(This story was first published in the August 1, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
WEST WINDSOR — When the ski resort that once attracted thousands of people to a sleepy New England town with 200 acres of terrain and 57 trails closed in 2010, it hit the economy harder than expected.
Condo prices on Ascutney Mountain Resort in West Windsor dropped significantly and local realtors and business owners have been affected directly from the tourist decline.
But, a judge’s recent ruling could change all this. Last week, William D. Cohen issued a judgment order that MFW Associates, LLC had a priority interest in the resort superior to Snowdance Realty Company, ending a stalemate between the two parties. Sale of the resort could take place within 30 days.
Officials are hoping a sale signals the beginning of the end of the town’s economic woes.
“It’s another step forward,” Select Board Chairman Glenn Seward said. “With legal proceedings nearly complete now the resort stands a good chance of getting back up on its feet with a new owner.”
In 30 days, after a redemption period, there will be an auction where interested parties will be permitted to bid on the property, according to a lawyer representing MFW Associates, LLC.
“We’re at the end is what I would say,” the lawyer said. The lawyer declined to comment on the issue further and declined to give his name. Attempts to contact the Plausteiners at their home were not successful.
The “end” has been a long road coming.
The Plausteiners bought Ascutney Mountain Resort out of bankruptcy in the early 1990s for $1.1 million. But it didn’t take long before they too started having money troubles.
In 1998, the Plausteiners — as Snowdance LLC — were the majority owners of the ski resort and investment banker Dan Purjes and Myles Wittenstein were the minority owners. In 2005, Snowdance took out a $4.5 million promissory note from PRIF Ascutney LLC, a New Jersey-based investment company. Soon after, in 2008 when Snowdance began defaulting on its loan, Purjes and Wittenstein formed a new company, MFW Associates, and purchased the $4.5 million promissory note for $850,000.
MFW started foreclosure proceedings shortly after, citing $1.8 million in debt.
Snowdance sold its shares in the resort to MFW for $1.1 million in July 2010, which then tried, unsuccessfully, to liquidate the area that summer. By the fall, it was clear the lifts weren’t going to run that year.
The companies have gone to court countless times in the past five years.
The resorts’ high-speed chairlift was sold to Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire in December 2012 while the rest of the area sat idle for the third winter in a row.
“I’m not surprised, honestly, that it closed,” Seward said. “I am surprised that it’s taken so long to wade through all the legal issues associated with the closing.”
The town has been waiting patiently, for something, to move forward with the resort.
“People are out of jobs,” said John Bossen, president of the Ascutney Homeowner’s Association. “It’s something we obviously didn’t expect.
“Who wants to be at a ski resort when there is no skiing?”
Condo prices dropped 33 percent immediately after the resort closed, according to realtor Seth Warren.
Condos that were once valued at $150,000 when lifts were turning are now selling for $100,000.
That’s a significant hit,” Warren said. The mountain’s closing also changed the demographic of people living on the mountain.
The mountain was once full of second homeowners, but now houses have become affordable for locals shopping for year-round homes.
“Essentially it’s had a devastating effect on the town,” Seward said.
Property values were in even more jeopardy when Central Vermont Public Service nearly shut off power at the resort due to an overdue and unpaid balance. The shut-off would have stopped water and sewer service to more than 200 year-round homeowners at the resort.
To avoid a similar situation, the town decided to purchase the sewer line. Voters have approved a $500,000 loan for the possible purchase and earlier this year, the District 2 Environmental Planning Commission recently agreed to transfer the ACT 250 permit to West Windsor, further paving the way for the town to finalize the sale.
Warren expects condo prices to rise just as quickly as they fell if the resort were to reopen.
“That would be the best news I’ve heard all year,” Warren said.
The status of the resort should be clearer by Labor Day; meanwhile, Seward is remaining optimistic.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that things will start to jell as far as a new owner-operator,” Seward said.
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