Traverse City Record-Eagle

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June 6, 2014

City ski area needs $4 million in improvements

TRAVERSE CITY — Hickory Hills Ski Area might need a new lodge as part of $4.3 million to $5.3 million in improvements if city officials want to stem an avalanche of red ink generated by the small ski hill.

A master plan created by ski resort consultants the SE Group calls for an improved or new lodge, wider ski runs, and more cross country trails and summer activities to increase use and revenue at the city-owned ski hill in Garfield Township. Consultants will present their findings to a joint meeting of the city commission and township board Monday at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center.

City Commissioner Tim Werner, a member of an advisory team that oversaw the plan's creation, said it's important for the community to understand the plan offers options and not everything in it needs to be accomplished at once.

"We'll need to take a deliberate, staged approach," Werner said. "Otherwise, I think it becomes another document that just sits on the shelf."

The plan calls for upgrading every facet of the ski hill, from its parking lots and lodge to rope tows and snow-making activities. It also recommends adding more summer activities, from picnic tables to a ropes course and climbing wall.

City Manager Jered Ottenwess said he likes that the master plan provides two options: making improvements to the existing layout or re-configuring the entire 123-acre park.

A new or remodeled lodge comes with a price tag of $1.4 million to $1.85 million. The report notes the existing lodge is too small, with limited food concessions and no apparel sales or ski rentals.

Werner said the consultants made clear that concessions and rentals are a large portion of most ski hills' revenue stream. Hickory Hills currently loses about $80,000 a year, or about $6 a user. Most ski hills generate about $19 per-skier, according to the consultants' report.

"If we are serious about Hickory Hills covering more costs, we have to provide more opportunities for revenue," Werner said.

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