DIXVILLE NOTCH — After more than a decade out of the industry, former ski-resort mogul Les Otten made an audacious return on Tuesday, announcing that, along with its current owners, he would work to develop a plan that to breathe new life into the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel.
Now dormant for the third consecutive winter, the Balsams and the nearby Balsams Wilderness Ski Area were purchased in December 2011 by Colebrook businessmen Dan Dagesse and Dan Hebert for $2.3 million from the Tillotson Corp. of Lexington, Mass., and the Neil Tillotson Trust.
The partners said they wanted to restore the resort, where they both once had worked, and bring back the 300 jobs lost when it closed. Dagesse and Hebert have made several efforts to bring investors to the project. Last week, an anonymous fax sent to the New Hampshire Union Leader linked Otten to that effort.
The founder and former president of the American Skiing Company at one time owned ski resorts in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, among them Sunday River, Attitash Bear Peak, Sugarbush, Mt. Cranmore, Killington, Mt. Snow, Haystack, Waterville Valley and also a majority stake in Sugarloaf. Otten was also a candidate in 2010 for the Republican nomination for governor of Maine.
Very few details
More recently, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Bethel, Maine-based Maine Energy Systems, Otten spoke at length Tuesday afternoon about his long connections to the Balsams and — without getting into details — his aspirations for it.
Otten said that he, Dagesse and Hebert within the last day had come to an understanding that he would prepare a plan for the Balsams and that if the plan moved forward, Dagesse and Hebert would remain stakeholders in the project.
For Otten, that project is a return to a familiar place.
The manager of Sunday River in 1973 at the age of 23, and seven years later its owner, Otten said his resort and the Balsams would "regularly share customer experiences and help each other out in the wintertime with guest needs and that continued into the 90s."
He said Hebert and Degasse contacted him six to eight months ago and convinced him to come to Dixville Notch to see the Balsams once again.
"I said I don't know if I can do anything, but I'm willing to spend a bunch of time on my nickel to come up with a proposal and they accepted that proposal 24 hours ago," he said.
The success of the project is contingent upon the concurrence of many other third parties, said Otten, adding that one of those is David Southworth, whose Newton-Mass. based company, Southworth Development, specializes in golf and hospitality projects worldwide.
Otten acknowledged that he has his critics. A repeated bone of contention is that the American Skiing Company was overleveraged under his leadership and that stockholders eventually lost a lot of money. After Otten left the company, it gradually sold off its assets and was later dissolved.
"It's extraordinarily difficult to comment on what's coming from an anonymous source," Otten said, adding "I've worked on some very challenging business projects and more often than not, I've been able to create success. I don't claim to have all the answers, but there isn't a business that I've touched that wasn't better off."
A former minority owner of the Boston Red Sox, Otten said his efforts to preserve Fenway Park also were belittled by some people, and that, overall, he is "more than happy to have my record of the things that I built."