The prospective buyer for Powder Ridge told Middlefield residents Tuesday that he wants to return skiing to the abandoned property and that its potential as a winter resort represents the perfect compliment to the warm-weather seasonal business he runs in Portland, the Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park.
Sean Hayes said the wintertime sports he wants to return to Powder Ridge represent excellent synergies with the mostly summertime activities offered at Brownstone. He said he believes he and his family can make skiing and snow sports work financially at Powder Ridge because it would operate in tandem with Brownstone. The latter would be open from May through October, while Powder Ridge would be open from December to March.
Under his family’s business plan, Hayes said, his company can afford to operate a seasonal skiing and winter snow park at Powder Ridge because of the close proximity of its other seasonal facility. Others who have sought to return skiing were unable to financially make that business plan work because it costs too much to operate solely for skiing.
His family’s plan, he said, will include new lifts, snow making, new infrastructure, a restaurant and bar, a cafeteria, classrooms for lessons and corporate retreats, day rooms with couches and fireplaces and stores.
If his deal with the town goes through, Hayes said, he will spend two years restoring the property with a planned opening in 2013.
The park would employ some 130 seasonal workers, he added. Hayes said he would also add summertime activities to the business, including obstacle racing, mountain biking and a zip line attraction. However, 80 percent of revenues from Powder Ridge will be from the wintertime activities.
“We have learned and mastered how to run a seasonal business. I don’t fight it, I leverage it. We believe we can make it work. We believe we can do what no one else has been able to do. Powder Ridge was the place where you went to learn how to ski. It will be again.”
Hayes has offered to buy some 200 acres at Powder Ridge for $700,000. In a nonbinding letter of intent (see PDF) he has submitted to the Board of Selectmen, Hayes has said he would provide a $100,000 downpayment and would pay the town $100,000 annually thereafter for six years. His letter states he will invest at least $2 million in the property. The town would keep 22 acres of the property, valued at about $300,000, for future development.
Following a comprehensive presentation of Hayes’ business plan, selectmen opened the meeting up to comments from the public.
Many residents spoke in favor of the plan, though there were some naysayers.
Jenna Brown, a former Board of Finance member who helped market Powder Ridge in the past, said it’s been difficult to find a viable buyer.
“This deal was not easy, the property is worth what it’s worth depending on what you do with it,” she said.
Jim Armstrong, who moved to town recently, said he learned to ski at Powder Ridge and is excited at the prospect of bringing skiing back to the town.
“I think this idea is great, I’m glad to see it and I hope it comes to fruition.”
Other residents agreed, saying Hayes and his family turned around a distressed quarry property in Portland when they developed Brownstone and are probably Middlefield’s best hope to do that for Powder Ridge.
Mary Johnson, a former selectman, said she is concerned that the town has invested millions of dollars in Powder Ridge and under Hayes’ deal would get just $700,000.
“Why can’t we do a lease agreement with Mr. Hayes and his associates so we can get a little bit more out of this project? I’m all for skiing, I just think we have to structure a different deal.”
Others raised concerns about the financing of the plan, saying Hayes and his backers ought to provide more details about their ability to pay and that the town has not done financial due diligence.
“I’m not opposed to a ski area, I’m just concerned about how Middlefield is going to handle the financial” implications of the plan, one resident said.
Ellen Waff, the town’s treasurer, also raised concerns about the viability of Hayes’ business plan, asking if the company would share details of its finances to assure residents that it can afford the investment.
“We need to know that,” she said.
Hayes was quick to respond to her request.
“We won’t make our business plan available to the general public. We won’t make that available to you. It’s a private company with an internal business plan.”
Kenneth Antin, the town’s attorney cautioned residents seeking details about Hayes’ and his partner’s buisness plans and financial documents, that it is too early in the process to seek such information. There will be another public hearing before the contract is drawn and another town meeting will be called to discuss and vote on the contract.
“Were not in the 9th inning here, we’re in the 2nd inning,” Antin said.