The Massanutten Village ski and time-share resort near here, which suffered through a painful bankruptcy during 1983 and 1984, chalked up its most successful ski season last winter and is reemerging as a financially stable four-season resort.
"The bankruptcy is ancient history for us now," said Caroline Emswiler, acting general manager of the resort. "We are finally getting out from under thatcloud."
Great Eastern Resort Corp. of Charlottesville, which purchased the troubled resort for $3 million in October 1984, has completed the sections of the resort left languishing by the previous developer and is planning to open a new $2.2 million sports complex in July, fulfilling a promise the earlier developer never kept.
While the company does not have income figures on the recent ski season, Emswiler said the 1985-86 season was "the best on record," with 89,000 skiers visiting the resort. The previous season 52,000 skiers came to Massanutten.
"The good winter, combined with increased marketing and being out from under the bankruptcy, made this such a good season," Emswiler said. Great Eastern is planning to start construction on several groups of time-share units this summer in hopes that vacation-home sales will benefit from lower mortgage interest rates and lower gasoline prices, she said.
In Harrisonburg law offices, however, lawyers are still sifting through boxes of documents left behind by First Federal Corp., the company headed by Florida developer John R. Swaim that was forced into bankruptcy in late 1983 because of business problems in Virginia and four other states.
With $20 million remaining in unpaid claims against First Federal, the court's trustee, which is liquidating the company, is searching for assets in a hunt that has led from Florida to Lake Placid, N.Y.
Time-share development at Massanutten -- a year-round mountain resort with golf course, ski mountain, hotel and conference center, individual homes and 150 time-share town houses -- stopped early in 1983 when construction companies filed $120,000 in liens in Rockingham County Court against First Federal.
Time-sharing is a form of vacation-home ownership in which a buyer purchases the right to use a specific unit for a specific week. For every town house at Massanutten, 51 week-long time-share intervals were sold, with one week a year retained by the management company for maintenance.
Swaim purchased Massanutten and began building time-share units there in 1980. Lawyers familiar with the case say the resort could easily have made Swaim a fortune.
In the next several years, however, Swaim started a second time-share resort at Lake Placid, and a third in Indiana, expanding rapidly and incurring significant construction and start-up costs.
First Federal, which was spending much of the money being made at Massanutten on other Swaim projects, ran out of money in 1983, leaving behind 15 unfinished time-share town houses at Massanutten.
Time-shares at the mountain then sold for $7,000 to $9,000, depending on which week of the year a person was buying. About half of the time-share intervals in the 15 unfinished units had been sold. Most of the purchasers of the unbuilt units paid a portion of the cost as a down payment and got mortgages from First Federal Mortgage Corp., a subsidiary of First Federal.
First Federal Mortgage later resold those mortgage notes to savings and loans across the United States, and tracking down those transactions has taken up most of the trustee's time.
"We are trying to account for all the notes so we can determine if any of them are missing," said Dale Davenport, attorney for the trustee. "There may be assets that could be used to help pay off the outstanding claims, and we need to know where they are." Davenport said that Swaim, who was convicted of fraud in 1984 for concealing the purchase price of a building in Florida when obtaining a loan, is now serving a three-year prison term.
As part of the bankruptcy agreement under which the court allowed Great Eastern to purchase the resort, the firm promised to finish the partially built units and to build the sports complex. The court also allowed purchasers of time-shares in the unfinished units to rescind their purchase contracts and to get back up to $900 per family for money they lost on the transactions.
Charles McNaulty, a Harrisonburg attorney who represented the buyers who had purchased unfinished time-shares at Massanutten, said that most of the families -- about 300 -- chose to rescind their contracts. "I think most of them just wanted out," McNaulty said.
Davenport said that he believes the court will be able to recover at least $800,000, enough to cover the $300,000 in payments to people who rescinded their contracts and the federal and state tax liens against both Massanutten and the resort in Lake Placid. He said it was less likely that the court would recover funds to pay the roughly $20 million in unsecured claims against First Federal.
Up on the mountain at Massanutten, time-share owners say they are pleased the resort is getting back on its feet and that the new developer has fulfilled the promises made to the court.
"The place is really up and running now," said Jo Anne Underhill, president of the Massanutten Village Owners Association. "Great Eastern has generally proceeded according to what they promised."
Underhill said that the Village Owners Association, which has nearly 7,000 members, recently reached an agreement with Great Eastern that increases the association's control over the time-share units.
According to the agreement, a subsidiary of Great Eastern, called Great Eastern Management Corp., will manage the resort for the next year, and the developer agreed to give the owners association land to build its own administration building.
"The bankruptcy really forced us as an organization to become independent from the developer earlier than we might have otherwise," Underhill said. "We needed these changes, and now we are ready to take a greater role in the future of this resort."