By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
DIXVILLE — Les Otten, spokesman and lead developer for the The Balsams, presented an update on the status of securing financing to revive and reopen the grand resort that closed in 2011 at Wednesday’s virtual meeting of the Coos County Planning Board for the Unincorporated Places. About a month before, Otten and his silent partner Dan Hebert of Colebrook had sent local and regional press an press release and executive summary of their current thinking.
“We have taken a new step in exploring how the Balsams can positively and sustainably impact the overall health of our environment,” Otten explained. ”When we emerge from the COVID-19 battle, we will have an unprecedented opportunity to create a truly sustainable resort community. We’ve been working with environmental community leaders to help us frame and focus our redevelopment plan by implementing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) policies.”
Otten explained that he has learned a lot from environmental leaders, such as former Conservation Law Foundation president Douglas Foy, who have given him an understanding of the potential role of the “impact investor.”
An impact investor is a person, group or large institution that is satisfied to invest in a project that generates a lower return on investment compared to other projects in order to advance clean energy and provide jobs that strengthen communities in disadvantaged areas, such as Coos County
The plan is to create a wholly carbon-neutral destination resort destination that (1) “pays homage to the foresight of past Balsams’ owners and their use of renewable resources; (2) is beneficial to the social well-being of Coos County and northern New England and would provide good clean jobs; and (3) operates under progressive and empowering corporate management policies that encourage community engagement.
These ESG policies are designed to enhance the extraordinary and diverse amenities and activities at The Balsams. “From farm-to-table to composting, wind and solar energy to wood biomass heating — we would expect to be leaders into the future,” he said.
Otten assured the Planning Board members that he and the team are very committed to finding the needed financing, still estimated in the $185 million range. He described himself as very persistent and noted that there is still skiable snow in the Notch. “The Balsams is still a very special place, and its beauty does not change,” he said.
Otten also emphasized that the resort has played a very special role in Coos, and that the northern tier still needs and the good jobs it would support. “It would be like having an anchor tenant,” he said. This is particularly needed in Coos and even adjacent out-of-state counties, where ulp and paper mill closures, shrinking furniture factory output and other declining timber-related industries have caused substantial regional job loss and hardship, he pointed out.
The team has thought they were making progress in finding an impact investor or investors, but COVID-19 kicked the pants off us, he said. “So, we’re not there yet, but we’re not giving up.
“My parents’ generation had to deal with the Depression and World War II,” Otten said. “That’s given me the motivation to say, ‘If they could do it, I can do it.’”
Planning Board consultant Tara Bamford said she is keeping a running tally of when permits will need to be extended.
Chairman John Scarinza said that he received phone calls from city dwellers looking for places in northern rural New Hampshire to move