CHEYENNE — After more than six months of negotiations, state officials and the owners of two water parks at Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis are still at odds about new leases for the operations.
The impasse won’t affect the thousands of customers who soak and play in the hot spring waters at TePee Pools and Star Plunge each summer — at least in the short term. But both sides said they want to get new leases signed by the time the summer tourist season hits.
The state is looking for increased accountability and more money from the operators in the new leases, which would mark the first changes in decades to leases with the two privately owned pay-to-enter water parks and spas located within Wyoming’s most-visited state park.
During the most recent negotiating meeting, held Wednesday in Thermopolis, Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources staff and the owners tried to hammer out a consensus on a variety of issues.
The state is looking to include, for the first time, a penalty clause allowing the state to fine the two facilities for any lease infractions. The state also wants to charge the two concessionaires’ 3 percent of their gross annual revenue, up from 1.25 percent, and include changes to insurance requirements.
Another disagreement has been whether TePee Pools even needs a new lease. The state holds that TePee Pools’ 30-year lease expired in 2007; TePee’s owners dispute that, saying that lease remains active as it provided for extensions through 2026, but they’re negotiating now to avoid going to court over the issue.
Star Plunge’s 50-year lease expired in 2008; since then, the facility has been operating on a month-to-month lease.
At Wednesday’s meeting, all sides said progress was made: State officials were receptive to phasing in the rate increase gradually and backed off from an earlier assertion that the state owns the water park buildings. The owners, in turn, acknowledged that the state can’t guarantee a continued flow of water from the hot springs.
“I believe we made a little progress,” said Terry Mackey, an attorney for TePee Pools. “We’re certainly doing our very best to avoid any kind of an adversarial relationship at this time and work toward a mutually satisfactory conclusion that’s going to benefit the people of the state of Wyoming in the long run.”
Star Plunge owner Wolfgang Luehne said whether a new contract is agreed on or not, the public won’t see a difference in service or ticket prices.
“We had a really nice meeting,” Luehne said. “(The state’s) willing to work with us, so that’s kind of nice.”
Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources director Milward Simpson said having heard the owners’ concerns, the department will now write up a new draft lease to send back to the owners for their consideration.
“Every time the other party submits what they feel is the lease that ought to be signed,” Simpson said. “And then the other party comes back and identifies some other things, and then you kind of have to go back and work on it.”
Simpson said while he’d like to have new leases done by summer, he couldn’t guarantee it.
“These are complex issues,” he said. “And I think as long as it’s taken, the glass-half-full look at this is we really do have an opportunity as long as we get productive discussions around the table, to try to come up with a lease that protects both parties and ensures their interests to a much more precise degree than we ever have before.”
Contact Jeremy Pelzer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-632-1244.