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Park City enjoying post-Oly land boom

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Luxury homes are popping up near Park City. Real-estate sales in the area more than tripled to $2 billion in 2005, thanks in part to the Olympics four years ago.

Luxury homes are popping up near Park City. Real-estate sales in the area more than tripled to $2 billion in 2005, thanks in part to the Olympics four years ago.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

Four years after the slopes around Park City attracted international attention for hosting many of Salt Lake City's Olympic events, the area has shaken off the financial curse that has often hit host cities following the Games and is undergoing a real-estate boom.

In the past 18 months, international developers have flooded the Park City area looking for land. Wealthy buyers have followed, seeking luxurious second and third homes.

Developers such as Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. are crowding into the market to build projects, including a St. Regis Hotel. With backing from Toronto-based developer Talisker Corp., architect Robert A.M. Stern is designing a club for the Talisker golf community.

These luxury brands have attracted deep-pocketed buyers: Some hedge-fund managers and financial executives are scheduling winter-weekend getaways at Park City's ski resorts instead of the more well-known Colorado slopes of Aspen and Vail, buyers say. The volume of real-estate sales in Park City more than tripled to $2 billion in 2005 from $651 million in 2002, according to data tracked by Commerce CRG, a local affiliate of Cushman & Wakefield Inc. That has translated into a jump in prices: The average home price climbed more than 50 percent to $530,299 from $350,469 over the period.

"The post-Olympic awareness is something that money can't buy," says Betty Brown, president of Park City's Board of Realtors. "The Olympic awareness certainly created people coming to take vacations. Now we are seeing an increase in sales."

Real-estate industry experts in northern Italy are hoping that more international developers take an interest in the Turin area following the Olympics. "The Olympic Games are a marvelous opportunity," says Armando Borghi, director of the masters in real-estate program at Bocconi University in Milan. "For now, it's the local developers who tend to buy a little piece of land and they try to develop small projects."

In the months following the Olympics, Park City developers seemed more at risk of an Olympic curse than a boom. Home prices dipped in 2002, when Park City hosted part of the Games. Local businesspeople say the area was plagued by overbuilding and overoptimistic sellers putting high prices on homes following the Olympics. After that post-Olympics lull, though, the market quickly took off.

"Within 18 months to the day after the Olympics, our market went nuts," says Michael Sloan, a Commerce CRG broker.

While some national developers had moved into the market before the Olympics, they now find that they can attract more prominent partners and a wider variety of buyers because of the Olympic brand. In 1999, Stan Castleton, a developer based in Anaheim, Calif., returned to the area where he had skied in college 30 years before because he thought the Olympics would help to turn Park City into a year-round vacation community.

After two slow years following the Olympics, Castleton signed a deal with Starwood in 2004 to build the state's first St. Regis Hotel. Lately, he says, more buyers from New York and Florida are considering the area for a second home.

"About two years ago, East Coast people (discovered) that they could get on a plane and be on the slopes by noon," he says. "Colorado resorts were a little harder to get to."

These new luxury developments are drawing skiers from better-known resort destinations. In the past, Beverly Hills, Calif., real-estate broker Lea Porter and her husband Barry, a co-founder of Global Crossing Ltd. and head of private-equity firm Clarity Partners, mainly skied in Aspen. "My husband and I got married in Aspen," says Lea Porter. "We tried to buy property in Aspen. Aspen was very near and dear to my heart."

But a friend of Lea Porter's who attended the 2002 Olympics raved about the Salt Lake City area's skiing and family-friendly culture. The Porters made three trips to Park City to consider a move and made four separate purchases in Deer Crest, a gated community. Last August, they bought a 10,000-square-foot house in an area where home prices range from $5 million to $15 million. Then they invested in a three-bedroom condominium-hotel unit in the St. Regis resort; such units start at about $2 million.

The couple also purchased a lot next to their home, as well as 37 acres of horse-zoned property. In the past six months, Lea Porter says seven of their friends have bought in the St. Regis.

"Prior to the Olympics, no one ever mentioned Utah to me as a skier," she says. "Now we're so heavily invested that we've talked about moving there permanently."