A push to buy and reopen Saddleback Mountain ski area starts with a $4 million fundraising goal but could end with conservation of more than 21,000 acres and a fully functioning four-season resort owned by the community.
The Saddleback Community Mountain Resort, LLC needs to raise $4 million in a plan to purchase the 723-acre mountain and re-open the ski area, architects of the deal reported during an announcement Thursday at the Portland office of the Trust for Public Lands.
Peter Stein, president of Scientific Solutions, an advocate for Saddleback, said, “Last Friday, this initiative to make Saddleback a community-owned resort reached an agreement on terms with the Berry family.” Stein praised the Berry family for working out the deal to sell the ski area.
“Bottom line, we need to raise $4 million … raising the $4 million will secure the deal and will allow this project to move forward,” Stein said. “This is absolutely an incredible opportunity for skiers, for outdoor enthusiasts in general, for the Rangeley region.”
Wolfe Tone, Maine state director of the Trust for Public Lands, explained, “For almost three years now, the Trust for Public Lands has been in on-and-off-again negotiations and discussions with the Berry’s to conserve a very special part of their ownership, 3,300 acres of well-managed, working forest. These 3,300 acres are part of a broader assemblage of about 21,000 acres in the High Peaks that we are working in collaboration with the New England Forestry Foundation and other partners to conserve. Yesterday, the Berry’s informed me that they agreed to our proposed terms for purchasing those 3,300 acres. While not yet signed, we can have confidence of a signed agreement soon.”
The plan, according to www.skisaddlebackme.com, goes like this:
* “On reaching $4 million in cash and binding pledges, SMCR, LLC will sign a purchase and sales agreement and gain exclusivity by providing a $500,000 deposit. The Trust for Public Land is working toward obtaining an option on the conservation land and will close on the conservation land coincident with our closing on the Ski Area.”
* “Our initiative plans to sign a purchase and sales agreement with The Trust for Public Land for the conservation land. This may allow them to become a sponsoring 501(c)(3) for the Saddleback Mountain Foundation. This would enable us to accept tax-deductible donations.”
* “The Saddleback Mountain Foundation will pursue $25 million in total funding.”
Ultimately, the Saddleback Mountain Foundation would buy the ski area and conservation land and pay for improvements to the resort.
The foundation would set up a management contract with SMCR, LLC to operate the resort.
Tone said, “For Saddleback, we need to move fast and be clear about (the fact) that we need philanthropic support.”
The purchase price for the ski area is $6 million plus land sale royalties. The website explained, “The current owners required $4.9 million for debt relief and in order to sell the ski area free-and-clear of encumbrances. Because The Trust for Public Land is purchasing the conservation land for $2.7 million, the current owners have agreed to transfer ownership and control of the ‘Ski Area’ to this initiative for $2.2 million in cash and a $3.8 million note.”
The Trust for Public Land with its Land for People charter has agreed to temporarily, and within three months, purchase the conservation land for $2.7 million, the website explained.
Bob Herschel, executive director of the New England Forestry Foundation, said, “We want to protect forestland in the region and we want to see that it’s managed well. So this opportunity would protect the land, you wouldn’t see any development on this land, and then New England Forestry Foundation would manage it well.”
Steve Philbrick, owner of Bald Mountain Camps, said, “When Saddleback closed, Franklin County and the Rangeley Lakes region lost between $15 million and $20 million in annual revenue.” The closure was “devastating,” he said, noting that Saddleback at one point was the second biggest employer in the county.
Tourism businesses could not stay open seven days a week, Philbrick noted.
“Restaurants in Rangeley for the first time in history closed for one or two days this summer, we didn’t have enough employees to fill the slots.”
The current “core ski area” is 723 acres with a development boundary comprising another 2,230 acres. The ultimate goal, the website explained, is a $25 million campaign. The website indicates a $6 million cost to purchase the ski area, $3.2 million for the conservation land purchase, and assorted other costs for maintenance of the ski area.
Tone said, “This is the coming together of the benefits, of land conservation, community economic development and community well-being.”
More information: At 5:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 2 organizers from the Saddleback Mountain Foundation were scheduled to hold a town meeting at Rangeley High School, regarding the fundraising effort to purchase the mountain.
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