The Ahwahnee Hotel (photo: DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.)
Delaware North Companies (DNC), the manager of lucrative concessions at Yosemite National Park, says on its website, “You won’t find us center-stage. That’s not our role. And it’s not even our style.”
It may not be their role, but lately it's been their style as the international hospitality company finds itself on center-stage during a spat with the federal government over trademarks on some of the California park's most famous properties. Delaware North, in competition to renew the 15-year Yosemite contract it secured in 1993 and had extended in 2008, says those trademarks it picked up over the years are worth $51 million.
It would be a shame if Yosemite had to rename the the Ahwahnee Hotel, the Wawona Hotel, the Badger Pass ski area and Curry Village, but the company has made it clear if it doesn't win the competition, it expects compensation for leaving its trademarks behind. The Buffalo, New York-based company also owns a trademark on “Yosemite National Park” for use on products like mugs and clothing.
The Fresno Bee said the contract is estimated to be worth $2 billion. The concessions, which include hotels, stables, ski runs and foot outlets, gross around $130 million a year. The park gets 9% of that. Their value would probably decrease if a new concessionaire had to pay for the names.
The National Park Service has reportedly told other bidders that the names of the landmark spots may have to be changed, but lawyers are preparing to contest the company's claim of ownership. Jim Stellmack, director of marketing for DNC, told the Bee the government won't have much of a case.
When Delaware North took over the concession in 1993, the company paid its predecessor for the properties it owned and then sold them to the park. Delaware North continued to own some assets, like buses and furniture, and Stellmack said the feds knew that included retention of intellectual rights, i.e trademarks.
The government disagrees. Trademark law attorney Melville Owen told the San Francisco Chronicle that the company's registration of the famous names doesn't guarantee ownership. The courts would consider first usage of the name and if any other de facto claims to the naming rights existed, he said.
The Curry Village dates back to 1899 and the Ahwahnee was around in the 1920s.
Delaware North is a corporate giant. It operates concessions at 30 airports, more than 60 sports and entertainment venues and a bunch of national parks. It is politically connected and, according to McClatchy News, the company has contributed money to a broad range of lawmakers, including liberal Representative George D. Miller (D-California) and conservative House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California).
The Yosemite concession contract is the largest in the park service, although the park ranks behind the Grand Canyon and the Great Smokey Mountains in visitation. Unlike a lot of other parks, where the concessions are contracted for individually, they are bundled together into one big deal at Yosemite.
The current contract ends in 2016 and competition for bidding ends January 21. The Bee said it was uncertain as of December 30 whether Delaware North was in the bidding.