Business & Economy

Mount Snow eyes further expansion amid EB-5 uncertainty

Mount Snow
Mount Snow resort spokesman Jamie Storrs stands by the new West Lake reservoir, which is expected to give the Dover resort six times its current snow-making capacity. Photo by Kristopher Radder/Brattleboro Reformer

DOVER – Despite Vermont’s big problems with the EB-5 foreign investment program, it has led to major expansions at Mount Snow.

And that trend may continue, even in the wake of Monday’s news that the federal government intends to shut down the state-run EB-5 regional center.

On Tuesday, executives at the Dover resort wouldn’t comment on the state’s latest EB-5 travails.

But in recent weeks they have touted their progress on an initial round of EB-5 projects, while confirming they’ve requested federal permission to establish an independent EB-5 center that could handle future projects without state involvement.

“While currently we’re heavily focused on the progress of our new Carinthia Base Lodge and $30 million snow-making upgrade that’s going to give us the most powerful snow-making system in the East, these projects set the stage for phase two of our master plan,” said Laurie Newton, development director at Mount Snow.

“This next phase will provide our guests with high-end, ski-in, ski-out lodging and amenities, for which there is currently an unmet demand,” Newton said, adding the resort will begin the planning process.

Mount Snow
Signs at the entrance of Mount Snow in Dover advertise passes for next season and the start of summer events. File photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger
Newton issued that optimistic statement prior to the news that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services intends to terminate Vermont’s regional center, which manages EB-5 projects in the state.

The EB-5 program allows foreigners to obtain visas and permanent U.S. residency by investing in qualified job-creating projects. But federal officials say they’ve lost confidence in Vermont’s regional center due to allegations of massive, yearslong fraud by the owners of Jay Peak.

The state’s regional center “no longer serves the purpose of promoting economic growth,” federal officials wrote in a notice of termination.

State officials also believe the regional center needs to close, but they want to do it more slowly. Their pitch is to “wind down the (center) over time, continue to oversee existing and pending projects but not take on new projects.”

One of those existing projects is at Mount Snow, which raised $52 million through the EB-5 program for two key improvements: a 120 million gallon snow-making expansion called West Lake and the 37,000-square-foot Carinthia Lodge.

After an extended delay that caused financial headaches for Mount Snow and its parent company, Missouri-based Peak Resorts, federal officials in December granted the necessary approvals for Mount Snow to access its $52 million.

Since then, work has progressed steadily on the West Lake project, which is expected to be ready for the upcoming ski season. Peak Resorts executives repeatedly have cited West Lake as a financial bright spot for the company’s future operations in Vermont.

“This will have an immediate impact on our snow-making capacity and our ability to significantly accelerate the opening of our terrain in the early season,” Timothy Boyd, Peak Resorts president and CEO, said during an earnings report last month.

In June, Mount Snow broke ground for Carinthia Lodge, which is scheduled for completion next year. The building will include a cafeteria, a restaurant and bar, ski rentals, a retail store and other services.

The schedules for both West Lake and Carinthia should not be affected by Monday’s federal EB-5 announcement. Michael Pieciak, Vermont’s commissioner of financial regulation and an overseer of the state’s EB-5 regional center, confirmed Tuesday that Mount Snow has access to all of the $52 million raised in its first foreign investment offering.

Mike Pieciak
Mike Pieciak, commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation. File photo by Erin Mansfield/VTDigger
Pieciak said, however, that roughly 100 applications for I-526 visas that Mount Snow investors submitted have not yet been approved. Based on the federal requirement that each investor put in $500,000, it would appear that most are still waiting for their temporary green cards.

Unprocessed visas are a primary reason that Vermont officials want to close down the state’s EB-5 center gradually, rather than immediately as federal officials proposed.

If U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “followed through with termination as proposed, dozens of investors in Jay Peak and non-Jay Peak projects may be adversely impacted as those investors would no longer be eligible to receive an unconditional visa,” state officials wrote in a document released Monday.

As state and federal officials wrangle over such issues, a key question for Mount Snow is whether the resort will have any future dealings with the EB-5 program.

The second phase of the resort’s master plan calls for 102 luxury condominium units in five buildings, with Carinthia Lodge as a “focal point” for those residences. The project also includes an “amenities center with a year-round outdoor pool, exercise equipment, sauna and massage rooms,” according to the resort.

The residences, ranging from 1,130 to 2,155 square feet, are to be situated so Mount Snow patrons can “ski directly to and from their doors,” resort administrators say.

Earlier this year, Dick Deutsch, an executive with both Mount Snow and Peak, announced plans for the company to establish its own EB-5 regional center to pursue large-scale housing development.

Deutsch told investors that such a center would allow Mount Snow to “do our own thing and not have those added expenses and those added time delays” associated with the state’s center. Resort administrators have said they believe the Jay Peak investigation, while unrelated to Mount Snow, hindered their initial EB-5 permit process.

Mount Snow
A little snow still remained on the slopes behind Mount Snow’s Grand Summit Hotel in late April 2016. File photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger
This week Newton confirmed the company has applied for a new regional center but could offer no other information. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials have said they cannot comment on such applications.

Even while acknowledging Mount Snow’s bid for independence and the state’s dwindling role in EB-5 management, Vermont officials might be leaving a door open to working with the resort on one last EB-5 project.

The state’s new EB-5 report makes mention of a company with a “multiphase master plan” that “has applied for designation as a regional center independent of the (state), but is also in discussions with the (state) about affiliating for its next phase, which involves more than 100 ski-in, ski-out condominiums.”

But that section of the document doesn’t mention Mount Snow by name, and Pieciak on Tuesday maintained that the state is not interested in processing future EB-5 offerings from the resort.

Given the uncertainties surrounding EB-5 – which has come under increased national scrutiny and is authorized at the federal level only through Sept. 30 – Mount Snow also might look to other funding sources for its next expansion.

But resort administrators said they could not yet comment on whether the housing project could move forward in the absence of EB-5 money.

(VTDigger Editor Anne Galloway contributed to this report.)

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