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New chapter for Oconomowoc ski hill

The chair lift at Olympia is being dismantled and donated to a nonprofit organization.

The chair lift at Olympia is being dismantled and donated to a nonprofit organization. Photo By Scott Ash

Aug. 12, 2013

City of Oconomowoc — A new estimate indicates it could cost up to $1.5 million to brings things up to safe, working order at the Highlands of Olympia ski, according to Sunburst Ski Area General Manager Jon Finck. Finck was contacted by Mariette Andersen of Magna LLC, the company that recently purchased the ski hill and Olde Highlander golf course from Ixonia Bank. The bank took over the property after it went into receivership under the previous owner which owed the bank $2.6 million. Magna bought the land for $1 million.

That is dramatically higher than the original $50,000 estimate quoted recently by a manager at the ski hill.

Magna was contacted by city officials as a potential buyer because the company owns 80 acres that surround the ski hill and golf course. Magna is working with architects and designers on a complete overhaul of the golf course.

Andersen said the goal is to rehabilitate the golf course and also begin to explore the potential in the 80 acres the company also owns. The land is zoned multifamily residential.

Since the ski hill will no longer operate, Magna is investing in renovating the ski area building there, with eventual plans to incorporate the hill into the development.

"We've already done a couple of mock designs to capture everything. They are moving forward in more of a community feel. Honestly it's a huge project, more than 250 acres," said Andersen. Magna's goal is to create a high-end residential community that incorporates the golf course and the hill. She said the hill could potentially be used for mountain biking or hiking. "The hill will be an amenity that will be part of future development," she said.

"This takes time, and we want to make sure the market is ready; it's a lot of land to develop. If do it at the wrong time, it could fall apart. We want a conscious effort to do the right thing by the community. We don't want to build junk. The owners want to do something tasteful," said Andersen.

Finck said the ski lifts are from the early 1970s. While that's not necessarily a bad thing, he said, the lifts and infrastructure to run them as well as the snow-making infrastructure must be consistently maintained.

"There is a high threshold of maintenance that needs to be done. I'm not saying it wasn't ever done, but it's now at the point where a rebuild becomes necessary," said Finck.

Finck agreed it's sad to see the ski hill go, but the community must remember it is a business.

"I know, anecdotally, there were interested parties, but they passed. They also recognized the amount of investment necessary and if they could do it within their business model.

"While it's unfortunate and we never want to see an area close, it's also the reality of it being a business," Finck said.

Andersen said although she could have sold the equipment for scrap, her firm instead chose to donate it to a nonprofit company that will remove it for free and will find a use for some of it elsewhere.

She said on the positive side, Magna is starting to make improvements to neglected areas, including the road that leads to the building at the bottom of the hill, which also houses indoor sports facility STiKS Academy, which will remain through a lease with Magna.

As Magna works on its plans for the development, Andersen said she looks forward to the end result.

"I'm so excited to about that part of it. It's so easy to sell a parcel here or there, but if you have a strategy it will be much more successful. I think it will be something the city will be proud of," she said.

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