Gov. Chris Sununu said he backs a measure that would provide a mechanism to help fund a $172 million renovation to The Balsams resort in Dixville Notch.
“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,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement to the New Hampshire Union Leader. “I would support this bill as written — should it reach my desk.”
Last week, the Senate Commerce Committee voted 5-0 to back the measure. It could come up for approval before the full Senate this week.
The bill would allow Coos County to issue a bond for the project without any guarantee for taxpayers to step in and make payments should the project fail. Tax revenues in a yet-to-be-created tax assessment district — also known as tax incremental financing (TIF) — would only come from the assets improved or built within that district, and those revenues would pay the principal and interest on the bond.
“Coos County lost thousands of jobs in the last 15 years or so and despite numerous efforts, economic development has not kept young people,” said Rep. Edith Tucker, D-Randolph, who sponsored House Bill 540. “We need a big economist boost.”
Les Otten, a one-time minority owner of the Boston Red Sox, has been working to resurrect the elegance of the shuttered Balsams, including requiring men to wear jackets in at least one restaurant should he complete his vision.
The project’s first phase includes renovation of the Hampshire and Hale houses; reconstruction of Dix House; and construction of a 400-room Lake Gloriette House Hotel and Conference Center, Nordic baths and spa as well as a marketplace and expansion of the former Wilderness ski area.
If the Senate and governor sign off on the bill, other steps would need to be completed before construction could start.
“After that — there would be a process at the county level where the Commissioners would review the bond proposal,” said Scott Tranchemontagne, spokesman for the developer, Dixville Capital LLC.
A public hearing would be held before the entire county delegation would also need to consider and approve the bond, he said.
Besides the $28 million TIF bond, the project would be financed with an approximately $85 million construction loan, $20 million from the developer and $40 million in investment through a federal opportunity zone, a federal program that gives tax breaks to investors, or additional equity, according to Tranchemontagne in February.
“With respect to funding, we have identified a great deal of it, but step one will be securing a buyer of the bond,” he said. “We are currently in discussions with a few potential bond investors. The bond will need to be purchased before any of the additional funding sources can close.”
“It’s still a bit premature to speculate on a construction timeframe moving forward. We are very pleased with the Commerce Committee’s unanimous support,” Tranchemontagne said. “It is another significant step forward, but there are still several steps ahead.”
Otten’s project tried to get the state Business Finance Authority to guarantee a $28 million loan but pulled the request last August before it came before a vote
Tucker said with the current plan, paying for the bond “won’t fall back on local taxpayers.”
Coos County Commissioner Rick Samson said he supports renovating the Balsams but is “very worried” about the possibility of county taxpayers being on the hook if the developer doesn’t complete the project.
As for the approvals from Concord, Samson said: “To be honest, I think what they’re doing is kick the can down the road for the Coos County commissioners and delegation to make the decision.”