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Commissioner Rose: SB 30 and the Redevelopment of The Balsams

Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeffrey Rose outlines the need for passage of SB 30. – Ed.

Commissioner Rose briefing the Coos County delegation about SB 30 in February.

Commissioner Rose briefing the Coos County delegation about SB 30 in February.

AS MUCH as we look to the future in New Hampshire, we also respect treasures of our past. We take pride in preserving places and traditions that are a part of our state’s identity. The Balsams Resort in Dixville Notch is an example of this. It’s one of the state’s oldest grand hotels; it’s the place where our tradition of hospitality began, and it’s where the nation tunes in at midnight every four years for the results of the first presidential votes cast, for a glimpse into the political future for our country.

The Balsams closed more than three years ago, and today its future is at the crossroad of rebirth or fading into history. For the benefit of the North Country, and the entire state, it needs to be saved. Senate Bill 30, which is before the House Finance Committee, will help move the proposed $143 million redevelopment project forward.

First, SB 30 authorizes Coos County to establish a redevelopment district and, within the specific project footprint, raise funds to pay down the debt service on the project. Redevelopment districts allow access to financing and state guarantees for critical projects.

They have been used by municipalities all over New Hampshire to fund worthy endeavors, such as revitalizing historic downtown districts and business development areas. However, The Balsams is unique because of its location in Dixville Notch, which is an unincorporated place. As the law stands now, unincorporated places cannot access state bond programs because there is no government structure in place capable of backing a bond.

Second, SB 30 authorizes up to $28 million for private bonds to be issued by the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority. Bonds are private capital, which are guaranteed by the BFA. Supporting projects with a defined public benefit is not unique. The BFA has been doing this since 1992, providing guarantees for exceptional public benefit projects that can change our economic landscape; such as the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, Bretton Woods ski area and the Mountain View Grand. These bond or loan guarantees were all approved by the governor and Executive Council, as The Balsams’ must be.

This legislation will enable the BFA to evaluate the financial merits of the project through its tried and true process. One of our state’s economic development strengths is the checks and balances of our public business finance offerings. The Legislature creates the framework, the BFA effectively evaluates the risk, and the governor and Executive Council ultimately vote it up or down, but only after a public hearing. It’s a deliberative and measured system that has served our state well for decades.

Reopening The Balsams will play an important role in revitalizing Coos County and will benefit the entire state. Revenues are projected to exceed the annual debt repayment in the first year of reopening. Rooms and meals, real estate and other taxes will pump $8 million into the state’s coffers, and more importantly, more than 1,700 jobs will be created when the project is complete, including nearly 600 jobs in just the first year.

Time has not been kind to The Balsams since it closed in 2011, and it does not wear neglect well. This may well be the last opportunity to save one of the last surviving grand hotels in New Hampshire and drive prosperity into a region that sorely needs it. The passage of SB 30 is vital to saving The Balsams and transforming it into a world-class resort. If it does not pass, there may never be another chance and this landmark, and the opportunities it brings, will be relegated to history.