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September 09. 2012 12:52AM

Balsams lawsuit ouster sought

DIXVILLE — A judge will hear motions next week to dismiss a lawsuit blamed for further delaying efforts to finance renovations to the Balsams Grand Hotel and Resort, which has been closed since new owners took it over last December.

Lawyer Andy Martin of New York City filed suit July 5 against Balsams View LLC and its owners, Daniel Dagasse and Daniel Hebert.

According to his blog, Martin sued “to undo (the) sale of New Hampshire's landmark hotel, The Balsams, which was turned over to real estate speculators as part of a plan to destroy the property.”

North Country Auctions, the Coos County Planning Board, the Colebrook Planning Board, Tillotson Corp., the Neil Tillotson Fund and state Attorney General Michael Delaney were also named in the suit.

“Financing this project is difficult for a number of reasons, including the general state of the lending market,” Balsams spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said in an email last week.

“Historically, lenders look at resorts as higher risks than other types of development,” he said. “And the lawsuit has only added uncertainty and made it more difficult.”

No demolition or renovation is taking place other than the recent removal of the property's old biomass power plant, which was sold at auction in May, Tranchemontagne said.

The resort buildings have been essentially shut down and winterized since last December, except for space opened for the January primary election.

Tranchemontagne said he doesn't know specific numbers, but even in its present closed state, maintaining the property costs money.

“Those costs are being paid by Balsams View LLC, which underscores the owners' desire to get moving as quickly as possible on the construction,” he said.

Local residents are also anxious for signs of progress on the project.

“Everybody's waiting for something to happen, so we can get some jobs and get something going on,” said David Brooks, chairman of the Colebrook Planning Board.

In the meantime, locals are taking any jobs available.

“A lot of people are commuting to Jay Peak, Vermont,” he said. “That's an hour and a half, hour and forty-five minutes on secondary roads, no interstates.”

Brooks himself worked at the Balsams for almost seven years before being laid off in 2011, when the hotel closed for renovations.

“A lot of the guests enjoyed coming out there because they could get away from it all and they were treated real special,” Brooks said. “The area is beautiful, winter or summer.”

He said it's his understanding the lawsuit is delaying financing for the project, and once it's out of the way, the project can finally move forward.

“That's the hope,” he said. “They say it's going to take 18 months for renovations, and this just keeps pushing the opening date back further and further.”

Tranchemontagne said the owners' goals remain the same as they were the day they purchased the property.

“Pure and simple — their goal is to restore this grand resort, modernize it to meet the needs of today's traveler and turn a profit, and restore hundreds of good jobs for the North Country.”

In a statement released July 12, Tranchemontagne said, “We trust the court will find this lawsuit frivolous and without merit”.

According to a Merrimack County Superior Court employee, court records show a hearing has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 17 to hear pending motions to dismiss the lawsuit.

Hebert and Dagasse reportedly paid $2.3 million to buy the 144-year-old hotel property. In May, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported the cost of renovations would be between $12 million and $20 million.

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Kristi Garofalo may be reached at kgarofalo@newstote.com.


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