Balsams Resort tops $26 million in real estate reservations

DIXVILLE — More than 120 families and individuals have made a 5 percent refundable deposit toward a future purchase of a residence in the historic Hampshire and Dix Houses, the first structures to be renovated under the Balsams’ $170 million restoration and expansion plan. These pre-sale contracts represent $26.1 million worth of future sales at The Balsams Resort. Deposits have been received from future purchasers in 18 states, some as far away as California, Colorado and Texas; and Ontario, Canada.

Balsams’ Lead Developer Les Otten said the strong response to the resort’s unique ownership program, “validates the Balsams redevelopment’s vision and viability.”

He also said the Balsams’ lead lender is very close to taking its next crucial step, working with the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority to apply for a credit enhancement on the project’s redevelopment district, as enabled by the passage of Senate Bill 30 in 2015.

“Recognizing how important the Balsams’ rebirth will be to New Hampshire’s North Country economy, the state approached us early on with an offer to assist the project through legislation that made possible a credit enhancement through the Business Finance Authority. We are pleased that in the coming weeks, our lead lender will begin working with the BFA on the application process.”

Otten noted the development team has made significant improvements to its financing plan that will strengthen the project.

In addition to surpassing its $25 million real estate milestone, the Balsams commissioned a workforce study earlier this year that confirms the Balsams has the potential to bring thousands of new jobs to the North Country. The study says the Balsams Resort will create 600 construction jobs during Phase 1. Once operational, the Balsams will employ roughly 400 people with the potential of creating more than 1,500 jobs once the build out is complete.

The Balsams’ first phase will include renovating the historic Hampshire and Hale Houses, reconstructing the historic 1866 Dix House and building a new Lake Gloriette House hotel and conference center, Nordic Baths and Spa, and an expanded ski area. Construction in the Balsams village may proceed independently from work on the ski area.

The Balsams’ project has been rigorously reviewed by various local, state and federal agencies and has received the following legislative and permitting approvals:

May 2015 — The N.H. Legislature passes and Gov. Maggie Hassan signs SB 30, allowing the N.H. Business Finance Authority to consider a $28 million loan guarantee for the project’s redevelopment district.
July 2015 — N.H. Department of Environmental Services – 401 Water Quality Certificate to withdraw water from the Androscoggin River for snowmaking.
November 2015 — Coos County Planning Board and Delegation — zoning amendment approvals.
December 2015 — Coos County Planning Board — planned unit development approval.
December 2015 — N.H. DES — wetland permit.
December 2015 — U.S. Army Corps permit.
June 2016 — Coos County Planning Board — Hampshire and Dix House site plan and subdivision approval.
June 2016 — N.H. DES — shoreland impact permit.
July 2017 – N.H. Department of Transportation — driveway permit.
August 2017 — Coos County Planning Board — amended Hampshire and Dix House Condominium site plan approval.
September 2017 — Coos County Planning Board – Lake Gloriette House Condominium site plan and subdivision approval.


Proposal for $1.2 million renovation of Camp Dodge gets final approval

By Barbara Tetreault

PINKHAM NOTCH — A public-private partnership to update and expand the Camp Dodge Volunteer Trails Center has been given final approval by the U.S. Forest Service.

In a decision dated Nov. 9, District Ranger Jennifer Barnhart said the partnership between the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Forest Service would update and maintain the structural integrity and functionality of Camp Dodge, which provides housing and logistic support for AMC and Forest Service seasonal and volunteer trail crews as well as other trail clubs and partners working on the White Mountain National Forest. About 225 volunteer trail adopters, 700 volunteer trail crew members and 40 staff use the facilities at Camp Dodge annually.

The AMC will invest $1.2 million in renovations to the facility, which will remain the property of the Forest Service. In exchange, the AMC will receive a new 30-year special use permit that can be renewed for a second 30-year period.

Barnhart said the project will help meet the two organizations’ shared goals of engaging people in volunteer stewardship of trails and providing training opportunities.

“With Camp Dodge, we are fortunate to have a willing partner with a positive, long history of working with the forest that is offering to invest in forest-owned facilities for the benefit or volunteers and partners,” she wrote.

Barnhart acknowledged that the AMC has a vested interest in maintaining their operation of Camp Dodge but said she is confident annual operating plans and required inspections will ensure the terms of the permit are met.

The facility, which is located off the east side of Route 16 in Pinkham Notch, was built in the 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp and expanded over the years.

It is now in need of a significant capital investment to upgrade the aging facility. The decision said the sewer, septic and electric systems all need costly overhauls.

The AMC will expand the dining hall and kitchen, replace or remove the bathhouse, repair leaking roofs on three housing units, expand parking, add a training pavilion and equipment shed, construct five new housing units and improving the existing septic system. The maximum housing capacity will increase from 102 to 142 people.

Without the renovation, Barnhart said Camp Dodge would likely cease operating in the foreseeable future. She said given current constrained federal budgets, the needed investment is impossible without outside funding.

The scoping for the project began in August 2016 ,and 11 people submitted comments. A draft environmental assessment was released this past June 2017. Four people submitted comments focused on permit length and terms, scenery, and specific facility improvements.

A draft decision notice finding no significant impact was published Sept. 15, and no objections were submitted during the comment period.


Couple fight to save barn once a venue for big band music

By Barbara Tetreault

SHELBURNE — Carl and Jen Lessard are facing long odds in their struggle to save a colorful piece of the region’s past.

Three years ago, the couple purchased what is now known as the Aston-Lessard barn and carriage house at foreclosure. Built in the 1880s as part of the “Wyndham Villa” estate on the Androscoggin River, the barn later served as a dance hall that attracted such Big Band era names as Louise Prima, Bob Crosby (brother of Bing), Jimmy Dorsey and Rosemary Clooney.

The Lessards moved into the carriage house, which had been converted into a home but the large two-level barn was in tough shape. Alterations made to the structure to convert the second floor to a dance hall had compromised the integrity of the building.

But the more the couple learned about its amazing history, the more they became determined to make every effort to save it.

“I don’t want to be the guy that tears it down,” said Carl Lessard.

Last fall, the couple succeeded in getting the barn listed on the N.H. Preservation Alliance’s “Seven to Save” list. The list highlights special properties across the state that are threatened in the hope that the attention will help efforts to save them. The release describes the properties selected as “the sort of places you can’t imagine your community without.”

An appraisal estimated it would cost $200,000 and that was before a 40-foot section of the roof collapsed last winter under the heavy snow load. Carl Lessard has put up tarps and taken steps to try and protect the barn from continued deterioration

“It’s a really tough case,” said Beverly Thomas, program director at the Preservation Alliance and manager of its Old House and Barn program.

She said an assessment of the barn, done through her organization, revealed the barn was salvageable but the cost would be expensive.

The roofing and framing were identified as major needs with the foundation and exterior sheathing also a concern. The barn measures 40 feet wide, 110 feet in length, and almost 40 feet in height. The exterior sheathing is finished with white cedar wood shingles. A 10-by-110-foot section was added onto the entire north eaves.

The main reason for the barn’s condition today can be traced back to the period between 1920-1940, when all the tie beams and posts were removed to create room for a dance floor. Removing a critical piece of the barn’s integrity led to sagging walls which endure the weight of the massive roof and created structural instability overall.

Thomas said she does not know of any funding source for privately owned barns. She said her organization hoped placing the barn on the 2016 “Seven to Save” list would create awareness of the barn and its unique history. The alliance also recommended Lessard create a Facebook and webpage about his effort to save the barn, which he has done.

“His heart is certainly in the right place,” Thomas said, adding that she admires Carl Lessard for his dedication to saving the barn and preserving its history.

And what a history it is — some of it shrouded in mystery and much of it fading as time goes on.

The barn was originally part of a large estate built in the 1880s by a wealthy New Yorker named William K. Aston.

In his book, “Summer Cottage in the White Mountains,” Bryant Tolles said “Wyndham Villa” was at one time “one of the White Mountain’s largest and most important summer vacation farm retreats” attracting attention for “the brilliance, uniqueness and sophistication of its architecture.”

Yet, Tolles said little in known about Aston, and the architect of the estate is not known. He said one newspaper source described Aston as a relative of the Vanderbilt family. Others, Tolles said, identify him as a German-American lawyer who traveled to Shelburne on business for a client named Aston. That version said he became Aston’s heir with the provision that he change his last name to Aston. With his substantial inheritance, he bought up land along the south side of the Androscoggin River in Shelburne.

Tolles’ research indicates the main villa was built in 1884-86 and his book describes it as a cedar shingled two-and-a-half story cottage with 12 principal rooms and a great view of the northern Presidentials. Along with the main house were a caretaker’s cottage, an immense horse barn, and a stable/carriage house. An icehouse, greenhouses, and other outbuildings also existed and the ground contained stone walls, pathways, stone animal figures and entrance gates.

Aston did not enjoy his luxury estate long before his fortunes changed and he sold off his much of his land holdings, starting in 1903.

In 1918, he sold the buildings to William Rogers Chapman of Bethel, Maine, according to Tolles. Chapman had dreams to create a regional music center and when that didn’t happen, he sold it to a Dr. Frank Gordon. Gordon tried to operate a silver fox farm, which Tolles said failed, leaving local investors out a considerable sum.

Sometime in the 1920s, Dominic and Rena Poretta purchased the estate. Dominic Poretta sold the main house to his brother, Leo, who converted it into the Shelburne Inn, added some cabins, and opened up a restaurant there as well. Leo Porette owned and operated the Shelburne Inn until it burned in 1960.

Dominic and Rena Poretta kept the barn and transformed the second floor into a dance hall and roller skating ring. Documents provided by Lessard report the hardwood floor was perfect for dancing and roller skating and the couple added a giant crystal ball and named the place, “The Shelburne Inn Dance Hall” although some reports indicate it was also known as the Shelburne Pavilion

It was the Big Band era and Dominic Poretta was successful in attracting some big name acts to include the Shelburne stop on their tours. Visitors from across New England as well as locals would drive out to the barn to see big-name acts like Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, and Harry James perform there.

Lessard said cars would be parked up and down the village road as well as on what is now Route 2. There was a little gazebo outside the barn where people would sit outdoors and enjoy the music.

“It was a big deal,” said Aldea D’Alfonso.

The Conway woman said her uncle helped manage the ballroom and roller ring for Poretta and got her father Carmen D’Alfonso a job there as well. Her parents would have their wedding reception there.

D’Alfonso said her father and uncle had great memories of their days at the Shelburne Dance. One of her father’s favorite stories was the jazz singer (and aunt of George Clooney) Rosemary Clooney asking him for a hand. Her father, D’Alfonso said, replied that he could give her two hands.

In a letter to Lessard, Doris Buotte said she met her future husband at the dance hall and they married within a year. The 1948 Berlin High graduate, said the couple was fortunate to see Louis Prima and Count Basie perform there.

“It was,” she said, “a place to go, meet old friends, and dance the evening away.”

Times change and the big band era died out. By 1955, D’Alfonso said the dance hall had closed.

Carl Lessard grew up in Berlin but moved to Connecticut after high school where he worked as an auto mechanic and also taught at Lincoln Technical Institute. He owned a small lighting company and did event lighting for several high school productions and various events. Lessard said he also worked as a lighting technician for several music festivals.

On a visit to his sister in Berlin, he met Jen and he moved back when the two married. In 2014, the pair purchased the Shelburne carriage house at a foreclosure auction and got the barn as well.

Carl Lessard said he started hearing stories of the dance hall and began studying its history. The more he learned, the more he became an advocate for saving the barn.
Sitting on what was the old stage, he said the place speaks to him.

“I sit here and I can hear the music playing and people dancing.”

While the odds seem stacked against him, Lessard said he is not ready to give up.

“This came to me for a reason. I have to try and save it,” he said.

Contact information for Lessard can be found at Aston-Lessard Barn on Facebook or astonlessardbarn@gmail. Written correspondence should be send to Carl Lessard, 991 State Route 2, Shelburne, 03581.

Council hears about infrared asphalt repair

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — Impressed after viewing a presentation on using infrared asphalt repair technology to repair potholes and trench cuts in streets, the city council Monday night asked City Manager James Wheeler to identify funds in the current budget to purchase the needed equipment.

Wheeler and Public Works Director Mike Perreault said the process calls for removing and grinding up the top layer of asphalt. The infrared heating panel is used to heat the pavement and then the old pavement, with a little fresh pavement added, is put back down and fused to the existing surface. The result is a continuous surface without seams that allow water or snow to penetrate. The process is quicker and cheaper because most of the old pavement is reused. And the repair work can be done year-around, eliminating the need for cold patching.

Wheeler said trailer mounted infrared unit would cost around $60,000 to $75,000. He suggested the cost could be spread among the public works, sewer and water works departments.

Grenier said the equipment would likely pay for itself over time with reduced labor and material costs. Plus the city is left with a superior repair job.

City Councilor Diana Nelson asked about training. Perreault said that would be provided by the manufacturer or seller of the equipment. Wheeler said the city would go out for bids but noted there is a distributor for one manufacturer in southern New Hampshire.

Wheeler said he would put the infrared asphalt equipment in the capital budget for fiscal 2019.

Grenier noted the 2019 budget is not approved until mid-June 2018, meaning the city would not have the equipment available most of that construction season. He asked Wheeler to try and identify funds in the current budget so the city could have the equipment next spring.

The city manager agreed to review the budget and report back to the council.

City Clerk Elaine Riendeau reported that many local vendors at events like the Drive into the 50’s, Jericho ATV Festival, and RiverFire are neglecting to apply for a required hawker/peddlers license from the city. The permit, which is good for a year, is $100. To get a license, the vendor must present a copy of their New Hampshire license and a certificate of insurance.

In addition, she said state law requires any person or persons selling or bartering good, wares, food or merchandise must obtain a state permit. She said the state permit is $50 and must be purchased for any person collecting money. Exceptions are itinerant vendors, people selling products of their own labor, yard sales, non-profit organizations, and antiques sales.

Berlin Health Officer Angela Martin-Giroux said it was her understanding that people did not need to be licensed for special events. But Riendeau said city officials held a conference call with the N.H. Secretary of State’s office and was told permits were required. Businesses selling on their own property do not need licenses.

Councilor Diana Nelson said the chamber is having trouble getting vendors for some of its events already. She predicted some will not want to pay the $100, noting they also have other fees and permits such as fire and health inspections. Nelson said the chamber has liability insurance that covers vendors at its events. She said she understands that the city wants some control over vendors.

Councilor Peter Higbee said most vendors at the farmers market are selling their own goods and products. But he said there are some food vendors, and if the fee pushes them away, it will hurt the market because the food is a draw.

Grenier asked if the city has to charge a fee for the permit. Remillard said the city could waive the fee for events sponsored by the chamber or Berlin Main Street Program.

Grenier suggested the council devote a future work session to the issue and look at how other communities handle vendors. He suggested staff also talk to police, chamber, and Main Street Program officials to gather ideas.

As the last public agenda item, the council officially certified the Nov. 7 election results. Mayor Paul Grenier and Councilors Russell Otis, Diana Nelson, Lucie Remillard, and Mike Rozek were all re-elected as were school board members Nicole Plourde, Denise Valerino, Louise Valliere and Scott Losier. The new terms start in January.

The council then went into non-public to discuss a letter from Vivian Isaacson, informing the council that the Beth Israel Cemetery is being turned over to the city.

Writing on behalf of her husband Fred Isaacson, she said the cemetery is out of funds. She said the private cemetery is being turned over to the city with the understanding that the existing Jewish area will remain strictly as a Jewish cemetery.

Isaacson said there are seven available lots with four graves in each lot. In addition, she said there is an undeveloped lower area separate from the Jewish cemetery with 40 lots that could be open to people of any faith.