Gunstock Settles With Belknap County

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Gilford, NH, May 23--Belknap County legislators voted 11-3 last week to assume the remaining $6 million of debt facing the county-owned Gunstock ski area in exchange for annual payments of at least $150,000. The vote wipes out the remainder of a $10 million bond floated for improvement projects at the resort in the mid 1980s.

On average, the resort has been asking the county to pay $600,000 of its $1.1 million annual debt payments over the last nine years because of insufficient revenue. While the resort does cover its operating expenses, it has not been able to make the debt payments and has not been able to put any capital aside for future improvement projects.

"We're very excited about the county's decision," said Gunstock General Manager Greg Goddard. "This means we'll be able to move ahead while continuing to make payments to the county." He added that the annual payments would begin at $150,000 and thereafter "ratchet up" according to annual sales at the ski area. The resort would also, he speculated, continue to make its annual sales-based payments even after the county finishes paying off the debt.

Goddard noted that a major requirement of the agreement is that the ski area must present the county with a master plan for development within the next year. He said that plan would also include "a real bulletproof financial plan" to make sure any future improvements won't become a burden to county taxpayers. "We don't want to make the same mistakes that were made in the past," he said.

"We had expected it to pass, but not with such a majority," said GunstockArea Commission Chairman Howard Chandler, who was on the committee that crafted the current plan. "I think it's going to work out well." He added the decision would make it possible for Gunstock to upgrade its facilities in the future to remain competitive in the marketplace.