copyright the Chronicle 10-3-2012
by Joseph Gresser
JAY — A $600-million investment plan set out by the owners of Jay Peak Resort Thursday could change the face of the Northeast Kingdom over the next three years. In the process it could create ten thousand new jobs.
That was the message Bill Stenger, co-owner and president of the resort, delivered in a pair of press conferences, one held at Jay Peak, the other at the Gateway Center on Newport’s waterfront.
Sharing the stage with Mr. Stenger were U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch and Governor Peter Shumlin.
Most of Mr. Stenger’s plans focused on Newport. They included construction of a new hotel and conference center on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza, the replacement of the Spates block with a five-story commercial and residential building, and construction of a 75,000-square-foot research building for AnC Bio, a bio medical research company.
Mr. Stenger also announced that a German window manufacturer will move to Newport and set up shop in a portion of the old Bogner Building.
The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also get a makeover as Mr. Stenger and his business partner, Ariel Quiros, take over the operation of the field. They will continue to work with Dan Lathrop of Lakeview Aviation, the current operator of the airport, and will add several hangers, a new terminal building and bonded warehouses.
Mr. Stenger did not completely ignore his skiing properties. At Jay Peak plans call for an expansion on the Stateside of the mountain where a hotel will be added. An entirely new area is to be developed in the West Bowl, where a second new hotel is planned.
Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger bought the Burke Mountain ski area recently and announced a $102-million project that will include four new ski lodges there.
Ninety percent of the projects’ costs will be funded by money raised from the EB-5 visa program, which grants Green Cards to foreign citizens who invest $500,000 in an approved project that creates at least ten permanent jobs. The new jobs can be created directly by the projects or indirectly as a result of increased economic activity spurred by the new businesses.
The expected total of over $500-million in EB-5 funds must result in more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs before all Green Cards are issued by the federal government.
The EB-5 program, which has financed most of the $250-million in improvements made at Jay Peak over the past five years, was slated to expire this month. Congress recently passed a bill reauthorizing the program for another three years, which President Barack Obama signed into law Friday, September 28.
Mr. Stenger gave much of the credit for the three-year extension of the visa program to Senator Leahy. Unless the EB-5 program gets a further extension, the projects outlined by Mr. Stenger will have to be completed by 2015.
In his remarks Senator Leahy said he already has his staff working on a bill that would make the visa program a permanent part of U.S. law.
The backgrounds of those who seek to participate in the EB-5 program are investigated by federal immigration officials, as is the source of the funds to be invested. Federal officials also must certify that the expected jobs have been created before a participant is given final resident status and a path to U.S. citizenship.
Mr. Stenger began his explanation of his investment plans by talking about the work that has been done at Jay Peak Resort over the past five years. He said construction of two new hotels, a golf course and clubhouse, an indoor ice rink, and water park has resulted in a five-fold increase in Jay Peak’s payroll.
At present the ski area employs 1,200 people, Mr. Stenger said.
He said that Jay Peak has completed 75 percent of its expansion plans. He said the resort plans to spend $170-million between 2013 and 2015 to build 100 homes, new lifts, an 84-unit hotel and a medical center on the Stateside portion of the ski area.
Mr. Stenger said Jay will build new lifts and trails as well as a new hotel in the West Bowl area of Jay Peak.
Moving east, Mr. Stenger outlined plans that would radically reshape the city of Newport. Along with Mr. Quiros, Mr. Stenger plans to buy the block on the south side of Main Street between Second and Center streets from Doug and Vivian Spates.
Plans call for the Spates Block to be razed and replaced with a five-story building. In accordance with Newport’s zoning code the ground floor would be devoted to retail space. The second story will be devoted to office or other commercial uses, Mr. Stenger said, while the top three floors will be residential.
An architect’s rendering of the block showed a couple on the top floor of the building, enjoying a view of Lake Memphremagog from the terrace of their penthouse apartment.
The building, which will be called the Renaissance Block, is expected to cost $70-million and is slated for completion in 2014.
The following year the Newport Marina Hotel and Conference Center is scheduled to open on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza on the Causeway. The cost of the 600-bed hotel is estimated to be $100-million.
Mr. Stenger said he is in discussions with Burlington developer Tony Pomerleau to purchase the property, which has extensive frontage on Lake Memphremagog. Mr. Pomerleau was saluted for his contributions to the state at the press conference, which took place on the eve of his ninety-fifth birthday.
Mr. Stenger described the two projects as bookends for Newport’s Main Street, and asked his listeners to imagine a walk from the hotel up the city’s boardwalk and back down Main Street.
The other Newport developments will be concentrated at the former Bogner property, which was purchased by AnC Bio, the U.S. division of a South Korean biotechnology company. Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger are owners of the U.S. division of AnC.
The biotech company will start manufacturing and distributing products from the existing 90,000-square-foot Bogner building in the spring of 2013.
Work on a 75,000-square-foot research center is to begin next fall at a total cost of $104-million. The glass tower will essentially be a copy of the company’s research building in Seoul, South Korea. Inside there will be clean rooms, equipment and research facilities available for lease by other companies or universities, according to William Kelly, the counselor for AnC Bio and Jay Peak.
Mr. Kelly said he expects that researchers will be drawn to the new facility because of the availability of the equipment.
The former Bogner building will have a second manufacturing tenant, this one a German manufacturer of energy-efficient windows.
Mr. Stenger said that one of the people who looked into investing in Jay’s EB-5 program turned out to be someone whose work involved scouting locations in the U.S. where foreign companies might want to locate.
He brought the Newport area to the attention of the owners of Menck Window Systems, who visited the area several times before committing to locating in Newport.
Mr. Stenger said representatives of the company, a 134-year-old family owned concern, were very impressed that Lawrence Miller, secretary of the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, attended the meetings and was solicitous of their needs.
Bringing Menck to Newport will require a $20-million investment, he said, but will result in at least 140 full-time manufacturing jobs.
The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also see considerable investment. The Federal Aviation Agency will extend the existing runway by 1,000 feet next year from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet.
This, Mr. Stenger said, will make it possible for larger planes to land and take off, and change the economics of the field.
The existing runway is to be resurfaced and a separate taxi-way will be built, Mr. Stenger said.
Plans call for the Jay Peak partners to take over operations of the airport, and build a new 10,000-square-foot terminal building, two 15,000-square-foot hangars, a 14,000-square-foot aircraft manufacturing and repair facility, and a 40,000-square-foot bonded warehouse in anticipation of the creation of a Free Trade Zone in Orleans County.
Work at the airport is expected to cost $20-million and be done between 2013 and 2014.
Mr. Stenger credited Senator Leahy with shepherding the visa program bill through the Senate, and thanked Congressman Welch for his work getting it passed by the House. The legislation passed with overwhelming margins in both bodies.
Each member of the Congressional delegation spoke at the two press conferences, as did Governor Shumlin. All praised Mr. Stenger and Mr. Quiros for their vision.
Senator Sanders said, “The most popular sport in America is complaining about the federal government. What you are seeing here is a marriage and partnership between private business and federal, state and local government.”
Secretary Miller, speaking at the Gateway Center press conference, provided assurance that Mr. Stenger’s plans are likely to come to fruition.
He said that sophisticated investors from around the world have carefully examined Mr. Stenger’s plans and made half-million-dollar investments in his projects.
As to whether there are 5,000 people with the skills to take jobs in the new businesses, Mr. Miller pointed out that many people have left the state in search of work.
“We want them back. We want them home,” Mr. Miller said.
To any who may doubt the reality of his plans, Mr. Stenger offered this assurance: “We have the mission, we have the vision, we have a love for this community. We will make it happen.”
contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]