ERROL — It’s been nearly two years since a pair of North Country businessmen succeeded in buying the closed Balsams Grand Resort and Hotel in Dixville Notch for $2.3 million, promising to restore the landmark property and return the hotel and large dining room to their former grandeur.
But The Balsams remains shuttered, and the new owners’ May 2012 auction emptied it of everything from dinner plates to ski-lift chairs. Some pre-construction demolition has taken place, but owners Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse and the company they formed, Balsams View LLC, seem no closer to achieving their goal to return large-scale seasonal employment to Coos County.
Hebert and Dagesse do not return phone calls and seldom talk publicly about their plans unless required by the permitting process to do so.
Attracting the funding needed for their plan — they have acknowledged through a spokesman — is the challenge.
The estimated price tag for the renovation started at about $20 million; it stood most recently at $35 million.
The property and its prominent red-and-white, Swiss-style buildings stand in the distance off Route 26, roughly halfway between Colebrook and Errol. In the latter town, about 12 miles east of the hotel, most people, including town officials, are wary of giving their views on the future of The Balsams. Two of the three Errol selectmen did not return messages. The third issued a terse “no comment” and hung up.
“It’s a sad situation,” said Luc Cote, longtime owner of the LL Cote Store in Errol, which stocks sporting equipment. “It’s one thing to say you’re going to spend $35 million. They don’t put their own money in. I don’t know what the idea was; maybe they were hoping a gambling bill would pass. But from day one, I’ve said it’s not going to happen,” said Cote, regarding the overall project.
Cote, 59, added that attempting to resurrect The Balsams and restore it to its former glory is not a sound plan, considering the former two-season resort’s financial history.“The Balsams never made money. It lost $5 million a year. Mr. Tillotson ran it as a hobby. It didn’t work (financially) for 50 years, what makes them think it’ll work now?”
At the Errol General Store, owner Bob Ouelette said he’s willing to believe the project would eventually go forward. “We’ve lost a lot up here at the north end of the state,” he said.
In March, the Coos County Planning Board granted Balsams View a building permit. The owners hoped that go-ahead would prompt a “white knight” equity lender to come forward with some financing, according to spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne.
But in an e-mail message early last week, Tranchemontagne said that hadn’t happened, and there had been no progress on the project since. Tranchemontagne did not respond to an e-mail Friday seeking comment on several other issues.
Fred King, Coos County treasurer and a member of the county planning board, said he has known Hebert and Dagesse for years, and had been well-acquainted with the hotel’s longtime owner, Neil Tillotson.
“I haven’t heard a word, one way or the other, for a long time” about the project, he said Thursday.
King, a former state senator, acknowledged that the wealthy Tillotson hadn’t relied on Balsams income, and his ownership had been, “maybe a hobby of his.” Tillotson, who died in 2001, was also very glad to have provided some 300 seasonal resort jobs to the area, King said.
If things do go badly for the owners and a new Balsams never sees daylight, King said there are “enough logs on that land to bail them out.”
But the larger issue is will New Hampshire ever see a restored and functioning Balsams under Hebert’s and Dagesse’s ownership?
“I have faith that they’ll make it work, if anybody can,” King said.