By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Developer Les Otten’s vision for creating the crown jewel of resort hotels with the largest ski area in the Northeast at the Balsams got another major boost Thursday, this time from the state Senate.
The Senate approved House Bill 540 that will help Otten seek the funding he needs for the $173 million redevelopment of the Balsams in Dixville Notch.
The bill was part of the consent calendar, which the Senate passed unanimously Thursday. It passed the House by a wide margin as well.
Gov. Chris Sununu, R-NH, said he plans to sign the bill into law to help the economy of the North Country, noting no financial cost or risk will be incurred by the state.
“This bill has the potential to revitalize economic opportunity in the North Country without creating a burden on the taxpayers of New Hampshire and that is something we can all support,” Sununu said in a statement.
The news is long-coming and mostly welcomed in the North Country as a boost to a struggling economy where many logging, mill and manufacturing jobs have been lost over the past decades.
Rep. Edith Tucker, D-Randolph, who co-sponsored the legislation called its unanimous passage through the Senate “exciting.”
“It’s something that could really help the whole county. It took a lot of effort for many but there is such support. It’s bound to make investors happy,” Tucker said.
Once the governor signs the bill, she said it will be up to the Balsams developer and the Coos County Commissioners to roll up their sleeves. There will be a public hearing opportunity, she noted.
“The fact is that the county has choices,” Tucker said. “This is just the enabling part.”
House Bill 540 was key to getting the ball rolling after five years of development and a $28 million bond will be sought.
The bill allows for Coos County to create a tax increment finance district in unincorporated places, like Dixville Notch, but would not require public backing of the bond.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, who is also one of three Coos County Commissioners, said he was “thrilled and excited” for the entire North Country that HB 540 passed and promised to begin working on the framework for a bond.
“We’ve been under the gun for so long up here,” Grenier said “We’re not out of the woods but man, what an opportunity to keep a generation here. That’s going to be the key to keeping a generation here, good jobs,” Grenier said.
Otten couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but a spokesman for the project, Scott Tranchemontagne, said the vote was a significant step forward.
“We look forward to working with county commissioners and the delegation in reviewing the details of our proposal, which is simply for the county to provide the mechanism for a bond to be issued, without providing a guarantee or assuming any liability to pay back the bond,” Tranchemontagne said. “Given the several hundred new jobs and many millions of new tax dollars a redeveloped Balsams will create, today’s vote is a win for not only the Balsams, but the entire North Country.”
Rick Samson, a Coos County Commissioner, supports redevelopment of the Balsams, but does not support the legislation. He couldn’t be reached for immediate comment, but has said he has questions that haven’t been answered.
“I have some questions and serious concerns that passage of this bill may have not only on the elected officials and administrators but also the taxpayers of Coos County,” Samson said.
A previous effort to secure a $28 million bond deal fizzled in August 2018 when Service Credit Union of New Hampshire withdrew its request to the state Business Finance Authority, citing irreconcilable differences.
Otten, ski resort developer and former part-owner of the Boston Red Sox, has said he is looking forward to creating jobs in Coos County.
The former owner of nine ski areas at one time, including Waterville Valley, now owned by Sununu’s family, the Canyons in Utah, Steamboat, Colo., Heavenly Valley in California and both Killington and Sunday River, said the development will happen rapidly once it starts.
In the first phase of development, the ski area would be about the size of Stowe in Vermont and after build-out, it would be larger than Killington, Vt.