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Talks resume on new Snow Bowl lodge

By Susan Mustapich | Nov 18, 2019
Source: File photo Discussions for a new lodge at the Snow Bowl are back on the table.

CAMDEN — Plans to move forward on a new lodge for the Snow Bowl are once again in discussion, after a five-year pause in fundraising for this final stage of the ski area's redevelopment.

Completed in January 2015, the redevelopment expanded snow-making and chairlift service to the top of the mountain, increasing ski and ride terrain 40 percent with a total of 20 trails. The beginner area was reconfigured and widening and reshaping improved intermediate trails. New lighting doubled night-skiing terrain. Storm water drainage and lighting to the parking lot were part of the work.

The lodge was planned as phase two of the redevelopment and part of the original goal of creating a four-season recreation area. However, the ski mountain redevelopment racked up $2 million in cost overruns and in February 2015 the foundation put fund-raising for the lodge on hold.

Revenues from the three most recent ski seasons have paid for operations. The prior two seasons, immediately following the redevelopment, produced operating deficits. Construction delayed the start of the 2014-15 ski season, and warm temperatures ended that ski season early. The 2015-16 season saw warmer weather and scant snow, hurting the ski industry throughout the state.

Now, members of the Ragged Mountain Redevelopment Foundation want to hear whether the Select Board thinks the timing of building a new 9,500-square-foot lodge makes sense, according to Bob Gordon of RMRF. The foundation needs an aligned vision with the town in order to proceed with fundraising, he said. Foundation members and Select Board members revived talks about the lodge at an Oct. 29 workshop.

"Our sense is the redevelopment has done exactly what we were hoping it was going to do. It's been profitable for three years. It's getting lots of use and rave reviews," Gordon said. He sees that the demand and need for a new lodge is growing, with increased skiing and the progression of the Round the Mountain trail, under development by Coastal Mountain Land Trust.

Peter Gross, of RMRF, said the new lodge has been designed very efficiently, with 2,500 usable square feet on each of two floors. "It is much more pleasant," he said, with elevators, glass facing the mountains and the pond, a fireplace for colder seasons and extensive decks and air conditioning for the summer. Gross and Gordon see increased revenues from uses such as weddings.

The ski rental shop will be on the ground floor. The building contains offices for the Parks and Recreation department. Discussion about a gently-sloped roof designed to hold snow for extra insulation in winter months stirred up disagreement. Those who want to see solar panels on the roof to offset the Snow Bowl's high energy usage include Select Board members Marc Ratner and Alison McKellar and Energy Committee chairperson Anita-Brosius-Scott.

A recently completed energy audit for municipal government facilities shows of the total 2.2 million kilowatt hours used, 44 percent is consumed by the Snow Bowl. Snow-making, which pumps water from Hosmer Pond into the snow guns consumed 522,457 kilowatt hours of electricity during the 2018-19 ski season. The chairlifts consumed 398,537 kilowatt hours. The existing lodge used 37,863 kwh of electricity. The wastewater treatment plant and system is the largest municipal user, at over 860,000 kwh annually.

The audit was conducted by Rich Roughgarden of Maine Solar Engineering. The purpose of the audit is to prepare for a municipal solar panel installation capable of offsetting town government's energy use. In 2018 the Select Board signed onto the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, at the urging of local high school students. While the town's participation in the Covenant's world-wide effort to reduce carbon emissions is voluntary, town officials have taken the pledge seriously.

The existing A-frame lodge will be home to retail operations, as well as ski patrol, the ski club and equipment storage. The two trailers on the property will be removed. The existing lockers there will remain. Lockers were originally planned for the new lodge, but that building has been redesigned to reduce costs. There may be small lockers for valuables there, said Snow Bowl manager Beth Ward.

Select Board chairman Bob Falciani has asked the foundation to supply all available documents including architectural plans, construction documents and cost estimates. Falciani said operating and maintenance costs for the building have to be estimated, and added to costs. Contingency for cost overruns need to be added to the ticket price for the lodge, said Dennis McGuirk, who has assisted with Snow Bowl finances over the past few seasons.

Falciani and Ratner brought up operating costs for the new lodge, which will fall entirely on the town once it is built. Ratner's concern is that those costs will eat up the ski season's revenue, which pays for operations in good years, and will drive up deficits in years when there are warmer temperatures and not enough snow.

RMRA member Dennis McGuirk explained that over a 10-year period, the Snow Bowl costs taxpayers an average of $5,000 each year. He asked Select Board members to look at ski area's finances long-term, rather than year-to-year.

Falciani repeatedly asked for the cost of the new lodge and stated several times he did not think the town could ask taxpayers to contribute. He noted that taxpayers are already responsible for an annual $150,000 bond payment on the redevelopment.

Gordon said it is too early provide a firm number for the cost, but it could be as much as $3.8 million, he said. Costs will increase about 20 percent every year the lodge is delayed. Whatever the amount, these are the funds the foundation seeks to raise.

McGuirk and Gordon urged town officials and members of the community to look at the the value of the Snow Bowl to the town of Camden. Both reminded that the ski area revenue is supposed to cover costs, and was never intended to produce profits,

McGuirk said “There isn't a ski area around the country that regularly makes a profit unless they include lodging, restaurants and shops. The way we look at it, we exclude that." While taxpayers may not directly benefit from the added business in the winter, the benefit is a town that stays open-year round, he said.

Gordon pointed out that parks and recreation departments are not usually money-makers for towns. Belfast pays about $80,000 annually for its public swimming pool, he said.

He said the Snow Bowl is a recreational facility that offers the equivalent of  "65,000 user days for skiing, skating, running.

And if it breaks even? Every town in America would love one of those."

"The value the town and Midcoast area gets for almost a break even is amazing," he said.


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Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 19, 2019 14:58

And to think, the lodge was one building with two fire places and the ski rope tow was a boon for the community. Time changes and now it is big business, sadly. Just hope you remember the little guy who has kids and would love to afford to have his/her kids a day of fun. Please think of the hard working little guy and his families.

Posted by: Barry Douglas Morse | Nov 19, 2019 07:13

I would question that construction cost inflation estimate of 20 percent per year. Another authoritative construction analytics source says that, for nonresidential construction: "Long-term average (annual) inflation, without recessionary declines, is 4% for 20 non-recessionary years since 1993."



Even during the rapid growth period from 2004-2008, that inflation number was still only 8 percent.  The last time the US saw double-digit inflation was during the late1970s/early 1980s, as a result of the Saudi oil embargo. During hyperinflation periods, lenders stop lending and interest rates skyrocket.

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