Peel back the layers of the rotten onion that is the
American International Group
, and you never what you'll find next. So today, in the second article of an ongoing series dissecting the nightmare flow-chart that is AIG, here's a doozy...
Did you know that one of AIG's smallest assets is actually one of the East Coast's largest and most expensive ski resorts?
No, we didn't think so. There are no signs mounted along the slopes at the iconic
Stowe Mountain Resort
in Vermont revealing AIG's ownership. The only way to know that AIG holds rights to the complex is through a casual mention in its SEC filing of Mt. Mansfield Company, the corporate name of the ski resort.
But the resort is indeed among the many AIG pieces up for sale, as the insurer looks to generate cash to repay the massive $180 billion bailout from the government.
AIG and Stowe Mountain have quite the history. AIG founder Cornelius Vander Starr skied Mansfield, Vermont's tallest peak, in the 1940s and decided to purchase the resort as his own personal playground, beating out Lehman Brothers president Roland Palmedo.
In the 1970s, Starr's estate sold the company to AIG. Since then, AIG has spent millions improving what is now Stowe Mountain Resort, including a $400 million hotel complex that opened last summer. (AIG, interestingly enough, is also the largest provider of trip-protection plans and liability policies for ski areas.)
Stowe Mountain is currently in the midst of a second round of renovations, including the development of a performing arts center. The sale of the resort should not disrupt the construction, which is expected to be completed next year.
All in all, AIG has, by now, divested at least 17 subsidiaries, raising about $6 billion, says David Steuber, co-chair of the insurance recovery practice at Howrey LLP. As for Stowe, the company has already received several unsolicited bids from potential buyers and is deep in the process of selling off the slope, a source close to the company said. A time frame on when the deal will close and the asking price were not disclosed.
Still, according to Craig Guttenplan, CFA at Credit Sights, AIG shouldn't count on getting a significant sum for the resort -- as the credit crunch has made it extremely difficult for potential buyers to secure financing. The ski market has also trailed significantly, and Stowe's luxury prices for lodging and ski lifts don't help attract a bidder looking to run a profitable ski slope.
A room at Stowe averages $325 a night, and the newer Stowe Mountain Lodge, charges $750 to $3,552 a night -- a hefty price for consumers looking to cut back on travel and discretionary purchases. A season ski pass costs $1,766, the highest on the East Coast.
While the current value of Stowe Mountain is anyone's guess, experts say the resort will pull in about $100 million for AIG. Killington, a comparable resort in Vermont, sold for $85 million in 2007.
This value pales in comparison to AIG's other assets. The company recently sold off The AIG Otemachi Building in Tokyo for $1.2 billion, and
21 Century Insurance
for $2 billion.
But while Stowe Mountain may only be a blip in AIG's massive breadth of holdings, it means a whole lot more to the town of Stowe, Vermont.
The majority of the area's 4,300 residents make their living from tourism, with the resort the main driver of the economy and the town's largest employer. During peak winter season, Stowe Mountain employs 1,300 people.
Still, while the idea of a new owner taking over the resort might seem unsettling to residents, should the correct leader come aboard, the move could in fact help reposition Stowe from a luxury retreat to a more practical destination for cheaper mini-vacations.
It may also be a hidden gem for one lucky bidder, who will get: a range of lodging facilities, rental equipment and demonstration centers, ski and snowboard school, 10 restaurants, two 18-hole golf courses and a spa, among other operations.
The real catch, though, is in the development opportunities. The resort comes with pre-approved permits for future building, which means the infrastructure for growth is already laid.
More articles in this series:
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