TERMINATED CONCESSIONAIRE WALKS AWAY WITH YOSEMITE NAMES
Is it really possible that a concessionaire on public land can trademark the iconic scenic sites or facilities owned by the National Park Service? Well, Delaware North Co., the terminated concessionaire at Yosemite Park, claims it can. In litigation is the value that the former lessee demands for the names Ahwahnee Hotel, Camp Curry and Wawona Hotel, among other sites in the park.
The dispute is creating a national furor. Camp Curry was founded in 1899, and the two hotels were there when Delaware North was only selling popcorn and soda at ball games. How does the company consider that it “owns” those names? Their answer is the names and images were displayed on coffee mugs, T-shirts and other geegaws sold in the park gift shops!
Unfortunately, the National Park Service officials left the door open to interpretation in the concession agreement. It provided that a terminated concessionaire was entitled to “fair value” of intangibles left behind without defining the intangibles or how to value.
Delaware North sued the Park Service for $53.5 million as its valuation of the “trademarks” on merchandise it developed while operating the park. The Park Service offers $3.5 million but does not consider the Ahwahnee and Wawona Hotels, Camp Curry and even Half Dome as intellectual property created by the concessionaire.
While the legal action is pending, Delaware North offered the Park Service and the new concessionaire free use of the names. Instead of standing fast on its ownership, the Park Service caved in and announced name changes that will cost thousands of dollars to replace signs and promotion material, not to mention a lot of confusion for park visitors.
Can you image calling the Ahwahnee “The Majestic Hotel?” It will always be Camp Curry where Ma Curry welcomed early visitors to her tent complex and fed them well. Will Half Dome be called “That Big Rock?”
In 2009 I wrote a commentary of how Delaware North completely destroyed Old Town’s most cherished site, Bazaar del Mundo. After 33 years of building one of the most popular tourist, and local resident, destinations for food and colorful shopping, the big corporate concessionaire stole away the state park lease from the local entrepreneur with unfulfilled promises.
Bazaar del Mundo produced the highest lease rentals for a California state park in its original format so carefully developed. Delaware North envisioned a different concept that failed to attract business. After three years of losing money (reveues down to $7.5 million from $22.2 million), the big corporation walked away leaving the shambles and a big loss to the state. No doubt the decision of the National Park Service not to renew the concession with Delaware North had some of that same dissatisfaction. The few times I visited Yosemite during its tenure convinced me that the hospitality style at the Ahwahnee was not in the Curry Family league.
But what can you expect from a company that basically operates concessions at public places like airports and sports stadiums? We all know how appetizing (and expensive) those food stalls are. The iconic Ahwahnee and Wawona Hotels deserve better.
Delaware North’s theory of intangibles includes the site they lease. For example, it was granted a trademark by the U.S. Patent Office for the concession on the Kennedy Space Station where it operates a canteen and visitor center. What’s next? The Statue of Liberty or maybe Niagara Falls?
If the Yosemite Park officials had any backbone they would have taken Delaware North’s offer to continue to use these historic names until the court case is settled. It seems they are jumping ship while they still have command.