility of securing enough water caused them to think about a resort community, and they set about acquiring more property.

The Salt Lake City-based developers have received permission to start building streets, a model home and a sales office. The Bear Lake County Commission gave its approval for an overall development plan last week.

Barrett and Auger still have to show they have enough water rights for thousands of houses. They are making final adjustments to the water transfer plan, in response to comments from the Idaho Department of Water Resources. Barrett said the resort, at complete build-out, would need about 600 acre-feet of water annually, an amount equivalent to what's needed to grow 220 acres of alfalfa.

Ted Galovan, the development's chief financial officer and investor, said Thursday that a Bear Lake County survey last summer showed that 71 percent of residents favored a four-season resort. Construction alone would be an economic boon in a county that currently has only 50 construction jobs, he said.

A University of Utah study indicates that the resort will generate nearly 16,000 jobs in Bear Lake and surrounding counties over the next 10 years. The figure includes 15,900 new construction jobs and 313 full-time operations positions.

The Black Bear Resort group plans to repay construction loans with free cash flow from property sales during the first phase of the project. The developers also could sell the resort to a major resort operator after a few years.

Several existing Western vacation spots are facing financial uncertainty or worse with the ongoing mortgage crisis. They include Park City's Promontory, Nevada's Lake Las Vegas golf resort, Idaho's Tamarack Resort and Montana's venerable Yellowstone Club. And sales are off at other resorts in the region, according to the Rocky Mountain Resort Alliance. But the Black Bear Resort developers remain confident.

"We believe that Black Bear Resort possesses the land, possesses the vision and has the financial model and the development team necessary to put this into place," said Bill Poce, the development group's senior vice president of marketing and sales.

The 2,200-acre, 3-mile-wide mountain phase at Black Bear Resort will include condos, hotels, custom homes, hiking trails and a golf course designed by Tom Weiskopf, as well as a spa, restaurants, an equestrian center and skiing.

Barrett said full build-out of the Mountain Village could take 20 or 30 years and cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion. The first planned large building, with construction starting in 2009 or 2010, will a glass-covered galleria in the ski village.

The 200-acre Lake Community phase is in the concept stage. The Black Bear Resort team envisions a 600-slip marina with public launch areas, a large village development with a shopping and restaurant district, a beach, a boardwalk, an inland bay and waterway system.

The Ranches phase, on about 800 acres, will have five- to 20-acre wooded lots and a members lodge, "so that members can experience more of a rugged mountain feel," Auger said.

Both the Lake and Mountain communities will be open to the public, with some portions, including skiing, available to the public on a limited basis, perhaps one to two days per week.

The lower ski mountain will have about a 700-foot vertical drop. The developers on Thursday acknowledged that the vertical drop is much smaller than those of ski areas near Salt Lake City — Snowbird's vertical drop is 3,240 feet. But the developers said the resort will feature an elaborate snow park with toboggan tunnels and sites for tubing and sledding. Poce said the "intermediate" skiing will be popular.

Contributing: Associated Press.

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