Hermitage Club fiscal impact analysis gets second look


WILMINGTON >> During a recent visit to Haystack Mountain, Hermitage Club attorney Bob Fisher saw many familiar faces. And they were not the officials with whom he often conducts business.

"Today, we had friends up from Connecticut and I was trying to teach a friend's son, 15 years old, how to ski. I was actually skiing with them on the lower part of the mountain, which I haven't skied in 20 years, which is the easier part. But the number of instructors down there was astounding to me. And many of them are kids that have grown up and skied here," Fisher said. "It was a great scene."

At last Monday's Wilmington Planning Commission meeting, he said sees it as "the start of this progression" of having local people filling newly created jobs.

The commission had previously written a letter to Vermont District 2 Environmental Coordinator April Hensel after seeing a fiscal impact analysis filed along with the company's master plan. The plan is being reviewed by the District Environmental Commission for an Act 250 permit. Due to weather, the Feb. 16 hearing was tentatively rescheduled to March 4. Another letter is being drafted by the Planning Commission now, listing how the plan conforms to Wilmington's Town Plan.

Several aspects of the analysis raised concerns and more information is expected at the next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 22.

"If we're going to make a statement that you guys are good for the local population, we want to be able to say we have the facts rather than guessing," said commission member John Lebron.

The recent creation of 109 full-time jobs at the Hermitage Club was an estimate included in the analysis but the commission wanted to know more about part-time positions. The commission said the company did not appear to be expectant of drawing year-round population.

"We don't have employees to fill the jobs in the valley regardless of the Hermitage Club and we have a diminishing population. The economic impact analysis had assumed a fairly substantial amount of people locally (would fill positions)," said Wendy Manners, commission chairwoman. "Our problem is we just don't have it."

"Hopefully we can grow that," added Gretchen Havreluk, Wilmington's economic development consultant.

Fisher suggested creating more of a partnership between the company, towns and resorts.

Hermitage Club President Jim Barnes said the company is committed to training local residents how to be "great" servers, bussers, wait staff, drivers and more.

"We're doing that from top down," he said while mentioning ideas for expanding activities for children such as camping, water sports and mountain biking. "All those instructors we use now for skiing, they're delightful kids."

Data suggests a 7 percent increase or decrease in migration is a reasonable amount to expect for resort-based jobs. But the analysis included a 9.5 percent rate, although its authors acknowledged the number could be a bit too high. The commission wondered whether numbers from large public ski areas were appropriate to apply to a private ski resort.

A 93-unit hotel planned near the mountain could draw approximately 84 new workers at completion, according to the analysis. A local permit was obtained. The company is now seeking state approval.

At a previous commission meeting, the Hermitage Club was asked for specifics around hiring local businesses for construction.

"It depends on how you want to define local," said Fisher. "Over half of the contractors were local if you consider local to be Windham County. It's less than that if you just go to Wilmington or West Dover."

A chart with Windham County contractors hired for different projects would be sufficient, commission members agreed.

On how many locals are being promoted, Barnes said he'd have to get data from managers and supervisors.

The commission was curious about seasonal employment. Fisher brought up winter programs which bring in employees from outside the country and said he could have numbers for the commission.

The District Environmental Commission, which reviews Act 250 criteria, is also looking at busing and transportation in general. The Planning Commission wanted to see more plans around that, too.

The Hermitage Club currently provides shuttle services and runs an airport. A traffic light in downtown Wilmington, notorious for creating congestion at busy times, is being studied as the company plans for more development. It's also being addressed as part of Mount Snow ski resort's Act 250 permitting.

"This weekend, the traffic here was not bad at all," Fisher noted.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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