Park Concessions Agreement Reached
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Interior Department and Japanese-owned MCA Inc. agreed Tuesday on the sale of MCA’s concession facilities at Yosemite National Park to a non-profit foundation.
The ownership by MCA, a Los-Angeles-based entertainment conglomerate, of Yosemite Park & Curry Co. had been strongly criticized by Interior Secretary Manual Lujan Jr. ever since MCA was purchased Dec. 29 by Matsushita Electrical Industries, a major Japanese electronics company.
Lujan said MCA would sell its Curry subsidiary to the National Park Foundation for $49.5 million in 1993 when the government’s contract with Curry expires.
Curry operates a broad range of facilities in the park, including about half the hotels, restaurants, recreational facilities and souvenir shops.
The 760,000-acre Yosemite park, established in 1890 about 150 miles east of San Francisco, is one of the most beautiful - and most heavily used - of the major ″crown jewel″ national parks. Its 3.3 million annual visitors rank it fourth in the 50-park system.
The agreement ends weeks of verbal sparring between Lujan and with representatives of MCA and Matsushita over operation of the Yosemite facilities by a company owned by foreigners.
Lujan accused Matsushita of ″arrogance″ and threatened to cancel Curry’s contract for failure to observe a provision requiring his approval for a change of ownership of concessionaires.
Matsushita and MCA representatives, meanwhile, accused Lujan of trying to extort Curry’s assets, estimated by the company as being ″in excess of $100 million,″ by coercing them into giving the concessions to the National Park Service for nothing.
Lujan in turn said Matsushita representatives, before the MCA purchase was consumated, offered just that, donation of the concession to the government - but then reneged on the offer.
The sale price for Curry was about half of what MCA has said the Yosemite facilities are valued, but about what the Interior Department has said they are worth. In return for allowing the concessions to remain in MCA hands until 1993, MCA agreed to donate $6 million to the Park Foundation and provide a below-market loan for the eventual purchase.
With the agreement ″we are able to achieve two primary objectives: securing the possessory interest at Yosemite and leveling the playing field to ensure competition in subsequent concessions contracts at Yosemite,″ said Lujan in a statement.
Paul Pritchard, president of the National Parks and Conservation Association, called the agreement ″one of the biggests gifts given to the American people.″ He said it was tantamount to MCA selling the Curry Co. assets to the government.
The National Park Foundation is a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress with its board of directors selected by the interior secretary. It normally works behind the scenes to enhance the national park system.
Under the agreement announced by Lujan, the foundation will turn the buildings and structures owned by Curry over to the National Park Service in September, 1993 and surrender its preferential rights for contract renewal so that bidding for a new concessions contract may be opened to competitors. The loan from MCA would be repaid by the sale of other Curry assets or by the future concessionaire, officials said.
The plan would transfer the concession rights to a U.S.-owned company under more favorable conditions than currently existing under the 30-year contract with the Curry Co., Interior officials said.
Lujan has been particularly critical of the Curry contract, which gives the government 75 cents of every $100 of gross revenue. Last year, he announced plans to revamp the way park concessions are awarded and vowed to press for higher franchise fees once existing contracts expire.
Curry’s 1989 revenues were estimated to be nearly $85 million. The company paid the National Park Service $635,772 and booked profits of an estimated $17 million.
Gross receipts by concessionaires at all of the national parks were estimated in 1988 at more than $500 million, of which $12.5 million went to the federal government.