February 09. 2014 9:09PM

The Balsams: Another silent winter in Dixville Notch

Union Leader Correspondent

Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch remains closed, its driveway barricaded. (JOHN KOZIOL PHOTO)

DIXVILLE NOTCH — For the third consecutive winter, the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel remains shuttered.

“It would be so important to get those 300 jobs back,” said Colebrook Selectmen Chairman Ray Gorman, who worked at the Balsams for 33 years. Not having the Balsams open “is really hurting this community.”

In December 2011, Balsams View LLC, whose principles are Dan Hebert and Dan Degasse, bought the Balsams and its 7,700-acre property, which includes a golf course and the Balsams Wilderness ski area, from the Tillotson Corp. of Lexington, Mass., and the Neil Tillotson Trust for $2.3 million.

On March 26, 2013, the Coos County Planning Board voted unanimously to conditionally approve the request of Colebrook-based Balsams View LLC to make significant changes to the historic Balsams hotel and property.

The work, which Hebert and Degasse said could cost upward of $35 million, entails completely renovating the Hampshire House portion of the Balsams and reconditioning the Dix House. A new seven-story addition to the seven-story tall Hampshire House would be built that contains a new entry/reception building, a new kitchen, a conference center, spa and indoor-outdoor pool.

Hebert told the Coos planning board last March that the John Dix library and the “Ballot Room,” site of where voters have cast the first in the state, and thus the first in the nation presidential primary ballots, would be relocated. The Hampshire House would be heated by a bio-mass plant fed by wood from the on-site forests.

Overall, Hebert said the plans for the Balsams include retaining 123,000 square feet of existing space and 80,000 square feet of new construction, with the goal of employing as many as 300 people.

While the partners have sought funding sources to make the project possible, some of which have not panned out, they’ve been largely mum since getting the planning board’s OK.

A call to Balsams View LLC was referred to Scott Tranchemontagne, spokesman for the Balsams project, but Tranchemontagne could not be reached. An e-mail inquiry to Balsams View’s corporate agent, attorney Bradford Cook, was answered, but the reply also directed the matter to Tranchemontagne, who was still unavailable.

Meanwhile, the resort’s website at www.thebalsams.com says only that the facility is “currently closed for renovations,” advising online visitors to “Check back for updates on our progress and plans to reopen.”

John Scarinza, who chairs the Coos County Planning Board, said the board is “just waiting for an update from the owners, whenever that might be. We gave a building approval which allows them to apply for some financing and once they come back with their final plans, then we’ll be reviewing those and move forward.”

Karl Stone, the marketing director of Ski NH, an industry group that represents 33 alpine and Nordic ski areas in the Granite State, said Friday he has heard nothing about the Balsams, but would welcome any news of its return.

“We miss not having the Balsams Wilderness Ski Area operating,” Stone said, “because at many levels it’s a unique property with a unique location and excellent snow quality there.”

When the Balsams was operating, Stone said Ski NH loved to promote it because it offered a “boutique” resort feel “and for the reasons I mentioned, we look forward to having them back.”

“We would be excited for someone to invest in the property and bring it back to what it was, to be part of skiing in New Hampshire once again.”

Stone’s sentiment was echoed by Selectman Gorman, who said the Balsams pays his town property taxes on its golf course, which is located in Colebrook. While that revenue is important, even more important would be to have the resort back in business, he said.

The selectman said he’s heard “a lot of stories” about what might happen, but added that “until I see a shovel in the ground,” he doesn’t give them any credence.

Although he sees Hebert and Degasse around town, Gorman said they’ve been “pretty tight-lipped.”

“The economic impact is just huge for us. When the hotel had 200 rooms full, the guests would come into Colebrook and have lunch and buy gas” and spend money in many other ways throughout the community, Gorman said.

Whatever happens next with the Balsams, Gorman stressed that it’s “so important that positive things come from Dixville. I just can’t wait to see this get going again because there’s 300 jobs out at the Balsams.”