December 14, 2011DIXVILLE — Balsams View, LLC, a partnership of two Colebrook natives who are North Country businessmen — Daniel Dagesse and Daniel Herbert Jr. — has purchased The Balsams Grand Resort and Hotel, including nearly 8,000 acres, from the Tillotson Corporation for $2.3 million. The purchase price includes furnishings and other inventory valued at $464,000, according to Register of Deeds Carole Lamirande. The transaction was recorded on Friday, Dec. 2.
Hebert and Dagesse, who are both in their early 60s, have been interested in buying the Grand Hotel for more than a year, and they made a new offer in recent weeks that met Tillotson's criteria. The new limited liability company was not registered until Dec. 1, according to the Secretary of State's website.
When the Tillotson Corp. first put the hotel on the market, Hebert, Dagesse, Rick Tillotson, a son of former owner Neil Tillotson, and general manager Jeff McIver, formed a partnership to try to buy the hotel. Portsmouth-based Ocean Properties, however, was tapped as the successful bidder. After receiving two or three extensions on the closing date, however, the hotel management company pulled out of the deal in August. Maine-based investors flirted briefly with moving forward with an offer, but apparently lost interest after Ocean Properties shared what they'd learned about renovation costs to bring the hotel up to today's codes and guest expectations.
"We care deeply about restoring the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel to its full glory as a world-class destination resort and seeing it thrive for decades to come," said Dan Hebert in a prepared statement. "We want to provide a stable operation that we can all be proud of."
The two owners anticipate that extensive renovations to the iconic hotel will take approximately 18 months, during which time the resort will be closed. Hebert, who operates a successful privately held general contracting business, said the first step is to winterize the hotel and decommission the biomass plant. Architects and engineers will then evaluate the property and come up with a renovation plan. The Balsams' last major renovations were done more than 40 years ago.
"The resort is an extremely complex property," Hebert said. "We want to take the proper steps to thoroughly assess what needs to be done. Once we determine necessary renovations, we will unveil our vision for the new Balsams Grand Resort, which will, once again, become a gem of New Hampshire's North Country."
"We are committed to preserving the jobs of Balsams' employees and the overall economic benefits that the hotel provides the North Country and the state," Hebert added. "We recognize that closing the hotel over an extended period for renovations will be difficult for employees, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure the resort's long-term viability."
Balsams View, LLC, is committed to employing numerous North Country contractors and workers on the renovation project, the two owners say.
Entrepreneur Dan Dagesse was the owner-operator of automobile dealerships in the Northeast, including the Berlin City Dealerships, and later grew a number of successful dealerships in Florida, some of which he later sold.
Selling The Balsams was a complicated process and a balancing act.
Then-Tillotson CEO Grafton Corbett described some of the considerations in an Oct. 21, 2008, telephone interview, the gist of which was published on Oct. 29 in this newspaper.
"'One hundred percent of the Tillotson Corporation's stock has been left to charity,' Mr. Corbett said. The late Neil Tillotson left no written instructions specific to The Balsams, however, on what should — or shouldn't — be done with either the Grand Hotel or its extensive woodlands, explained Mr. Corbett, who worked for the Tillotson Corp. since 1975. People do, however, cite what they believe Mr. Tillotson would have wanted. On the other hand, the late moderator of Dixville — best known for casting the first vote at The Balsams in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary from 1964 to 2000 and in every general election from 1960 to 2000, is frequently quoted as having said that he didn't want 'to tie the hands of future generations.'" Tillotson died in 2001, at the age of 102, and his widow Louise in 2007…. Mr. Corbett explained "that balancing the interests of the charity that would benefit financially from a sale with interest in keeping jobs in the area long-term and preserving the forested tracts is the important task of the directors and trustees…. It would be very easy to dispose of the property if it were not for these various interests that are in play, Mr. Corbett said. 'It's quite a balancing act,' he said."
Tom Deans of the Conway area, who retired from a career working for nonprofit organizations, took Corbett's reins from him when he retired and led the effort to sell The Balsams.
McIver is still employed by the Tillotson Trust, wrapping up paperwork and cleaning out file cabinets in a cold building. Since the pipes have been drained, his ground-floor office kept warm by a space heater.
"I wish the very best to the new owners," McIver said in a Sunday telephone interview. "I'm disappointed that the place is shuttered and, of course, concerned about the well-being of those who worked here, many of them for many years. I hate to see the team who was working here so effectively broken up."
The Balsams' former Executive Chef Josh Berry has landed a very fine job at the Stowe Mountain Lodge in Stowe, Vt.
Former Balsams Director of Sales Rick McCarten of Lancaster now heads up the AMC Highland Center in Bretton Woods. "My home phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from now-laid-off employees looking for letters of reference and any job leads I can give them," he said. "I was lucky to find a job that I love so close to home."
Balsams' former head of service Ray Gorman of Colebrook who had worked at the Grand Hotel for 33 years said that he knows that he and his fellow former workers will do whatever it takes to provide for their families during the difficult months that lie ahead. As a long-time employee, Gorman received a bonus-severance pay packet, but when that is depleted he will be eligible to receive state unemployment benefits.
"Balsams' guests and employees, as well as Tillotson Corp. employees, are incredibly loyal, and we're all counting on as many of us as possible making their way back to Dixville Notch," he said. Gorman's older daughter Coleen is a junior at UNH and his younger one, Bonnie, a junior at Colebrook Academy. Both ordinarily could have counted on vacation jobs to help pay college costs.
The Rapid Response team from the state Department of Employment Security will hold a meeting on Thursday in the Colebrook Elementary School gym.