By Chris Jensen
LANCASTER – Developer Les Otten said he has spent about $7.1 million on his effort to redevelop the Balsams Resort, the project is moving ahead and some construction could occur this summer.
“I think we’re fairly encouraged that we are on a path to success,” he told Coos County Commissioners Tom Brady and Paul Grenier during the commission’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Wednesday.
It has been three years since Otten announced plans to tackle the project, seen by state and local officials as a terrific opportunity to boost the economy of the North Country.
But Otten said he doesn’t think anyone could have done it more quickly because it is a complicated project “but complicated does not mean impossible.”
The project has many – but not all – of the state and federal permits needed to move ahead and there’s strong interest in condominiums, he said.
Buyers have put down 5 percent deposits on “over $20 million” in condominiums and another $6 million to $7 million “are in the pipeline,” he told commissioners Brady and Grenier. Commissioner Rick Samson was recovering from surgery and did not attend.
Those are refundable deposits, however, and Otten does not yet have permission from the New Hampshire Attorney General to sell units.
Otten said “the marketplace is abuzz” over the Balsams and he’s been contacted by about 600 people looking for jobs, had about 200 inquiries about weddings and “hundreds of requests for conferences.”
Otten told InDepthNH.org that about half of the $7.1 million spent so far is his money. The remainder is from Northern Pass’ economic development fund, known as Forward NH Plan.
Otten is getting $5 million in loans from Northern Pass, which he has praised as a great benefit to the region. Otten doesn’t yet have all the $143 million in financing he needs.
But he said he is getting closer to a crucial element: finding out whether there will be a state guarantee on a $28 million loan from the Northern Bank & Trust Company of Woburn, Mass.
The bank is considering loaning Otten about $100 million, including the $28 million.
He said the bank finally has all the information it needs about the feasibility of the project. Now it is a matter of the bank taking the request to the state’s Business Finance Authority.
The BFA would make a recommendation on the guarantee, which would also need the approval of the Executive Council and Gov. Chris Sununu.
Otten said it’s not clear when the bank will make the request.
“They are going a little bit slower than we like, but they are there,” Otten said.
“There is a lot more that we have to do, but we are beginning to feel comfortable that without making any public proclamations at this point and time that there will be a shovel in the ground this summer,” he said.
Several times in the last two years Balsams officials have predicted construction was about to begin.
Brady and Grenier praised the project and encouraged Otten to keep working at it.
Chris Jensen covers the North Country for InDepthNH.org, a non-profit news outlet published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism. Jensen worked as a reporter at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland for 25 years, has freelanced for the last decade to The New York Times and previously covered The North Country for New Hampshire Public Radio.