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Joyce Endee

Details of proposed Balsams sale made public

March 17, 2011
DIXVILLE — The Balsams Grand Resort, the iconic hotel that the late Neil Tillotson — a Canaan, Vt., native who had made a fortune with his energy and inventive mind — bought at auction in March of 1954 for sentimental and familial reasons is soon slated to go down the corporate path.

The planned sale will follow the recent pattern of ownerships of the other two Grand Hotels in Cos County: the Omni Mount Washington, now owned by CNL Lifestyle Properties, Inc., a real estate investment trust; and the Mountain View Grand, now owned by the Great American Insurance Group of St. Louis, Mo., a subsidiary of American Financial Group.

Oceans Properties, Ltd. (OPL) will soon add The Balsams to its signature collection of Historic Hotels, according to its own press release and to news shared at a Thursday afternoon telephone press conference held by Tillotson Corporation president Tom Deans of North Conway and Ocean Properties senior vice president Tom Varley.

Balville LLC, an affiliate of Ocean Properties, Ltd. Hotels and Resorts of Portsmouth is in the process of completing a purchase and sales agreement with the Tillotson Corporation to acquire The Balsams. The sale is expected to close before the summer season opens and will include some 7,700 acres of managed woodlands and the 200-room historic hotel, the 18-hole Panorama golf course, the nine-hole Coashaukee course, the Wilderness Ski Area, and Lake Gloriette.

More than half the property will likely be protected from development by a conservation easement, Deans explained, and the rest open to future development governed only by the ordinances of the Cos County Planning Board for the Unincorporated Places. Acreage is also located in three adjacent towns: Colebrook, Columbia, and Stewartstown.

The Tillotson Corp. will retain two upland parcels as potential wind farms, the value of which is so far unknown.

OPL and the Tillotson Corp. are still determining the value of the property and inventory that is soon to change hands as they try to take into account a number of factors as well as its "community benefit value" over time.

The assets of the Tillotson Corp. are for the benefit of charity, and The Balsams and associated property is no exception. The directors' decision will have to be approved by the Director of the Charitable Division, Anne Edwards, of the state Attorney General's Office before the sale documents can be readied for signature. Directly after it was signed, a copy of the purchase and sale agreement was sent to her.

The sale of Tillotson lands in Quebec is a separate project on which work is now being done, Deans said.

The Balsams' purchase and sale agreement was signed on Wednesday evening. In a telephone conference call, six of the eight Tillotson Corp. directors voted, 5 to 1, to sell the property to OPL. Rick Tillotson, who had until recently been part of a foursome that had hoped to acquire the hotel, and then dropped out of the consortium, was the sole "no" vote.

Tillotson has not made any public comment since the lopsided vote.

Two directors had to recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest: Steve Barba of Concord, a former managing partner of the resort; and Ron Guerin of the Tillotson Rubber Co. and co-owner of Fiddleheads in downtown Colebrook.

General manager Jeff McIver will remain in place, at least for now. At the height of the summer season, roughly 300 employees work at The Balsams. Being part of a corporate structure may lead to consolidation of some functions, but Varley explained that expansion, renovations, and construction should lead to better occupancy rates to make up the difference. A new heating and air conditioning system should allow for greater efficiency and comfort. New life safety systems have recently been installed.

Culinary and food will remain key elements of the hotel's draw, he said.

Although OPL does not have a guest loyalty system that is similar to the Omni Mount Washington, it will use its database drum up new and repeat customers.

OPL currently owns and operates more than 100 hotels across North America, including a collection of "signature" properties: The Sagamore on Lake George; The Samoset in Rockport, Me.; The Harborside Hotel & Marina in Bar Harbor, Me.; and the Wentworth-by-the-Sea in Portsmouth.

A member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Hotels of America, the hotel has gained worldwide recognition as the site where "first in the nation" primary voting takes place in the minutes after midnight every four years in the Ballot Room.

"Ocean Properties is proud to be chosen to protect and preserve The Balsams Grand Resort — a very unique and beautiful property steeped in tradition — and its surrounding environment, while stewarding its growth to sustain the resort's jobs and economic impact on the North Country," Varley said. "We are committed to burnishing The Balsams' reputation as an international treasure whose rich history is intertwined with the prosperity of the Great North Woods and the great political tradition of the nation."

Deans said that the Tillotson Corp. directors, who were guided by the fact that the late Tillotson's wishes were that his largesse benefit charity, had established three fundamental criteria in making their selection from among the 90 or so interested potential investors: to keep The Balsams an engine in economic development; to have the economic and managerial wherewithal and experience to restore The Balsams to a premier destination; and to protect the environment of the North Country.

OPL purchased the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel in 1997 after it had been placed on the National Trust list of "Most Endangered Sites." After a $30 million restoration, the Grand Hotel received the Trust's Preservation Success Story and President's Award and was also named Marriott's full-service Hotel of the Year in 2007 for its operating and guest satisfaction success. OPL also owns and operates The Samoset Resort in Rockport is now undergoing a major renovation that will include adding a full-service spa, new restaurant and new luxury accommodations.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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