By Karen D. Lorentz
Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a series addressing the long road to a village at Killington Resort.
Aware of trends elsewhere in the ski world and impressed with the concept of cluster development as exemplified by condominiums in Europe, Killington founder Pres Smith hired professional planners Dan Kiley and Robert Burley to create a master plan incorporating several ski villages.
He announced the plan for a 44-acre Killington Center (with hotels, lodges, restaurants and shops) and three new residential areas located on the mountain—at Falls Brook, at the soon-to-be-built gondola base on U.S. Route 4, and one at Hadley Hill—at a November 1967 press conference.
No sooner had he announced those plans than a strategic land exchange was arranged between the Sherburne Corporation and the state of Vermont. Killington purchased 1,480 acres on Camel’s Hump in February 1968 and transferred them to the state in exchange for the 400-acre tract adjacent to Snowshed. The swap cost Killington over $200,000, a considerable sum for a small company with net earnings of $91,188 in 1968!
New plans called for: a 30-acre high-density village core with commercial and residential construction; a 100-acre golf course (completed by independent contractor in 1984); and 270 acres of low-density residential development with open spaces. In all, it was projected the village center would have about one-third of the living units and the rest of the village two-thirds, for a total of up to 2,600 units.
With the new plan, Killington embarked upon building the Edgemont condominiums in 1968. At the time, the concept of condominiums was “relatively new to Vermont and there were no other developers who really wanted to experiment with it. Since we wanted to commence development in the 400 acres, our only choice was to do it ourselves,” explained former Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer Martel Wilson, who had been put in charge of the real estate department.
Built at the periphery of the new 400-acre village—to avoid making any mistakes with the village center—Edgemont represented a first step and saw good sales with 40 units sold. The Killington Village Inn (a.k.a. The Villager) followed in 1972-73. The company retained ownership of the hotel units, which later provided summer lodging facilities for the school for tennis (both now gone). The Whiffletree condominium project—48 units built from 1973 to 1975, with 24 units added in 1978—was to be Killington’s last venture into the direct development of condominiums.
Recession and weather impact projects
In 1973 there was a national economic downturn, with interest rates rising as fuel prices escalated. Simultaneously, the East experienced disastrous weather and snow conditions. With the accompanying economic and energy uncertainty, there was less interest in condos, and Killington experienced a decline in sales revenues while increased interest rates and escalating utilities and taxes added to the cost of operations.
In 1974, the combined impacts of fuel shortage, lean snow year, and increased costs were exacerbated by a substantial lack of skier days. Killington found itself with unsold condo units and with approximately $200,000 of interest charges on that inventory. Rentals of the condos helped to offset the carrying charges.
Commenting at the 1974 annual meeting on what he saw as an undesirable problem with real estate development as a source of ski company revenues, Smith indicated that Killington would now look to the recurring revenue sources—rentals and management services—but not to sales and construction of their own projects. After these three projects, Killington left real estate development to others.
The Killington Village center, which was in a different location from the current SP Land plan, got its start with the 1978 opening of the Mountain Inn, a 50-room hotel. The Cascades Lodge (1980) and Pinnacle and Mountain Green Condominiums (1981-1986) followed. The Trail Creek, Fall Line, and High Ridge condominiums were built at the periphery of the village center from 1984 to 1988. By 1988, the 400-acre Killington Village Planned Unit Development (PUD) totaled about 900 units—700 condo units and 200 hotel rooms—and the Killington Golf Course.
The commercial core began in 1985 with Mountain Green Three, a large, multi-level complex incorporating condominiums and an indoor sports/health center, restaurant, underground parking, and small shops. Public restaurants were also in operation at the Mountain Inn and Cascades Lodge in the Village Center.
1980s opposition stalls growth
From 1985 to 1991, environmental groups had a very strong ally in Vermont’s Governor Madeleine Kunin. Her administration was not afraid to do battle with the state’s largest ski area, and she categorized outdoor and business interests as being irreconcilable. This allowed her to frame the “competing” interests as a type of “David-and-Goliath” battle and further encouraged a “no-growth” element to pursue their agenda at the expense of Killington. Together, they made Killington the ideal “enemy” with which to do battle.
In her book, “Living a Political Life” (Knopf, 1994), Kunin had noted that “the feminine traits of mediation and consensus building were not always appropriate to the political task at hand.” She accused Killington of not playing by the rules, of being “whiners and complainers,” and in essence of being enemies of the environment. She wrote, “By getting angry I had become a heroine.”
She took that battle to the media and, at Killington’s expense, made them out to be “bad guys.” Whatever the merits—or lack thereof—of her perception, what many found repugnant was that a governor would choose to do public battle to embarrass a major employer and driver of the economy in an area of the state that was in need of jobs. By choosing a political approach, she was fostering the battle and that ultimately had consequences for the region as well as for Killington Ski Resort.
Village expansion became the object of environmental challenges, stalling its further progress. Due to the larger size and scope of Killington Village, cries of “rapid development” were raised and some groups decided the ski area was “big enough and should not grow anymore.”
The ramifications of “environmental challenges” would change Killington’s history as the permit process began to be used to stop and/or delay progress.
Karen Lorentz is the author of “Killington, A Story of Mountains and Men: A 50-year History of the Ski Resort.”
Photo courtesy of Karen D. Lorentz
Shown is a model of the 1968 proposed Killington Village Center. Upper Snowshed parking lot is to the right and Snowshed Pond is on the upper left. A proposed ski lift in the center would provide transportation to Snowshed area.