YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — A dispute over the names of such iconic Yosemite National Park locations as the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village has the park service considering renaming them.
Park concessions are under contract to DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, a subsidiary of Delaware North, a privately held Buffalo, N.Y., company that also operates concessions at more than 30 airports, 60-plus sports and entertainment venues and a number of state and national parks.
DNC Parks has told park officials it owns the names and should be paid up to $51 million for them if another company takes over the concession contract.
The National Park Service is soliciting bids for the contract and disputes DNC Parks’ ownership contention.
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“These names are historical,” park spokesman Scott Gediman told The Fresno Bee. “They are part of Yosemite. The Ahwahnee dates back to 1927, and Curry Village goes back to 1899. These places and their names belong to the American people.”
Still, Gediman said the park service could change the names of locations, including Badger Pass, the Wawona Hotel, Yosemite Lodge, Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village, to protect other bidders from the added cost of buying them.
The contract to operate concessions at Yosemite is among the largest in the national-park system, with more than $120 million in gross revenue each year. DNC Parks won the contract for 15 years in the 1990s and was granted extensions to run the concessions after the contract was supposed to end in 2008, according to The Bee.
The new contract is set to be awarded in mid-2015, and some observers say DNC Parks may be trying to lessen its value for any potential competitors. The company has not decided whether it will bid on the new contract, said Lisa Cesaro, a spokeswoman for DNC Parks.
Cesaro said the company was required as part of its 1993 contract to purchase all assets and liabilities in the park, including intangible assets such as the rights to the names. So it is only natural that it would seek to sell them back, she said.
Jim Stellmack, director of marketing for DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, told The Bee the National Park Service has long recognized the existence of intellectual property rights in concession contracts, and that Delaware North owns the names of the Yosemite businesses it operates to prevent other people from using them inappropriately.
The company has acquired trademark registrations for nearly all the places it manages at Yosemite, the San Francisco Chronicle, citing federal records, reported.
But Melville Owen, an attorney who specializes in trademark law, said that doesn’t mean it owns the names of the sites.
“It will be fascinating to see how this plays out,” he told the Chronicle.
If the dispute escalates, a court will look at where and when the names emerged, who had the rights to them and what happened to those rights, he said.
With 3.6 million visitors in 2013, Yosemite ranked behind only Grand Canyon National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in overall visits.
Material from McClatchy Washington Bureau is included in this report.