Grand Canyon concessionaire urged to drop bid for rights to names of iconic park lodges

The National Park Service asked a major concessionaire on Friday to abandon efforts to trademark names of the Grand Canyon's most popular properties.

The Park Service issued a proposal for a new 15-year contract for services at the Grand Canyon's South Rim. In it, the agency said it considers names like Phantom Ranch, Bright Angel Lodge and El Tovar to be property of the Park Service, pursuant to its trademark rights under common law.

Xanterra Parks & Resorts filed applications last year for about 20 names of mostly historic lodges at the Grand Canyon. The Greenwood Village, Colorado-based company declined to comment Friday on the Park Service's request to abandon those applications.

Trademark experts have said Xanterra's intent is clear in trying to stifle competition for the long-term concessions contract or earn money for the value that has been built up in the names.

The Park Service said Xanterra's use of the names it wants to trademark is governed by the concessions contract, which controls the nature and quality of the goods and services Xanterra provides. Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said the new contract proposal has language to reflect that fact.

The park formally will oppose Xanterra's applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office when it has the chance, he said.

The contract to manage iconic hotels and restaurants at the South Rim is one of the largest and most lucrative in the Park Service, worth about $1 billion over the 15-year lifetime. But officials had a hard time attracting any bids that met the Park Service's terms in three previous rounds of bidding, mostly because of the money due to Xanterra for improvements the company has made in its long history at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon officials borrowed $100 million from within the Park Service to reduce what's known as leaseholder surrender interest to about $60 million that must be paid to Xanterra by whichever company wins the concessions contract.

Xanterra wouldn't say whether it plans to bid on the contract that would run from January through 2030. The company currently is operating under a temporary contract that expires at the end of the year.

Among the incentives in the revised contract proposal that went out to bid Friday are a lower franchise fee of either 8 percent or 6.4 percent. That's down from a high of 14 percent that had been included in a previous contract proposal. Other changes include allowing a winning bidder to put off a nearly $12 million project to demolish the Maswik South complex and replace it with 120 standard midscale rooms until the fifth year of the contract, and a slight increase in employee housing.

Uberuaga said he believes the Park Service has struck the right balance this time to encourage competition.

"I'm very hopeful that we're going to get competition," he said. "Whoever does bid on it will have successful opportunities for profit, and the Park Service and the public taxpayers will have a good contract."

The contract also requires expanded patio dining at El Tovar Hotel overlooking the South Rim, improvements to the Bright Angel Lodge and an increase in food services, including mobile food trucks. The winning bidder has the option of running a valet service at El Tovar.

A site visit is scheduled March 5 for potential bidders. Bids are due May 20.