Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Cindy Glasson
Reporter Photographer 

Future of HSSP vendors discussed

 


The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee met on Monday at Thermopolis Middle School.

One of the topics of discussion was the fate of the various vendors in Hot Springs State Park, specifically the Days Inn and the Star Plunge, both of which are running on a month to month contract rather than an extended contract like the other park vendors.

The afternoon session began with an overview of the park itself, its size, the number of visitors each year and a listing of all the properties on the state’s property.

One of the concerns the committee had after hearing of the park’s history was whether or not they will have enough of the mineral water to continue as the water levels fluctuate from year to year and often, month to month depending on rain or runoff conditions.

State Park Superintendent Kevin Skates told the committee they keep a very close eye on the amount of water that comes out of the spring as well as how much water each of the concessionaires use and if the water gets too low, they will re-evaluate how much water each of those entities will be able to use.

During the discussion, the State Bath House came into question with the committee chair Ogden Driskill (R- Crook, Campbell, Weston Co.) pointing out the Bath House is actually costing the state $4 per person.

The treaty signed decades ago between the Natives and the Federal Government then passed on to the State of Wyoming plainly states a portion of the mineral water must remain free for use, hence, the State Bath House was created.

The treaty prevents the state from charging a fee to soak at the Bath House.

The meeting then turned to the Days Inn and the Star Plunge and their lack of a multi-year contract with the state.

Chairman Driskill was actually the sponsor of SF 116, a bill allows the state to terminate the contracts of any concessionaires on state property that do not have the proper contracts. The bill becomes law January 1, so the two entities are in a holding pattern until the end of the year.

The state, however, is drafting Requests for Proposal (RFP) that they hope to have completed by the first of September so contracts can be in place for the two properties by the first of December.

The concessionaires were allowed to choose between three appraisal companies to come in and do a third-party appraisal of the properties, including the structures, their facilities and more.

According to the appraisals, the Days Inn did not meet the renewal standards needed for a new contract with the state and the Star Plunge has not met their obligations, effectively allowing the state to terminate both contracts.

By putting out an RFP, the state is asking for outside prospects to come in and take a look at the properties to either buy outright or manage on behalf of the state. The state has even looked into the possibility of a single entity coming in and taking over both properties, but in order to do that, the state would have to purchase the buildings outright from the current owners before offering them up in an RFP.

The question arose within the committee if they terminate the concessionaire’s leases, are they liable to pay them for the structure.

If it is utilized in the same way, say for instance the pool, then yes, the state has to pay them a fair price per the contract.

“How do we jump start Thermopolis’ tourism,” Chairman Driskill asked. “This could be a world class area. How do we, as a legislature, help?”

The hope is the state’s master plan for the park will do just that, turn it into the crown jewel of the state park system and turn Thermopolis into a prime tourist destination.

Chairman Driskill pointed out the intent is not to close anything down in the park so they will need to be flexible with the RFP.

“We’re not looking into being in the hotel or waterpark business,” he said.

Roland Luehne and Mike Messenger, who is representing both the Star Plunge and the Days Inn, spoke to the committee, first laying out the history of the pool from its inception.

Messenger went on to remind the committee the Days Inn had put in a master plan as asked to by the state in 2010, but found that sometimes the state would communicate with them about it and sometimes refused, tossing the property into limbo.

After being asked to create a fair contract, the state turned around and sent almost an identical contract as the 2010 contract to the Days Inn in 2017.

The Star Plunge also presented a master plan to the state, which was rejected.

Messenger feels his clients are being singled out by the SF116 passage.

“We (Days Inn) were negotiating a sale at the time,” he said. “They were low-balled on the price and were told they’d just wait til they (Days Inn) were tossed out and then come in and take it over.”

Messenger said this sounds very much like someone had an agenda and knew inside information beforehand.

“I read in the newspaper every day how Wyoming fights the Feds to let us do things our way,” Chairman Driskill said, “while we’re trying to fight these small companies in the same way.”

He added that he spends a lot of time at the Star Plunge, both with his family and his grandchildren and has always found it to be an enjoyable experience, but its really time to do something.

“Do we do this hand in hand,” he questioned. “I would like to. I want to create a partnership without animosity. What solutions can we come up with together to help you, help us and the committee?”

For now, there are no hard and fast answers. The state will continue to work on the RFP to have it ready by the first of September, just in time for their next meeting, which will be held in Dubois on October 2.

 

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