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Jiminy Peak Sale Ensures Resort's Longevity

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Brian Fairbank
HANCOCK, Mass. — Dozens of skiers queued up at the Berkshire Express last week, intent on grabbing the next lift to the top of the mountain. Few probably knew that the 1,150-foot peak and its facilities had changed hands the day before for $27 million.

It won't really matter if they do, said Jiminy Mountain Ski Resort President and CEO Brian Fairbank, watching from inside Crane Lodge as the latest snowstorm dropped inches of white stuff. "Nothing's going to change ... not for the employees, not for the clients, not for the vendors, not for the community."

The ski resort was purchased on Tuesday, Jan.27, by CNL Lifestyle Properties of Orlando, Fla., a real estate equity firm specializing in recreational properties such as ski areas and golf courses with village and retail operations.

The sale occurred after eight months of negotiations capped by a frenetic day in which a glitch prevented the right sums from being in the right accounts at the right time. Fairbank had all his managers in a conference room ready to tell them the news — only to be told the deal wasn't sealed. Five minutes later, everything was where it should be and the mountain passed into the hands of CNL.

Tyler Fairbank
Easing back last week, Fairbank, 63, said he was still out of sorts after Tuesday's high ("That was the adrenalin," laughed marketing director Betsy Strickler), but felt "a sense of peace."

That's because the sale has ensured not only the long-term stability of the four-season mountain resort but that the Fairbank name will continue to be a part of it, in the form of Brian's son, Tyler Fairbank.

As the resort's grown, so has the difficulty of buying into it. This way the Jiminy business (which also includes part owner Joseph O'Donnell) will continue to manage the facility and give the younger Fairbank the opportunity to continue with it.

Other than that, no jobs will be lost, no management changes made.

Brian Fairbank likened it to the relationship between a restaurateur and the owner of his building. "We oversee the operations ... we determine the menu," he said.

A lot of research went into CNL and real estate investment trusts, or REITs, said Tyler Fairbank.

"We want to continue to have them see us as a good business move," he said. "They need us to be a very good investment."

For CNL, the resort was "a gem of an asset" in a region in which it's expanding, said Baxter Underwood, chief investment officer for CNL Lifestyle Co., which oversees the REIT. "It's a true family destination for that region. Brian has done an amazing job."

The investment firm owns 116 properties across the United States, including 22 ski and mountain lifestyle properties such as the Village at Stratton in Southern Vermont and the historic Bretton Woods in New Hampshire. Jiminy is the company's first venture into Massachusetts and its sixth investment in New England. The bulk of its holdings are in the Southwest.

Underwood said the firm's investors don't want to underwrite underperforming properties — a lot of due diligence is in order before CNL adds a holding to its portfolio. It's important the asset be in good shape, well maintained, financially healthy, have a niche in the marketplace and have a significant history in its region. The right properties are also "a cultural fit for CNL," he said.

CNL is leasing the property back to Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort LLC over a 40-year period. That seemed the right number to Fairbank who is entering his 40th year at Jiminy, which opened in 1948. The ski resort is so far having a record year, up nearly 5 percent over last year with more than 71,000 skiers and snowboarders hitting the slopes from the end of November through the beginning of December.

The economic downturn may be actually helping Jiminy by encouraging skiers to take short trips to Hancock rather than fly to the Western slopes, said Strickler. But Fairbank cautioned, "we won't know how well until April 15 (season's end)."

The resort is also investing heavily in the next generation of skiers through its SkiWee and Explorers program for children. The resort has also been aggressively marketing to skiers with discounts and specials.

Last Wednesday's snowstorm canceled schools and activities around the county but drove skiers to Jiminy, where the parking lot was full and there was a line to the lift.

Fairbank has always had his gaze on the future and, through long-term planning, has turned the ski area into a year-round resort with eateries, retailers, conference facilities, summer attractions and condominiums. He also oversaw the installation of Zephyr, the resort's 1.5-megawatt turbine that spawned EOS Ventures LLC, headed by Tyler Fairbank, that helps other businesses generate their own power.

It was that kind of planning and environmental foresight that caught CNL's eye. "They were making a special effort for green," said Underwood. "It is so innovative as a resort."

CNL sees the resort as a strong, long-term investment; for Fairbank, it ensures the resort's financial footing and an orderly transition to the next generation.

"Well, I might be around when the lease runs out," he joked. "But I told Tyler I might not be as active in those last 20 years."
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