CLOSED SESSION: Council begins negotiations for Sam's Woodsite

For the first time ever, the Town of Mammoth Lakes has entered into negoiations regarding the possible purchase of a portion of Sam's Woodsite.

The property, situated at 5699 Minaret Road, between Meridian Boulevard and Main Street, is the site of some of Mammoth's most popular summer events, including the wildly successful annual Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza.

The whole Woodsite totals eight acres of woodland that borders on the Sierra Star Golf Course.

Of that, the council on Wednesday, Sept. 18, began negotiations for a 4.04-acre parcel that currently is listed for $5.9 million. The owners are longtime Mammoth residents Dennis Hartman and Sam Walker.

The negotiations were in closed session, in advance of the regular meeting of the Town Council, on Wednesday Sept. 18.

The council did not reveal what, exactly it had in mind.

However, council members revealed a strong interest in securing the site on Aug. 7, when Michael Raimondo opened the discussion.

“We need to figure out how to own and to preserve that site,” Raimondo said.

“We’ve been doing a lot of studies on trying to find an events site, but I think expanding it out [this year] clearly shows that it is THE site. I think we need to, with Measures R and U, and putting our brains together and thinking outside the box, we need to figure out how to own that to be our [permanent events] site.”

Raimondo, a businessman who owns the Old New York Deli & Bagel in the Village, at the time did not offer an actual plan as to how the town would buy the parcel.

Even so, Raimondo’s comments drew no criticism from either the dais or the audience, and effectively brought the issue of what to do with the venue into the open.

Coincidentally, his remarks came just one day after a Chicago consulting issued an interim report saying that the Mammoth Lakes Foundation property at Cerro Coso College might be a better site.

The interim report, paid by the town to Chicago-based HVS Consulting, made the interim conclusion in favor of the Mammoth Lakes Foundation site as a permanent venue location, but the firm's conclusion centered mostly on the basis that the future of Sam’s Woodsite.

The HVS interim report also identified Canyon Lodge as a possible permanent events venue.

Purchasing the site drew widespread support.

“I think it’s a very viable plan,” said the Woodsite real estate agent, Matthew Lehman, who spoke on the record on the condition that his remarks were as a businessman, and not as a member of the Town Council, which he is.

“You have a seller who’s very willing to preserve that site permanently,” Lehman said.

Sean Turner, who with his wife, Joyce, produces the Festival of Beers and Bluesapalooza, also put aside his hat as a member of the town’s Recreation Commission.

“Do I think Sam’s Woodsite is the best place?” Turner asked rhetorically. “Yeah, hands down.”

The Turners, who own Mammoth Brewing Company, told the council in August they would be willing to make an annual contribution to the site, too, as long as it was for improvements to its infrastructure.

“We spent thousands of dollars this year putting up fencing and taking down fencing,” Sean Turner said. “For electricity, we had to bring in generators, because the electrical risers that come into it are too dirty; the power isn’t clean enough to run sound systems on it.

“As for sewer, we had 110 porta potties this year. If we could get some kind of infrastructure, instead of having to spend the money to bring in the porta potties and then take them away, let’s start looking at what kind of really good, water-in, sewer-out system we can do for that site, along with electricity.”

Turner argued the case on two major points, the first being that the site is somewhat protected from wind, given its protective geography as well as the presence of so many trees.

“Last year,” he said, “when we had lightning, thunder and wind coming on, it would have scared away most of the crowd [at any other venue than the Woodsite].”

Secondly, he said because the Woodsite is centrally situated, in the town’s resort corridor, it was an easy walk from many hotels and condominium complexes.

“Considering that our lodging partners are within a short radius from there—and I’m not putting down other sites—but if you were to do a radius [around the other sites], it would be just open land.

“We are surrounded by town.”