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Western Idaho Resort Muddles Through Extended Limbo

DONNELLY, Idaho - The real estate crash triggered some big bankruptcies in the Northwest, but few are as spectacular and convoluted as the foreclosure of the unfinished Tamarack Resort in western Idaho. What was supposed to be the Northwest's newest destination resort remains in extended legal limbo, but plucky homeowners are keeping it alive until a new buyer arrives.

A foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps is an outcome most people want to avoid. But in the case of Idaho's Tamarack Resort, the surrounding community and visitors are now itching for a sheriff's sale. That's because they want a fresh start with a new owner.


  "It's odd up here. It's kind of a ghost town that was just brand new," says skier Joe Allen of Boise.

He glances around at the fenced off, uncompleted base village as he puts away his gear after a day on the slopes.

"I don't know why it's not doing better. It's beautiful," remarks Allen. "The terrain is kind of odd up there -- lots of ups and downs. It's not a consistent downward slope all the way. But it is still beautiful, great terrain."

Like a lot of newer Western ski resorts, Tamarack’s business model depended not so much on lift tickets sales, but on real estate. When that sector when from boom to bust, so too did the resort in short order.

"It was just a rush of construction, you know. It was the big gold boom in a way," says sign maker Cody Fisher, who was one of more than a hundred workers laid off in 2008.

"To see so much money get poured into such a big dream and then have such bad management to go in a wrong direction, that was a hard thing to see, and still is every time I come out here."

The Tamarack property lies about a two hour drive north of Boise. The complex includes 2,000 homesites, chairlifts, an eighteen hole golf course and a European-style base village -- at least the shell of one, now nicknamed "Tyvek Town."

There were plans for much more, but then the developers went bankrupt. The majority owner is now an international fugitive. Bank of America sent the repo man to claim a chair lift. Lawsuits started flying like the snow.

In 2010, many of the original homeowners banded together to restart the ski lifts. The homeowners association now also operates the golf course. Tamarack Municipal Association director Tim Flaherty says both operate on a "break even basis." The idea is to keep the resort alive, maintained and more attractive to a buyer.

"We'd never thought we'd be running it for a third year and now developing budgets to run it continually until something happens."

Flaherty says the homeowners association has signed non-disclosure agreements with "more than one" investor group. Those groups want operational data which could form the basis for foreclosure auction bids. Flaherty expects there to be high interest when the resort comes back onto the market.

"It's just too big to go away and too attractive," he says. "Somebody will go, 'Hmm, ten cents on the dollar, hmmm.' You know, there's money out there."

Skiers on the slopes are universally optimistic about the prospects for a revival someday.

"I'm hopeful. It's an awesome place to ski," says Ryan Day. "It's been real fun. But it's like, we're just going to have to keep hoping."

Jessica Fisher adds, "There's so much potential here, in this community too. Anybody could have a chance at making something happen here."

"They definitely need to get on solid financial ground so that people have more than just the skiing to come here," says Brian Powell. "They want to come and enjoy the base village and the restaurants and things of that nature."

The Tamarack foreclosure proceedings have dragged on for nearly five years. A review of recent court filings suggests the jockeying of creditors for priority to be repaid is nearing conclusion. Then the ball will be in the court of the lender, Credit Suisse, to file for a sheriff's sale. The multinational bank declined comment, citing ongoing litigation.

On the Web:

Tamarack Resort - official site

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.