Politics & Government

Jilted Yosemite National Park concessions suitor goes to court

The historic Ahwahnee hotel is part of the disputed concessions contract at Yosemite National Park.
The historic Ahwahnee hotel is part of the disputed concessions contract at Yosemite National Park. The Fresno Bee

The company that lost the lucrative concessions contract at Yosemite National Park has now brought its beef to federal court.

In a high-stakes fight over famous names, the Delaware North concessions company claims it was owed big-time for its intellectual property investments at Yosemite. These include the historic Ahwahnee hotel, Curry Village and Badger Pass, names for which the company holds trademarks.

Formally known as DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc., the Delaware North subsidiary argues that the government mishandled the intellectual property question, breached a contract and likely cost the company its shot at keeping the Yosemite business.

It was a business, evaluations obtained by McClatchy under the Freedom of Information Act show, for which Delaware North received consistently high marks from park service officials.

“We are now confused and disheartened that (the National Park Service) seems unwilling to honor its contractual obligation by failing to require the new concessioner (sic) to buy and pay fair value for the assets that we use to operate Yosemite,” Delaware North declared in a statement.

The 10-page complaint filed late last week in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims does not seek to overturn the park service’s award of the new 15-year Yosemite concessions contract to the Philadelphia-based Aramark. Instead, the suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages from the park service.

“Because there is pending litigation on this matter, we can’t comment on the situation,” National Park Service spokeswoman April Slayton said Tuesday.

Delaware North has been running Yosemite’s primary concession operations since 1993. The original contract expired in 2008, but has been extended several times since.

The company’s Yosemite operations, it noted in its lawsuit, include “1,542 guest rooms, 25 food and beverage units, 19 retail locations (and) a wide range of guest activities” that run from the Wawona golf course to the Badger Pass ski area.

In recent annual evaluation reports, obtained through a FOIA request, park officials largely praised Delaware North’s work at Yosemite.

“The facility management services provided by the concessionner (sic) have grown to an unprecedented level of professionalism,” one park service evaluator wrote in the 2010 report, further praising “the high level of expertise in maintenance and capital improvement construction.”

In the 2011 report, while noting that some public complaints were received concerning transportation and other issues, a park service evaluator also lauded Delaware North for its “major investments in its Yosemite operations that result in higher-quality visitor facilities and services.”

And for 2012, as in other years, the park service evaluator noted that “no facilities/services received Unsatisfactory” ratings.

Nonetheless, following a competition in which some key details remain cloaked behind the wall of proprietary business information, the park service in June awarded an Aramark subsidiary called Yosemite Hospitality, LLC the contract estimated to be worth about $2 billion.

“Aramark brings tremendous resources to the table, and has extensive experience in operating concessions at many other national parks,” Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher said at the time.

Amid the contract competition, Delaware North had valued its “intangible” property in Yosemite at $51 million. The company contended it should be paid this money if another company secured the Yosemite contract. Intangible property includes the intellectual property conveyed, for instance, by trademarks.

In its lawsuit, the company says it “maintained the registration and fully exploited the trademarks” it assumed when it took over the Yosemite contract, and also “created, used and registered additional (trademarks).”

The lawsuit further asserts that the park service’s “failure to require Aramark to purchase and pay fair value for the property” hurt Delaware North. The incumbent company’s bid would have been “materially different,” and probably more successful, had the park service made clear its intention not to require purchase of the intellectual or other intangible property, the lawsuit claims.

A 60-day congressional review period on the new contract expires Oct. 6. So far, the park service’s spokeswoman said, no comments have been received.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10

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