The National Park Service recently announced that it would package the Blue Ridge Parkway concessions operation for lodging, retail, and food and beverage visitor services for Peaks of Otter Lodge, Bluffs Lodge, and Rocky Knob Cabins under a single prospectus expected to be released in April 2012.
The award date is anticipated for sometime in November next year. Prospective concessionaires would bid on a 10-year contract to manage all three properties. Pisgah Inn, the only other lodging facility on the Parkway is operated by a separate concessionaire.
Bluffs Lodge and its associated coffee shop were closed for the 2011 season and are expected to remain closed for the 2012 season. Rocky Knob Cabins and nearby Mabry Mill are being operated under a two-year contract that continues through the 2012 season.
Peaks of Otter Lodge is currently operated by Crestline Hotels and Resorts, a hotel management company headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia. The company manages numerous Hilton, Marriott, and Intercontinental properties, in addition to several independents including the lodge at Peaks of Otter. It appears Crestline is unlikely to bid on the upcoming contract.
Bluffs Lodge with 24 guest rooms and Rocky Knob Cabins with seven lodging units are small operations and difficult to operate profitably. As an example, Rocky Knob Cabins saw revenues of a little under $65,000 for the entire 2009 season. Meanwhile, Bluffs Lodge generated $327,000 during this same period.
Park Service officials are thinking that bringing a more viable property such as Peaks of Otter Lodge with 63 guest rooms and nearly $3 million of 2009 revenues into the mix makes it more likely a company with deeper pockets will bid on the contract.
In 2009, the operation at Peaks of Otter generated nearly twice as much in revenue as Bluffs Lodge, the Bluffs coffee shop, Rocky Knob Cabins, and Mabry Mill combined. The restaurant operation at each property typically generates more revenues than lodging.
According to Blue Ridge Parkway concession management specialist Laura Nelson, Bluffs Lodge needs some loving care to bring it up to snuff. The Park Service is hoping that inclusion of Peaks of Otter will attract such a bidder. In fact, Bluffs has always been one of our favorite park lodges and the nearby coffee shop is one of the great, funky places in all the NPS kingdom.
Bluffs, Mabry Mill, Rocky Knob Cabins, and the Crabtree Falls Gift Shop were operated by Forever Resorts for a number of years following the company's purchase of former concessionaire National Park Concessions. Forever pulled out of its Blue Ridge Parkway operations following the 2010 season.
The Park Service was unable to locate a concessionaire for Bluffs Lodge and the coffee shop, and awarded a temporary contract for the operation of Rocky Knob Cabins and Mabry Mill.