By Joseph T. O’Connor
BIG SKY – An institution is changing hands in Big Sky, Montana. Owners of Buck’s T-4 Lodge, which opened its doors in 1946, are selling the property to Lone Mountain Land Company.
The aim, according to a statement LMLC representatives sent to EBS on March 4, is to “help address the shortage of workforce housing options in Big Sky.”
The deal is slated to close on May 3, the statement said, but Buck’s co-owner David O’Connor says they plan to lease the restaurant building back from LMLC from early June through October in order to honor the events and commitments they’ve made through mid-autumn. LMLC will assume hotel operations following the close of the deal.
“It’s definitely one of the most difficult decisions of our lives,” said O’Connor, who together with business partner Chuck Schommer worked with former owner/partner Mike Scholz until they assumed ownership in 2013. “I think as a business with commitments to its clients, employers with commitments to its employees, and residents with commitments to this community … nothing with Buck’s could just be a business deal.”
LMLC approached O’Connor and Schommer with a proposal earlier this winter.
“This agreement,” according to the statement, “is part of LMLC’s ongoing effort to provide housing for its employees, including contractor, seasonal, and year-round staff, while helping address overall demand for employee housing in and around the greater Big Sky area.”
“We have buildable land,” O’Connor said, adding that the property sits on 17 acres, though half of that is being used for its water system, including irrigation. The 72-room hotel can currently accommodate approximately 144 people, according to O’Connor.
Bayard Dominick, LMLC vice president of planning and development, said the company is looking into expanding options to accommodate its employees, but are still researching density options.
“Buck’s is a staple in our community, and we are pleased to have the opportunity to partner on this solution,” Dominick said in the statement. “Our long-term goal will be to expand the housing options on this site for an additional 100 people.”
In a March 5 phone interview, Dominick said they are looking into building additional housing options on the property.
“Right now we’re looking at three-, four- and five-bedroom apartments with kitchens and living rooms [but] we’re not sure how many units we can build yet,” Dominick said. “We’re still trying to qualify what we can do.”
What they do know, Dominick added, is that they want to maintain the famous eatery on site.
“It’s important to us to keep the restaurant open,” he said. “We think it’s an amazing place and we want it to keep going.”
For O’Connor, Buck’s is a hallowed space that he says will live on in whatever form it takes after the deal closes. “There’s so much history and so many stories and nothing changes that about the past or the future,” he said.
This storied history includes the original owners, Buck and Helen Knight, who opened the property first as a hunting camp and eventually sold it to the Scholz family in 1972. Mike Scholz constructed each of the buildings with the exception of certain components of the restaurant space, and operated Buck’s, later with the help of Schommer and O’Connor, until he retired in 2013.
O’Connor remembers the words Helen Knight told Scholz about Buck’s: “Don’t forget,” she said, “it’s still mine. You’re just watching it for a while.”