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New identities for Yosemite National Park icons as Delaware North era ends

Delaware North is plowing ahead with its court case against the National Park Service even as work crews Tuesday changed the names of popular attractions on buildings, restaurant menus and directional signs throughout Yosemite National Park. They even switched out bars of soap bearing hotel names.

The Buffalo-based hospitality and tourism conglomerate is enduring a wave of bad publicity as the Park Service and the new Yosemite concessionaire, Aramark, started changing the names of the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village and other venues at the park just after midnight California time Tuesday.

The move came as the parties remain embroiled in a bitter trademark dispute that shows no sign of ending soon.

“They dug their heels in. Clearly, legal was driving this, and, you know, sometimes that happens. Some people might interpret that as being a public relations problem,” said Earl V. Wells III, president of e3communications, a public affairs and PR agency. “But they made a strategic decision that they were going to stick with the legal route, and sometimes your PR can be limited when you choose to go with that strategy.”

The prospect of changing the names of venues that, in some cases, date back decades had drawn the ire of Californians on websites and social media.

Last summer, the Park Service selected Aramark, based in Philadelphia, over Delaware North for the new contract, worth up to $2 billion over 15 years, to operate hotels, restaurants, stores and other services in Yosemite. It is the most lucrative concessions contract in the national parks system.

Delaware North had held the contract at the park since 1993. Last fall, the company filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the Park Service, which responded in January that the legal dispute was forcing it to rename a number of well-liked park venues.

When Delaware North first won the contract, the company said it was required to buy the tangible and intangible assets of the previous operator, the Curry Co., for $61.5 million, or $115 million in today’s dollars. That included trademarked slogans such as “Go Climb a Rock” and intellectual property such as the names of the venues.

Delaware North said that its original Yosemite contract also included an agreement that any successor company to Delaware North at the park would have to buy out all of its assets.

The company and the Park Service disagree over the value of the trademarks and other intangibles, which the company contends are worth $51 million but which the Park Service insists are worth just $3.5 million, court filings show.

To stave off the rebranding, Delaware North first offered to grant the Park Service a license to continue to use the names of the attractions, royalty-free, after Tuesday. The Park Service rejected that offer.

On Friday, the company offered to transfer ownership of the assets in question, including the names of the attractions, to Aramark while the court case continues. The parties would later work out the amount of compensation that Delaware North believes that it is due.

Aramark rejected that offer as meaningless. Delaware North late Monday made a last-ditch offer to assign the trademarks directly to the Park Service, but the Park Service declined that offer, as well.

“Delaware North has done everything it can reasonably do to ensure Yosemite’s beloved and historic names stay in the park,” Glen A. White, a company spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday. “The National Park Service can still take the simple step of accepting the offers of either an assignment or free license of the trademarks. The fate of the historic names is fully in the National Park Service’s control.”

Delaware North officials declined to comment further.

The company may have to worry about whether it will lose out on future contracts, particularly from the federal government or out in California, where tempers have flared the most over the Yosemite issue, Wells said. But Delaware North is counting on visitors to the park, as well as the general public, moving past the name changes, he said.

It’s not as if they’re tearing down a natural feature at Yosemite “or doing fracking in the park or something,” Wells said.

At Yosemite, Park Service spokesman Scott Gediman said workers for Aramark began at 12:01 a.m. California time Tuesday to restock the restaurants, hotels and gift shops at the park with food, tchotchkes and other items and to install its own computers and point-of-sale systems.

Aramark work crews also placed items with the attractions’ new names in and around the park overnight, including temporary signs and sign coverings. David Freireich, an Aramark spokesman, said the work will continue for a couple of days.

One problem, Gediman said, is that someone stole the sign to the Ahwahnee Hotel at some point over the weekend.

And because the temporary sign with the new name to the attraction – the Majestic Yosemite Hotel – was special-ordered to fit over the existing sign, there is no sign outside the hotel now, Gediman said.

Park Service crews installed 18 directional signs around the park modified with the new attraction names.

In addition to the new Majestic hotel name:

• Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is now Yosemite Valley Lodge.

• Curry Village is now Half Dome Village.

• The Wawona Hotel is now Big Trees Lodge.

• Badger Pass Ski Area is now Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

The temporary signs will remain in place until permanent ones can be installed, or until the court case is resolved.

Gediman, who has worked at Yosemite for 20 years, said there is a sense of excitement in the air as a new concessionaire takes over. But asked how long it will take him to call the Ahwahnee Hotel “the Majestic,” he said, “I don’t know. I haven’t had to say it yet.”