Les Otten has spent nearly $19 million and the better part of seven years working to reopen the tumble-down Balsams resort in Dixville Notch, N.H. It’s been a difficult, if not quixotic, quest, even for a man who built a skiing empire earlier in his career.
When my Globe colleague Janelle Nanos checked in with Otten in 2016, he was expecting the Balsams to be back in business the following year. But the obstacles were many, including financing setbacks, a painstaking environmental review, and, more recently, the pandemic.
Now, just as it looked like another lonely winter in North Country, Otten has struck a funding deal that might allow him to start construction on a new hotel and conference center as soon as March. Under that scenario, the resort could welcome skiers for the 2023-2024 season and summer guests in 2024.
The Balsams’ new investor is Provident Resources Group, a Louisiana nonprofit with the mission of arranging low-cost financing for community-based projects.
Provident raises money by setting up special-purpose entities that are qualified to sell bonds exempt from federal and state taxes. These bonds carry lower borrowing costs than bank loans or taxable bonds while still providing attractive yields for investors.
Since 1999, the organization has put together bond sales for more than 20 college dormitory and student housing complexes — including at the University of Massachusetts campuses in Boston and Dartmouth — and for convention centers in the Texas cities of Irving and Harlingen.
On Monday, the Coos County Commission said it supported a deal under which Provident would sell up to $125 million in tax-exempt debt to support the Balsams construction. The nonprofit would be the majority owner of a new 280-room Lake Gloriette House hotel and adjacent 600-seat conference center.
Otten’s Balsams Resort would be a minority owner of the complex and manage it for a fee, while building out the rest of the property on its own. The plan is to turn the property’s original Dix and Hampshire Houses into 99 condo units; renovate the Donald Ross-designed golf course and clubhouse; expand the Balsams Wilderness Ski Area; and build a Nordic baths spa center and a 235-seat performing arts venue.
Provident would be responsible for paying back bond holders with revenue from the Gloriette complex. Coos County, sparsely populated and poor, would have no financial obligation to investors but stands to benefit from an infusion of jobs and tourist dollars.
“There are a lot of advantages to this setup,” said Coos County commissioner Paul Grenier.
The commission would need to approve a final bond agreement, Grenier said, along with the Coos County Delegation, a group of state legislators who represent the area.
(The Provident bond sale would be separate from a planned $30 million offering backed by revenue from a special tax assessment financing district.)
The Balsams project has always been a labor of love and redemption for Otten, who started out in the early 1970s as a management trainee for the company that owned Sunday River. He later bought the Maine property, and through acquisitions created American Skiing Co., which at its peak was the country’s largest ski mountain operator. Burdened by debt, Otten eventually lost control of the company.
With Provident on board, and Goldman Sachs lined up as the proposed underwriter of the bonds, Otten, 72, is more confident than ever the Balsams will make it to the finish line.
“No deal is done until it’s done,” he said in an interview. “But with Goldman Sachs and Provident working on the transaction, that’s proof we’ve got some energy behind us.”
Otten said his friend and former American Skiing colleague Michael Krongel, who later became an investment banker, offered last winter to introduce him to Provident’s chief executive, Steve Hicks.
“He did, and we got on a plane down to Baton Rouge,” Otten said. “In April, they visited the Balsams. In July, the talks got serious.”
Hicks, who before founding Provident was a lawyer specializing in public finance, said the Balsams project is a good fit for the organization’s efforts to help local governments with economic development initiatives.
“It’s exactly what our mission was designed for,” he said.
If there is a silver lining to all the delays that have plagued the Balsams project, it’s the pandemic-sparked boom in second-home buying and outdoor recreation.
Initially, “COVID knocked the stuffing out of us,” Otten said. “No investor wanted to get near resort communities and hotels.”
Now a getaway in the middle of nowhere doesn’t seem so crazy.