|By Richard Richtmyer, Anchorage Daily
News, AlaskaMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Nov. 23, 2006 - A real estate financier and ski enthusiast has reached an agreement to buy the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood.
"Everything looks good, and the sale is pending," said John Byrne III, who is at the Girdwood resort this week tending to the final paperwork. "It should be completed next week."
Byrne -- the son of insurance-industry mogul John "Jack" Byrne, who formerly headed Geico -- said he'll be the principal owner of Alyeska, and he intends to spend a lot of time there and play an active role in developing the resort.
He describes himself as an avid skier, who spent more than 100 days on the slopes last year, and says he's thrilled by the potential to further develop Alyeska, which opened in 1959 and has become the linchpin of the tourist economy in Girdwood, 38 miles south of Anchorage.
The resort includes a ski area on Mount Alyeska, and a large hotel called the Alyeska Prince.
One of the areas Byrne said he'll focus on first is making the resort more family friendly, which could include expanding the amount of easier-to-ski terrain and developing a "kids camp" for ski instruction.
"I want to have more of a kids' facility," said Byrne, who has two daughters, aged 7 and 9. "That will enhance the experience for both the parents and the children."
Byrne, who lives in Alta, Utah, also said he wants to improve snow-making as well as the resort's day-skier amenities, two critical areas he said the current owners have largely ignored.
Seibu Holdings Inc., the Japanese company that has owned Alyeska since 1980, last summer put it up for sale as part of a large sell-off of its resort properties. Because the deal isn't signed yet, Byrne didn't want to discuss further details about the transaction or his development plans Wednesday.
Chris Von Imhof, Alyeska's chief executive, said a formal announcement of the sale and a press conference to discuss it have been scheduled for next Thursday.
"We pretty well have reached an agreement," he said.
Von Imhof has managed the Alyeska resort for much of the last 30 years and has seen it through three ownership changes during his tenure.
After Byrne buys it, Von Imhof said he'll step down as chief executive but has agreed to remain on the team as an executive consultant.
"My home base will be here and I will still be involved in the resort," he said.
Von Imhof said he is delighted that a developer with a personal passion for skiing will take over the resort.
"He loves the mountain, he loves skiing and he's an expert in real estate development," he said of Byrne. "He's going to be a great asset for Alyeska."
Byrne is the principal owner and president of Cirque Property, a privately owned real estate investment company based in Utah.
In a letter to Anchorage's chief fiscal officer this month, the company said it has done more than $515 million worth of real estate deals since it was founded in 1993.
Mayor Mark Begich said he met Byrne on Wednesday and was thrilled that a developer was stepping in who appears ready to make a significant investment in the resort, which will help boost the area's economic development.
"He sees the opportunity that has been lingering there for so long and just hasn't been taken advantage of," Begich said. "Seibu hasn't done any re-investment in that property for years."
Because Byrne also will be taking over the city-owned O'Malley Golf Course -- which Alyeska runs under a lease agreement -- Anchorage officials must endorse the sale before it can happen.
Begich said he's already given it his blessing.
"Our financial adviser did the research and found that he is a well-heeled individual who can do what he's saying," the mayor said. "On top of that, he's highly motivated."
--WHO: John Byrne III is an avid skier and real estate financier from Alta, Utah.
--COMPANY: Byrne says Cirque Property has done $515 million in real estate deals, including an 865-acre housing development at Telluride, Colo.
--FAMILY: His father is John "Jack" Byrne, an insurance industry mogul who once headed Geico.
Copyright (c) 2006, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska
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