House Passes Bill Opening Door For $28 Million Balsams Loan

May 6, 2015

The N.H. House has approved a bill that would allow a state-backed $28 million loan to the developer of the now-closed Balsams resort.

North Country legislators including Bill Hatch, a Democrat from Gorham, urged its passage.

“Please know that we are in dire need of any kind of economic development.”

Senate Bill 30 allows an unincorporated area – such as that around the Balsams - to become a tax district.

That alone doesn’t provide any money to the Balsams.

Rendering of proposal for The Balsams' redevelopment

Instead it gives unincorporated areas the same opportunity as towns and cities: It opens the door for the Business Finance Authority to consider whether to guarantee a loan.

In this case it is a $28 million commercial loan to developer Les Otten.

Otten has said he needs that $28 million to go ahead with the $143 million project.

State economic development officials and Gov. Hassan are enthusiastic about re-opening the Balsams, saying it would provide a huge boost to the economy of the North Country.

Some legislators, however, had expressed concerns, including whether the state could lose the money if the resort went bust.

If New Hampshire backs the loan and the Balsams fails, the state would get the property. Whether the $28 million would be recouped would depend on how many improvements Otten made. Last month he told a House committee the Balsams was only worth a few million in its current state.

But Rep. Leon Rideout, a Republican from Lancaster, told the House that the Business Finance Authority has an excellent track record and such loans have  “brought business and jobs to New Hampshire.”

In addition to allowing the formation of tax districts the bill allows the amount of a loan to increase from $25 million to $30 million.

And, it allows the Business Finance Authority's loans to total $115 million – up from $95 million.

The vote was 293 - 57.

“This important legislation sets the stage for an economic transformation of Coos County and expands business and employment opportunity in the state's unincorporated places,” Senator Jeff Woodburn, a Democrat from Dalton who represents the North Country, said in a statement.

"In a legislative session defined by division and at times rancor, S,B. 30 has emerged as one of the most significant bipartisan achievements of the 2015 session,” Woodburn said.  “Despite a blizzard of criticism, we were able to make a strong case, create coalitions, and build bipartisan consensus.”

The bill previously passed the Senate on a 22 -0 vote. But since it was amended in the House it now goes back to the Senate for reconsideration. Then, it must be signed by the governor.