Vail Resorts blinks in dispute about Park City trademark
by Allen Best
To understand why the people of Park City got so riled up about the effort to trademark the name by Vail Resorts, you should look at a sign at the foot of the town’s steep Main Street. The turnoff to the ski area, Park City Mountain Resort, can be found there, but it says nothing about a mountain resort. It simply says Park City, along with the services offered: shops, lodging, restaurants.
All of those are available if you continue up Main Street.
So which one is Park City?
The answer, after last weekend, is both of them. Vail Resorts played hard ball with the community for about two years but then blinked. It announced last Saturday that it will withdraw its application to trademark the name Park City.
The company all along was careful to point out that it sought to trademark the name only in connection with operation of a mountain resort. It said it would not try to butt into established businesses.
But Dana Williams, a former mayor who led the community push-back, cites other evidence. He says one long-established business, Park City Lodging, decided to trademark its name last year. Vail objected, costing the business $30,000 in legal bills. Another person, who works at a non-profit, wrote a letter to The Park Record that the company considered “disparaging” and tried to get the woman fired.
Were there nuances to those stories not expressed here or by Williams? Possibly.
Vail Resorts declined a request for an interview.
But the perception was clear that the company was trying to assert its authority to be king of the hill in their latest ski town acquisition. The message that Williams and other opponents tried to deliver was that “No, we’re partners.”
That message of partnership was also the bottom-line of Vail’s announcement on Saturday. Attributed to Bill Rock, Vail’s chief executive at Park City, the company said the issue was a distraction from the strong working relationship needed with the community to address important issues such as affordable housing and transportation.
This came after a stormy week in Park City. There was a meeting at city hall. Rob Katz, the chief executive of Vail Resorts, arrived from Colorado to meet with city officials in a closed-door meeting. Outside, he had to walk past about 250 people described by the Park Record as “fervent and frustrated” who had gathered to protest the company’s trademarking effort.
Signs were homemade: “We are a town not a trademark,” said one. “Park City has been epic since 1884,” said another. “Park City is our town not Vail’s brand,” said yet another.
A petition assembled by Williams had been signed by 3,500 people. He says that some people refused to sign but indicated support. Contacted, they explained that even if not employed by the company, they feared the company’s power to impose adverse consequences.
Further opposition was registered in the pages of The Park Record. “The first thing Vail did after taking over PCMR was throw out the local coffee roaster as supplier to the mountain and go with big corporate Starbucks. Yup, so concerned about locals and the town. That was only the beginning. Next will be variances on building huge high-rise buildings blocking views and turning Park City into a true ‘City,’” wrote Nick Hudson, of Park City, in the newspaper’s open forum. “Hey, Council, keep Park City from becoming Vail City. The Valiens are like body snatchers.”
Powdr Corp., the previous owner of Park City Mountain Resort, had initiated the trademark application.
Vail stressed that it sought use of the name only in the context of operating a ski area or mountain resort. Town officials remained leery of overreach and asked for clarifying language. Why not attach the word “resort” or the words “mountain resort” to the trademark application, city officials asked. Katz refused to budge.
Matter of trust
Myles Rademan, a 30-year resident of Park City, said the issue came down to a matter of trust. Vail was too new to Park City to establish trust. “It seemed like overreach, like a guest coming to dinner and then taking away your dishes,” he told Mountain Town News on Monday.
Had the company been around for 10 years and exhibited a consistent record of good deeds, he says, there likely would have been little or no pushback.
Vail’s courtroom aggressiveness in gaining control of Park City Mountain Resort mattered, too. The previous owner, Powdr Corp., had missed a perfunctory paperwork filing to renew the lease of former mining lands on which the ski area is operated. This omission gave Vail, in an extended courtroom brawl, the opportunity to jump in and get the lease for use of the land. This, in effect, forced Powdr into selling its improvements on the land. Vail already was already leasing the adjacent Canyons ski area from a Canadian company.
“It was a pretty hostile takeover,” says Rademan. “They play hard.” Nonetheless, he thinks Park City, the community, is better off with Vail Resorts as the owner and operator. It’s big enough to survive good snow years and bad.
As a former city official in Park City who continues to conduct an annual leadership class in the community, Rademan had been approached by Vail Resorts last spring to solicit his opinion.
“It’s not worth the fight,” he says he told Vail representatives. Opponents were not a fringe element, he said. Whatever the trademark was worth to the company, it wasn’t worth it in terms of the frayed relationship with the community.
Little stir in Vail, Breckenridge
In Vail, the birthplace of the company, the trademark filing in 2004 was a non-issue, according to Suzanne Silverthorn, the town’s communications officer. The trademark does not cover the name Vail, only the stylized logos created by the company. If Vail, the town, wants to sell manhole covers with the stylized V created in the early 1960s, it must pay Vail Resorts.
For merchants at Vail and Beaver Creek, it’s a little different. See story here.
In Breckenridge, trademarking caused little stir. The company’s trademark governs what merchants can and can’t use in their marketing and products. For example, if T-shirt makers want to talk about Breckenridge, 12,988 feet (the top elevation of the ski area), they must pay royalties.
Breckenridge Mayor Eric Mamula says that Vail trademarked the “B” logo.
“They did try to get people to stop using the names of ski runs, but I think that went away. It was seen as overreach by the merchants. I talk to them and they think it’s just fine now. It wasn’t the deal here that it was in Park City.” (See story elsewhere on this page).
As in Park City, the Breckenridge town government has had differences with Vail Resorts, currently about a parking garage and transportation. Both the town and ski company need to work together because, ultimately, they have the same customers, says Mamula. “The best way to do that is to have a united solution to our problems,” he says.
Williams, although fierce in his opposition to the trademark, also sees the ski company and the town as partners.
“We are going thorough a marital spat. We are having our first fight after the honeymoon,” he said this week. Now, he hopes to have a beer and a shot with Rob Katz, “to get to know him a little bit better.” But he also wants to see evidence that Vail is as fiercely devoted to Park City, the town, as the locals are.