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Mike Meldman: Chairman & CEO, Discovery Land Company



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Since fall 2009, Discovery Land
Company has managed operations at
the Yellowstone Club. Over President’s
weekend, the Big Sky Weekly sat
down with Mike Meldman, Discovery
Land Company’s Chairman and CEO,
and discussed Yellowstone Club, dive
bars and the Big Sky community.

Who is Discovery Land Company?
We do private club communities,
which are resort communities without
the hotel and resort amenities.
We have them around North America
and are looking around the world.

I started doing this in 1994. Before
that I graduated from Stanford,
and originally wanted to go to law
school. Instead I went to Lake Tahoe
and dealt black jack at Harrah’s.

In 1981, I started as a commercial
real estate builder in Silicon Valley.
I was in Fremont, which was farmland.

I met with farmers and helped
them sell their land. I put a sign up
and hoped someone would call… I
sold all of it and made a fortune. I
thought, ‘that was easy.’ I was 23.

All I knew was land. I started buying
land and taking it through the entitlement
process. In order to develop
land, you have to be an environmentalist
and you have to do it properly.
I took that attitude with me toward
development to reduce density to
make it as natural as it could be.

My core philosophy is the money
in the land. Anyone can build a
building and just take the money.

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When did DLC come to YC ?
We were always trying. Tim [Blixseth] … cut a deal with me to buy it
and then went and sold it to Sam
[Byrne]. That was the best thing that
ever happened to us, because we
didn’t have to go through that year
of drama and diligence that Sam did.
Sam had a passion for the place, and
they wanted him to save it.

[dcs_img width=”200″ height=”100″ thumb=”true”
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How has your progress been
since you’ve been at YC ?

This is such a unique piece, because
of the skiing, magnitude and scope.
Operations will take it to the next

2009 was the bankruptcy year, and
nothing was really going in terms of
projects. The high-end market became
inelastic. No one was buying
at any price. For example, in 2009
we [Discovery Land Company] had
40 million in sales, down from 800
million. That shows how much the
market was affected. People started
buying around Thanksgiving, a year
ago. We had 750 million in sales.
The market has come back, and it’s
very elastic now. People are paying,
but not top dollar.

Do you see the trend continuing
to grow?

We need to promote Big Sky. It’s the
most undervalued, underrated place
ever. There’s not enough flights
coming in. We have pretty good
commercial access in the summer,
but it stops in the winter. I think
that’s backwards.

How have you dealt with the economic

We did everything with equity—
because of our brand [and our] strong membership base—and we
were able to get sales early. Our
projects became self-financed, and
we always had big investors to carry
through. We are very fortunate it
happened that way.

Tell us about your experience
with Montana.

I’ve been in Montana for 15 years. I
was looking at the stockyards, and
someone showed me Whitefish. I
fell in love. I thought, ‘Now there’s
a four seasons resort that will be the
most popular place in the world.’
Not only
was the
but the
whole Montana
was there,

[in Whitefish] was the
third resort
ever did. I
was developing
it before
YC even
started, and I’ve been coming to YC
since it started. I always knew we’d
be involved [with YC] somehow,
because no one really develops on
this scale [besides] us.

Tell us about your family.
I’ve got two boys, and I’m a single
dad. My kids grew up in San
Francisco, and now they’re 23 and
20. Hunter works at the Club, in
sales. They’ve been wakeboarding
since they were kids and are great
snowboarders. They learned to tie
their own flies when they were 10.
We do backcountry trips to the Bob
Marshall and Glacier.

How many employees does YC
have? Is it important to bring in
local labor?

350 employees [year round], with
650 to 700 in peak season. We’re
lucky we’ve had no issue finding
labor for Club operations, ski operations
or construction.

Most employees are local. Bringing
people in isn’t cost effective, and
the local labor base here is strong.
We do that everywhere, because we
operate in small communities. We
have to incorporate local people and
culture in order for our properties
to work. For example, people want
to ski with a person who lives here
and knows the area.

What makes the Discovery Land
Company approach successful?

All of the clubs are different, and
not one is cookie cutter. Each one is
custom-made to the environment.
People come to Montana to be
mountain men. It’s different from
going to Sun Valley, where you see
everyone you know at the coffee
shop. People here don’t want that.

They want the local culture, flavor,
and experiences. Here it’s skiing,
mountain activities and fishing. In
the Bahamas it’s water sports, snorkeling,
surfing, diving and water

It seems you’re bringing in bigger
names than YC did in the past.

Our projects attract people who
are at the top of their industry,
whether it’s sports, entertainment
or business. People like the privacy,
the service, the whole package.

Are there aspects of DLC that
stand out and affect membership?

You never know what a buyer is going
to like. My philosophy is every
detail has to be perfect, from the
toilet paper to the food.

What’s your favorite part of YC ?
I haven’t skied much in the past 30
years, so getting back into that has
been fun.

Have you skied Moonlight or
Big Sky?

No, but its pretty amazing when
you look at the whole Big Sky package.

“We need to promote Big Sky. It’s the most undervalued,
underrated place ever.”

How would you like to see Big
Sky grow?

We could use few more restaurants…
as many venues as possible
outside the Club.

Do have a favorite spot in town?
Probably Milkies. We love it up
here. Everyone thinks we are some
corporate group coming from the
outside, but we’re not. The roots of
the company are in Montana.

How much time do you spend here?
I’ve been here since Christmas. I was
born in Milwaukee, my main house
is Arizona, but I’m always traveling.
I come in the summer, too.

How does DLC give back to the

[Here in Montana] we have the Yellowstone
Club Community Foundation,
and we raise money for them.
Our members come here because
they love the place, the environment
and the culture… The community
has become part of their lives.

Whitefish was a pretty sleepy
town, and Ironhorse people bought
a lot of property there. Now, it
has one of the greatest hospitals
you’ll ever see, and a great community
center. People really give
back there, but that was a ten-year
process. We’d like to see that happen

What is the future of YC
We’re excited about it. We’re planning
a core village around the Warren
Miller lodge. It has a pretty big
ski population, but members don’t
use this place in the summer as they
should. We have the golf course,
ropes course, tennis and basketball.
It’s a great spot.

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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