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Restoring, upgrading The Balsams to cost $25 million

July 27, 2011
PORTSMOUTH — After extensively reviewing The Balsams' current condition, the hoteliers at Ocean Properties Ltd., who have signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement to buy the 7,000-plus-acre property in mid-September, decided to totally restore the hotel by investing an estimated $25 million, explained its senior vice president, Tom Varley, in a Thursday morning telephone interview.

The hotel will be closed for 10 months or more.

Oceans plans to preserve both the historic Dix and Hampshire Houses, and also to build an 80- by 100-feet conference center, replace the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), and build an indoor pool and spa, plus a new outdoor pool. Staff will be repositioned where possible in other hotels owned and operated by Oceans, and potentially some employees will be employed in the restoration project in some capacity, according to a prepared press release.

The hotel will be closed for 10 months or more, starting almost immediately after the anticipated closing on Sept. 15.

Varley anticipates that a staff of some 300 will be employed when The Balsams reopens.

The Wilderness Ski Area will be closed this winter and reopened for the season in Dec. 2012.

"We respect the national importance of the hotel's Ballot Room for Dixville Notch's first-in-the-nation Presidential voting and appreciate the hotel's impact on the local economy," Varley said in a prepared statement. "Our goal is to polish the past and to optimize the resort's four-season amenities, to ensure that The Balsams can be enjoyed by many more generations to come."

Pro Con Incorporated of Hooksett, a third-generation family-owned construction company founded in 1935 by the Stebbins Family prides itself as being one of the Northeast's leading design-build management firms.

"Pro Con will hire current Balsams' employees who qualify not only for construction jobs, but also posts in accounting, shipping and receiving, and security," Varley said, adding that both Pro Con and Oceans are equal-opportunity employers. "Qualified" is the key word; there are no "women's jobs and no "men's jobs," he said.

The 18-hole Donald-Ross-designed Panoramic Golf Course will most likely remain open, Varley said, pointing out that it would have to be maintained in any case. "We'll lose money on it," he said. The nine-hole Executive Course will not be opened, however.

The American Culinary Federation Chapter and culinary apprenticeship program will no longer operate at the hotel. "Ocean Properties has several internal management and culinary development programs available to all associates," Varley said, pointing out that they work with the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson and Wales University culinary schools to hire, train, and develop culinary students at all of their hotels and resorts.

Oceans is reaching out to Plymouth State University, where former hotel president Steve Barba works as Executive Director of University Relations and likely will work to develop a relationship with its hospitality program, that offers three tracks. Varley explained that he is on the Advisory Council of the UNH's hospitality management program, of which he is a graduate.

The general manager of the Wentworth-by-the-Sea in New Castle, that is owned and operated by Oceans Properties, serves on the Advisory Council at the Great Bay Community College, and Varley immediately said that he looked forward to learning about both the culinary arts program and the new hospitality program offered at White Mountains Community College in Berlin.

Oceans Properties lawyer and the Tillotson Corp.'s surveyor will go before the Coös County Planning Board for the Unincorporated Places at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 at The Balsams.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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