|By Mike Gorrell, The Salt Lake Tribune
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 17, 2005 - A Kane County plateau featuring wind-carved buttes, an ancient sand dune and a view of Lake Powell is set to become a luxury resort and spa.
A group of European investors and Amanresorts, a Singapore-based hotel management company with resorts in vacation hotspots worldwide, announced Tuesday their intent to invest at least $125 million in "Amangiri," potentially a 1,900-acre development built around a 40-room hotel, 12,000-square-foot spa and 28 luxury villas.
Amanresorts also expects to hire roughly 200 employees, most of whom will come from Utah, when the resort opens in spring of 2007.
"We came upon Kane County after a long search . . . for typical American Western landscape," said developer Christoph Henkel, a German businessman whose family owns controlling interest in Henkel KGaA, a conglomerate with a market cap exceeding $12 billion.
He, Swedish venture capitalist Kjell Spangberg and travel industry developer Bernt Kuhlmann liked what they saw along a stretch of road running near Lake Powell's western flank between Big Water, Utah, and Page, Ariz.
They spent the past six years assembling the land package, purchasing private property and school trust lands parcels and arranging a land exchange, turning over private acreage they acquired in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the federal government.
And they settled on Amanresorts as the only resort operator "capable of bringing name and brand recognition to the kind of [project] we're looking for."
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. applauded the resort concept and the selection of Amanresorts.
"Amanresorts carries with it the reputation of being one of the very best in the world as far as a luxury brand for travel," Huntsman said, citing a desire to move Utah from a local and regional destination to one with global appeal.
"More people will be knocking on our door," he added, people with "higher disposable income, greater mobility. . . . That helps our state by increasing the range of possibilities."
While most of its resorts circle the Indian Ocean (Amanresort's development in Phuket, Thailand largely escaped the carnage of December's tsunami), the company has only one property in the United States -- Amangani in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where suites go for $700 per night, and up.
"It's all about the destination; bring our guests to unique destinations," said Guy Heywood, Amanresort's country manager for the Americas.
Consequently, he added, the vistas and topographic features of the Kane County property, plus access to Lake Powell's waters, figured prominently in the decision to proceed with Amangiri. In the Sanskrit language, "giri" means rock formations.
To retain the emphasis on the landscape, Kuhlmann noted there are no plans for golf at Amangiri, and that residential quarters will be clustered to keep most of the acreage open.
"We'd like to sell the land as it is," he said. "The topography, we believe, wants to be left alone."
Phase one of the project involves development of the hotel, spa and luxury villas on 640 acres settled between a rocky bluff and the ancient dune, now covered with sparse desert vegetation.
Each villa is projected to sell for $4.5 million to $6.5 million.
If all goes well, the developers intend to build more mansions on a 1,200-acre parcel on the other flank of the sand dune. Kuhlmann said the developers acquired "substantial water rights" in their initial land purchase.
He also is pleased that the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) has 30,000 acres west of the resort property that is not available for development now, but could be reserved for future high-quality projects.
"The added value we bring transcends to all lands," Kuhlmann said.
"That is [SITLA's] perception as well," said assistant director Frederick McBrier, anticipating a long-term return of cash that will help fund Utah's public school system.
Other Amanresorts are in:
--Indonesia (5 resorts)
--India (2 resorts)
--Sri Lanka (2 resorts)
--U.S. (Jackson Hole, Wyo.)
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