|By Eric Eyre, The Charleston Gazette,
W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 24, 2011--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 250 prefabricated modular rooms at Canaan Valley Resort's lodge were never intended to last 34 years.
In late May, workers started demolishing the rooms as part of a $24 million renovation project at the Tucker County resort, which remains open amid the construction.
The state plans to build about 160 new rooms, all located within interior corridors. The old units, built in 1977, have outside entrances.
"You're not going to be carrying your suitcase through a howling blizzard anymore," said Ken Caplinger, the state's parks and recreation chief. "[The modular units] have served their useful life."
Last year, the West Virginia Economic Development Authority Authorized a $160 million bond issue to pay for projects at state parks, universities and at the Capitol Complex. Lottery revenues will be used to repay the bond.
Workers already have torn down 100 rooms at Canaan and poured a foundation that will support two new four-story guest room wings.
The new accommodations will include standard double-occupancy rooms and higher-end suites similar to those found at Chief Logan State Park. Many rooms will have balconies, allowing guests to take in Canaan Valley's spectacular views.
The new rooms are expected to open before the 2013 ski season.
"It's going to look like a more traditional kind of hotel," Caplinger said.
Not surprisingly, room bookings have been down since the demolition and construction started -- though the decline hasn't been as great as park officials expected. The resort has received few complaints from guests, Caplinger said.
Even so, the state recently renegotiated its contract with resort operator, Guest Services Inc. of Fairfax, Va.
For years, Guest Services had a "concession lease" contract. The company paid a percentage of gross revenues to the state each year.
On July 1, Guest Services signed a management contract with the state.
Under the new terms, the state will pay the resort operator $200,000 in annual management fees. The state also must absorb any losses, if the resort finishes the year with a deficit during the construction project.
The agreement, which runs through April 2014, will keep the resort open and preserve 80 full-time jobs and 250 seasonal jobs, Caplinger said. Canaan Valley is one of Tucker County's largest employers.
"We were taking down a good percentage of their revenue-producing infrastructure," Caplinger said. "We wanted to take the risk out of this for Guest Services. We had to change the contract to keep the park open and protect the local economy."
The change gives the park system more say over resort operations.
"They're basically working for us to manage the park day to day," Caplinger said. "A management contract gives us a little more control."
When the contract expiration date nears, state officials will decide whether to operate the resort, or solicit bids for a new concession lease agreement with a private firm. In either case, existing staff would likely stay on and keep their jobs, Caplinger said.
The state also plans to use the bond money to upgrade the lodge's central building, which houses a restaurant, conference rooms, lobby and indoor pool.
An additional $12 million in bond money will pay for chairlift improvements, snowmaking equipment and "people movers" used to transport guests from the resort's parking lot to the Bear Paw ski lodge and lifts at the bottom of the ski slopes.
Caplinger said Canaan's improvements coincide with ongoing Corridor H construction, a four-lane highway project that has decreased travel times between the Washington, D.C., metro area and the year-round resort near Davis.
Although the resort is reducing guest rooms from 250 to 160, Caplinger said the lower number would be enough to meet demand, even during the ski season.
"We've been talking about doing this since the mid- to late 1990s," Caplinger said. "We're going to have a really beautiful place. Canaan deserves this investment."
Reach Eric Eyre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4869.
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.
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