Invested in Park City
Photography: Timothy Thimmes
Bob Wells thinks about retirement every day. “It would be interesting,” muses the veteran vice-president of resort planning and real estate development at Deer Valley Resort. “I wouldn’t mind a test case to see if I could keep myself busy enough.” That’s about as far as the daydream ever gets. Wells pauses a moment, then admits softly, “I expect I’ll work at least three more years and make it to 70.”
In the high-altitude world of destination ski resorts, Bob Wells is legendary. His storied career with both the Park City and Deer Valley resorts is worthy of a book. He’s widely acknowledged as the mastermind behind the creation of the Stag Lodge and the elegant “Deer Valley look” that resonates throughout the resort’s architecture.
In spite of his lofty position, Wells exudes a quiet humility reflecting his southern roots. Growing up in Laurel, Mississippi, he was a good student and enjoyed sports. He was the Babe Ruth League national batting champion in the mid-1950s. “I had a .458 batting average one season without steroids,” he jokes.
As a teenager, Wells worked at a hickory mill making axe and hammer handles and ironically, hickory blanks for downhill skis. “I was just an average kid growing up in a small southern town,” he says. “I never in a million years dreamed I’d ever even strap on a pair of skis, much less move to a ski resort.”
Wells skipped a couple of grades on his way to high school graduation. Among the youngest in his class at Mississippi State University, he had an aptitude for math and an interest in economics that led to a CPA degree in 1963. Within a year he was working as a tax accountant with Arthur Andersen and Com-pany in New Orleans.
Among his clients was Edgar Stern, who owned several businesses in the area. Wells credits Stern with his first exposure to the world of ski area development. In 1969, Stern researched real estate opportunities in a sleepy mining town called Park City that happened to have a ski hill.
Thanksgiving of 1970 found Wells in Breckenridge, Colorado, where he investigated an innovative resort housing concept called “condominiums” and skied for the first time. “I remember basically rolling down the ski slope all day,” he recalls. “By the end of the day, I was sitting on a bench in front of a bar watching people walk down the plaza in their ski boots, carrying their skis. My feet were killing me, and I just couldn’t imagine how they could do that.”
Nonetheless, Wells had gotten the “ski bug,” so when the Stern family and its development company, Royal Street, acquired the fledgling Park City Ski Resort and offered Wells a job as chief financial officer, he took it. He moved to Park City in 1971, bought an Edelweiss condo across the street from the resort for $22,000 and got down to business.
“Coming from the outside world into the situation here, it was clear that this was the perfect place,” Wells remembers. As CFO, he managed the financing and sale of all real estate developments at the resort. When the emerging Deer Valley development split off from Park City Ski Resort, Wells went with it. He’s been responsible for the planning and financing of many prestigious condominium developments that have set the standard for ski resort lodging properties all over the world.
It’s fair to say that Wells and Park City have grown up together. His life and career are inextricably woven into the rich fabric of the town. Wells and his wife at the time raised three children in Park City, and he served for many years on the Park City Planning Commission and City Council. He has been president of both the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Park City Lodging Association and helped to create Park City’s free transportation system in the early 1980s.
Wells offers a sobering assessment of the current environment for travel and tourism in the area. “I don’t think the economic recovery will take place overnight,” he observes. “We’ll likely see more of an impact this winter than last.” He says Deer Valley will continue to grow and develop. “We’re still considering our options. The economic slow-down has given us an opportunity to step back and work on a good plan going forward.”
In spite of the sluggish economy, Wells remains bullish on Park City. “I don’t see anything that’s going to stop or even slow down the growth of the area as a place to live,” he says. I still think this is a great place to live.
To me, it’s gotten better every year. Forty years ago I had to drive to Salt Lake City to buy a pair of socks. That’s definitely changed.”
Wells disagrees with residents who complain about traffic and growth in the area. “I understand their position, but I have my own reasons for loving it here. I always say to my friends, ‘I love traffic.’ It means there are a lot of people in town to ski or bicycle or vacation.”
So, what’s really keeping Wells from retiring? “It’s the people I work with,” he replies without hesitation. “Everyone here [at Deer Valley] is like family to me. We have the best employees, builders and developers in the business.” That said, he admits he’ll be taking a little more time off in the next couple of years to get used to the idea.
Steve Phillips skied Park City in the 1960s, even before Bob Wells, and moved here in the ’80s. Unlike Bob, he’s retired.