Two Hot Springs State Park concessions face uncertainty
February 13, 2020
THERMOPOLIS — The future of two key concession contracts at Hot Springs State Park remains unclear. Last November, Wyoming State Parks issued Requests for Proposals to operate Days Inn and Star Plunge for a minimum five-year period, and perform close to $3 million of critical deferred maintenance at these facilities. The work would need to be done by the end of 2022.
Wyoming State Parks’ estimate of what it will cost to bring Days Inn’s critical deferred maintenance up to date comes to almost $1.3 million. For Star Plunge it is nearly $1.4 million.
Days Inn is currently owned by the Wyndham chain of hotels. Star Plunge is owned by Roland Luehne of Thermopolis, and has been owned by the Luehne family since 1975.
The State of Wyoming’s arrangements with Days Inn and Star Plunge are currently on a month-to-month basis, based on the terms of long-expired contracts. Last year, the Wyoming State Legislature passed Senate File 166, which requires for-profit business concessions in Wyoming State Parks to sign contracts or leases with a minimum term of five years. The 2016 HSSP Master Plan and a 2019 memorandum from the Wyoming Legislative Services Office show that other concessions in HSSP already have such contracts in place. According to Nick Neylon, Deputy Director of Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources, the Best Western Hotel and Hellie’s TePee Pools are each on 35-year leases. Neylon said he hopes that the proposals from Days Inn and Star Plunge will be for considerably longer periods than the minimum five years.
If a proposal from either of the current Days Inn or Star Plunge concession holders were to specify a contractual term of less than five years, or if the proposal did not satisfy the critical deferred maintenance stipulations, Wyoming State Parks would be required by law to reject it. The owner would have to sell the business to a bidder whose proposal did meet all these requirements, and was accepted by Wyoming State Parks.
According to Neylon, the current concessionaires have the option of letting the State invest in their businesses, performing some proportion of the necessary updates and maintenance. The businesses would pay an increased contract fee. Over a period of many years, as investments in maintenance continued, the State would become majority owners of the business, and eventually would own it outright. “In 30 years or 40 years, or whatever it would be, the State would own the facility,” Neylon said.
The original proposal deadline was Jan. 17. According to a January press release from Wyoming State Parks, the State extended the deadline to March 2. This was done in order to ensure adequate time for submitting comprehensive, complete and accurate proposals, among other factors. Neylon says that other bidders have expressed interest in submitting proposals, particularly for Days Inn, but have not yet done so. “Until their packages come in we don’t know who is going to submit anything.”