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Ski Grand Prairie? TCU, UTA grad helping bring snow to Metroplex

🕐 5 min read

Robert Francis rfrancis@bizpress.net

For Levi Davis last week may have been a career peak, in more ways than one. The former Texas Christian University and University of Texas at Arlington graduate has been assistant city manager in Dallas and been in finance banking for several years. Among other projects, he helped finance the high-profile Omni Hotel in Dallas. But his newest venture may eclipse even that: Bringing a Hard Rock Hotel and indoor ski resort to Grand Prairie. “We’ve been working on it for a little more than three years,” Davis said. “So it’s good to see it take shape.”

Davis is now co-chairman of The Grand Alps Resort DFW Inc., an Allen-based firm. His partner and co-chairman on the project is Sherman Thurston, who holds the patents to the snow-producing technology required for the venture. Thurston is also involved in building similar facilities in Spain, Brazil and Malaysia. “Travelers are seeking new adventures and a reprieve from the usual, which is exactly what the Hard Rock offers to its guests,” Davis said. The 58-acre entertainment complex that includes an indoor ski facility and Texas’ first Hard Rock Hotel is located north of Interstate 30 across Belt Line Road from three of the city’s current entertainment venues, Lone Star Park, Verizon Center and QuikTrip Stadium. Called the Grand Alps Resort, the project will be built in phases. The first phase includes the 350,000-square-foot snow ski facility, the 300-room Hard Rock Hotel, 48,000 square feet of meeting space, at least two restaurants, an exercise facility, spa facilities, a rooftop pool complex, structured parking and a movie theater. The snow dome will offer an indoor ski slope measuring nearly 300 feet tall and 1,200 feet long, an indoor ice climbing wall, luge track and a winter play area. The Grand Alps facility is to be temperature controlled at 28 degrees. Along with the ski facility will be specialty retail aimed at the skiing and snowboard consumer.

The first phase is expected to start in the first quarter next year and be complete by December 2017. That phase of the project will cost $215 million, with the ski facility costing about $140 million and the Hard Rock Hotel about $75 million. When fully built, the project also will include a retail and entertainment village and a condo hotel. The total price for the combined phases is about $400 million, according to city officials.

City and Grand Alps officials said they have commitments for up to 80 percent of the initial project cost, including up to $100 million in funding through the U.S. State Department’s EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program. The EB-5 program allows foreign investors to obtain visas by investing in projects that create jobs in targeted areas of the U.S. The remainder of the project will be financed through hedge funds and capital firm investment, officials said.

Grand Prairie’s investment totals about $30 million and includes about half the land for the project, three-year tax increment financing (TIF) funds for infrastructure improvements, 100 percent real estate tax abatement for seven years and a 75 percent rebate of hotel/motel tax for 10 years after opening. The Grand Prairie City Council approved the plan just prior to the Oct. 14 announcement. The deal also calls for Grand Alps Group to move its 55 employees from Allen to Grand Prairie. “This is a game changer not only for Grand Prairie but for the whole Metroplex,” said Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen at the news conference announcing the project. Grand Prairie has already started work to develop a large water park adjacent to the ski resort that was approved earlier this year. “Pair that [the ski resort] with our new voter-approved and sales-tax funded water park and you’ll be able to swim in the morning and snow ski in the afternoon year-round,” said Jensen. The ski resort is expected to attract more than 1.3 million visitors with the construction project employing more than 3,000 direct workers and another 5,000 indirect workers.

Similar area ski facilities have suffered the agony of defeat, officials involved with the Grand Alps project acknowledged. A planned indoor ski slope near the Grapevine Mills mall in Grapevine and a proposed $700 million Bearfire Resort of artificial, outdoor ski slopes near Fort Worth have yet to produce a single flake. Marco Roca, chief development officer of Hard Rock Hotels, said the brand has sought a good location in Texas for years. Grand Prairie, a central location near the area’s entertainment and sports venues was a perfect fit, he said.

“This, with the addition of the innovative ski resort, was just the right project for us to launch our brand in Texas,” he said. For Grand Alps’ Davis, the project comes after a long career in the area. After completing his military service, Davis received his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University in 1971 and his master’s degree in urban affairs from UT Arlington in 1973. He then began his career at the city of Dallas, eventually being appointed assistant city manager in 1978, serving until 1986 and again from 1990 to 1998. His responsibilities included such departments as the police, fire, health and human services, streets and sanitation, and convention and event services. Prior to joining Grand Alps, Davis was the public finance director for the Western region for Siebert Brandford Shank & Co. LLC, the nation’s No. 1 ranked minority investment banking firm and the nation’s 10th ranked.

The years spent serving in the municipal government trenches paid off with this project that required a lot of input and commitment from city officials to get it off the ground, Davis said. “We had the support of the mayor, but the glue that really brought this project together was a very determined city staff. They really got behind it and believe me, that really helps when you go out to get financing,” he said. While the vote by the Grand Prairie City Council moves the project forward, Grand Alps’ Davis said the project will really get rolling in December when the development agreement is signed. “That’s the grail,” he said. “Then we’ll really know it’s happening.”  

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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