Why the Mt. Sunapee expansion is important
The lease arrangement has been beneficial for the state and area residents and businesses
On April 16, Department of Resources and Economic Development Commissioner Jeffrey Rose released a draft statement regarding the proposed expansion of Mt. Sunapee in the west bowl. DRED is to be commended for their work in evaluating the technical information and public comments received in the late summer and fall of 2014. DRED’s position is balanced, reasonable and well-thought-out.
Having observed the evolution and development of Mt. Sunapee Resort since 1998, the lease arrangement has been most beneficial for the state, the residents and business community in the Kearsarge-Lake Sunapee region and the western New Hampshire communities of Newport and Claremont.
Sullivan County needs economic growth and stimulation. The Mt. Sunapee lease arrangement is an excellent example of an effective public-private partnership.
The legislation to lease Mt. Sunapee saved two mountains – Sunapee and Cannon. Over $8 million in lease payments have gone to Cannon Mountain to provide for a high-speed quad chair, significant snowmaking and grooming improvements and other upgrades. The investment in Cannon has stabilized the mountain and now the Franconia Ski Club will invest $2 million to relocate the ski race course to the Mittersill slope.
Investments in Cannon have indirectly encouraged upgrades to the Mittersill residential community and increased the tax base of Franconia. Expansion and improvements to Sunapee and upgrades to Cannon enhance the image and prosperity of the ski business throughout the state. These two mountains help brand the high-quality skiing experience in New Hampshire.
The state would have never made this type of investment in either Mt. Sunapee or Cannon Mountain.
Over the 17-year period of the current lease, Mt. Sunapee has been well-run and has an excellent record of environmental stewardship. In addition, the operators have given back to the community in many ways, some noted and some not.
Regarding the issue of potential real estate development:
• Second-home development remains very speculative and risky.
• Banks are reluctant to finance developers and potential second homeowners.
• Land available for residential development in this area is limited.
• The towns of New London, Newbury, Sunapee and Goshen have effective planning and zoning programs in place and are able to manage future growth.
• Goshen has specific zoning regulations that prohibit residential or commercial construction in the areas adjacent to the ski resort. The town regulates its local land use trough zoning, subdivision regulations and site plan review.
At this point, the market for any significant second home development in and near the Mt. Sunapee Resort does not exist. A successful second-home recreational development requires supporting amenities, such as restaurants, pubs, retail and other related activities. The potential for an “Okemo” or “North Conway” scenario in the Kearsarge-Lake Sunapee area is virtually nonexistent.
The economic impact of Mt. Sunapee on the area is significant and positive. The great skiing at Mt. Sunapee has enhanced real estate values in New London, Newbury, Sunapee, Newport, Goshen, Wilmot and Sutton, among others. Improvements to Cannon Mountain have produced positive economic benefits for businesses in the Franconia, Sugar Hill, Easton, Bethlehem and Littleton area.
The lease arrangement has been very good for the state, the local business community and the surrounding local governments. DRED should bring the draft proposal forward to the governor and Executive Council for their consideration, review and approval.
Gerald Coogan is a professional community planning and development consultant and has lived in Franconia, North Conway and New London.