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Wisp owners might sell Western Maryland resort

MCHENRY — The owners of Maryland’s only ski resort say they’re considering selling the landmark property to resolve financial problems linked to a slide in home construction around nearby Deep Creek Lake.

Karen Myers says selling the Wisp Resort is the last option she and her partners in DC Development LLC would pursue to repay more than $23 million to BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C. They’re also seeking new investors in their businesses.

But in an interview this week at the base of 3,100-foot Marsh Mountain, Myers said everything is on the table if they can’t buy more time.

“One of my goals really was to be a part of Wisp in the next stage of development,” said Myers, whose group has owned the resort since 2001. “I hope that I’m a part of the team that does it.”

She said Wisp is in no danger of closing.

The resort isn’t directly involved in the financial dispute, which stems from slower-than-expected sales of home sites in DC Development’s nearby Lodestone golf-course community. Wisp is run by another company, Recreational Industries Inc., also owned by Myers and partners Gary Daum of Bethel Park, Pa., and Steven Richards of McHenry.

Myers said they’d like to sell Lodestone but there’s little demand these days for subdivisions with just home sites. The property has paved roads and infrastructure but only 20 of the 197 lots have been sold.

Wisp, on the other hand, is a profitable business with $16 million in annual sales, state-of-the-art snowmaking equipment and features that drew 195,000 skier visits last season, said General Manager Tim Prather.

Since its founding in 1955, Wisp has made Maryland’s westernmost county a year-round tourist destination. Vacation homes, some worth millions, ring the 3,600-acre lake. The ski resort is the county’s sixth-largest employer with a work force that swells from 225 in the summer to 650 in the winter.

“They’re a big draw. They’re a big part of Deep Creek’s success,” said Garrett County Administrator R. Lamont Pagenhardt.

So when BB&T filed court documents in July revealing that DC Development was in default, waves of worry swept across the lakeside community. Rumors spread that Wisp had already been sold to competitor Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Seven Springs, Pa., about 40 miles north.

Prather acknowledged that Seven Springs is among three parties that have expressed interest in buying Wisp. A Seven Springs spokesman declined to comment.

Myers said the partners would rather persuade the bank to restructure the loan. She said they hope to make a restructuring pitch to the lender in late September or early October.

BB&T’s lawyer, Louis J. Ebert, declined to comment on the dispute.

Meanwhile, Myers and her partners have asked Gov. Martin O’Malley and Garrett County’s congressional members to intercede.

On Thursday, spokeswomen for U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin said the senators’ staffs have urged the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development to provide any available support. Cardin spokeswoman Susan Sullam said Cardin’s office also called the U.S. Small Business Administration on DC Development’s behalf.

O’Malley’s office didn’t respond to questions from The Associated Press about the matter.

Pagenhardt provided a letter that he sent to BB&T on the county’s behalf last week asking the bank to be flexible in its dealings with Wisp.

The DC Development partners also have reduced their asking prices on Lodestone home sites by up to 28 percent — now $160,000 to $360,000 — to stimulate sales.

The partners obtained the BB&T loan in 2007 to fund development of an 18-hole golf course and 197 home sites. The course, designed by golfer Hale Irwin, is complete but few lots have been sold.

Myers sees signs of a fledgling rebound in Garrett County home sales, up 15 percent this year over last. She said she’s optimistic about the future of the area she calls the “Lake Tahoe of the East.”

“I’m very, very bullish on Garrett County and Deep Creek Lake,” she said. “As the economy heals — double-crossed fingers — and people are more confident again, this area is going to do just fine.”

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