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North Country

House Finance Committee Questions Whether Balsams Loan Is A Safe Bet

Chris Jensen for NHPR
The resort closed in 2011 and the following year most of its furnishings were sold at auction.

Those who want to revive the Balsams resort went before the House Finance Committee Tuesday arguing in favor of a $28 million state-backed loan for developer Les Otten. And to nobody’s surprise the hearing was packed with supporters...

Many came down from the North Country, thrilled with the possibility of a huge economic boost and supporters included Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who represents the North Country.

“This project is so important to the North Country you couldn’t believe it.”

Otten has said without the $28 million package he doesn't see how the project can move forward.  He has said he hopes to begin construction in June although Coos planning officials have yet to see - much less approve - any detailed plans.

Other speakers said the area desperately needs the Balsams to reopen, the state has helped other areas in economic need and officials shouldn't turn their backs on troubled Coos County.

But members of the finance committee raised concerns over the Business Finance Authority’s ability to guarantee the bonds.

Lawmakers pressed Department of Revenue and Economic Development Commissioner Jeff Rose about whether he was sure the state wouldn’t lose the $28 million.

Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

Several times he responded saying DRED felt the project was "viable."

Asked directly whether DRED believes the state will get its money back, Rose finally said: "yes."

Under the proposed deal the state could foreclose if the resort went belly up. 

But some committee members worried that in the worst case the resort might not be worth enough to make sure the state recovered its money.

Otten said without any improvements he figures the Balsams is currently worth a few million dollars - all due to the timber.

But Otten said the improvements he is planning to make the Balsams a world-class resort mean the state should be in good shape if it has to foreclose.

A strong supporter is Gov. Maggie Hassan, although she did not appear before the committee.

The committee will now be studying the bill – SB 30 which would allow the formation of a tax district in the unincorporated area around Dixville, allowing the state to back the $28 million loan.

If the bill becomes law the governor and Executive Council would still have to approve the Business Finance Authority's action.

The public hearing took about four hours Tuesday.

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