Resort tied to NH primary lies fallow
FILE - This May 10, 2012, file photo shows the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch, N.H. The hotel is the site of the first voters every four years for the nation's earliest presidential primary. Two years ago the hotel was sold, but the doors still remain shut with no guests and its future is uncertain. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2008 file photo, Tom Tillotson, right, announces midnight as Donna Kaye Erwin gets to cast the first ballot for the nation's presidential primary in Dixville Notch, N.H. Two years ago the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel, where the first votes are cast, was sold, but the doors still remain shut with no guests and its future is uncertain. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
CONCORD, N.H. — Two years after the sale of the New Hampshire resort where the nation’s first presidential votes were traditionally cast, no guests ply the halls.
The doors of the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch remain shut, and a few buildings have fallen to demolition crews. None of the 200 to 300 jobs that disappeared when it closed in September 2010 have come back.
Then there is the silence. The men who bought the hotel for $2.3 million, Dan Dagesse and Dan Hebert, are looking for more investors, but communication with local business leaders has trailed off.
The Balsams was one of the largest employers in the North Country, a region that has lost many manufacturing jobs in recent years. Coos County, where the resort sits, still has a 5.6 percent unemployment rate, highest in the state.
“The fact that it shut down a couple years ago was devastating,” said Jonathan Brown, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a symbol of who we are. If it reopens in the near future, it would have a huge impact on how people are feeling about the economy in the area.”
The resort, about 20 miles from the Canadian border, started as an inn in 1861 and was sold in 1895 to industrialist Henry Hale, who renamed it The Balsams. In 1918, he doubled the capacity to 400 guests. It features Old World elegance, fine dining and outdoor activities, including golf, boating and hiking. In the winter, it is popular with skiers and snowmobilers.
Brown said his group is hungry for any information about the hotel, where voters in in the wood-paneled Ballot Room were long the first in the country to choose candidates, both in the New Hampshire primary and the general election.
“I have heard very little in the last quarter of this year,” he said. “As far as I’m aware today, the group that owns the Balsams is looking for some additional investment dollars.”
Rick Tillotson, scion of the family that once owned the resort, lamented the lack of new developments and the slow pace of the renovation.
“There are definitely rumors going around,” he said. “It’s a big topic of conversation.
“The longer it sits empty, the more likely it is to remain empty, and what I hope to see in anyone’s hands is something that employs people,” he said. “We need those 200 jobs back; it’s as simple as that. To everybody who stayed there, it was a wonderful place, but to everyone who lives here, it was a mainstream anchor to the economy.”
When they bought the hotel, Dagesse and Hebert said they wanted to provide “a stable operation that we can all be proud of” and predicted an 18-month renovation schedule.
“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,” Hebert said then.
Hebert and Dagesse did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Benoit Lamontagne, the North Country regional specialist for the state’s Division of Resources and Economic Development, said state officials continue to work with Hebert and Dagesse on legal, regulatory and financial issues because they recognize how crucial the Balsams is to the region’s economy.
“Those are all jobs at the moment that have not been replaced and that can’t be replaced locally,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest issue. When an employer shuts down in that part of the state, folks can’t just walk across the street or drive 10 miles down the road and find another job. It just doesn’t happen.”