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Mount Snow gets its EB-5 money

WEST DOVER—After a long wait, Mount Snow has gained access to $52 million in foreign investment funding and will move forward with two major improvement projects.

Mount Snow’s parent company, Missouri-based Peak Resorts Inc., announced Dec. 13 that a key approval issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will allow the company to “immediately” access EB-5 program money that has been held in escrow.

The EB-5 money represents nearly 80 percent of a planned $66 million investment that will bring a new ski lodge, a much larger snow-making system, and new jobs to Mount Snow during the next few years.

“We are exceptionally pleased that the EB-5 project funds can now be released from escrow so that we can continue project development,” said Timothy Boyd, Peak’s president and chief executive officer.

Federal officials didn’t comment on or confirm Peak’s announcement. A Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman said the agency is unable to discuss individual EB-5 cases.

The EB-5 program allows foreigners to obtain visas and permanent U.S. residency by investing in job-creating projects in the U.S.

Though EB-5 has come under intense scrutiny this year due to allegations of a $200 million fraud at Jay Peak Resort, Mount Snow administrators have taken pains to distance themselves from those headlines.

Instead, they’ve touted the program’s critical role in economic development projects planned at the West Dover resort.

The West Lake Water Project will feature a 120 million gallon storage pond and is expected to give Mount Snow six times its current snow-making capacity. And a new, three-story, 36,000-square-foot Carinthia Ski Lodge will include many ski-related amenities as well as the capacity to host off-season conferences, weddings, and other gatherings.

Those developments have been stymied by a lengthy delay in the federal government’s review of Mount Snow investors’ visa petitions, since Peak Resorts couldn’t access its $52 million in EB-5 funding without the government’s go-ahead.

The wait also caused financial problems for Peak, which has spent about $15 million on the Mount Snow projects already. The company, which owns 13 ski resorts, borrowed money and arranged a $20 million stock sale in order to mitigate the impact of the EB-5 delay and last winter’s poor skier turnout.

During a quarterly earnings conference call earlier this month, administrators said they’d seen signs that the EB-5 logjam was about to break.

That led to the Dec. 13 announcement, with Peak saying Citizenship and Immigration Services had approved the first visa petition submitted by a Mount Snow investor, allowing the company to break escrow.

The announcement noted that Peak now will be reimbursed for the money already spent on Mount Snow EB-5 projects. That reimbursement “will help further strengthen our balance sheet and bolster the long-term liquidity of the company,” Chief Financial Officer Steve Mueller said.

But there was much more emphasis on what this means for Mount Snow. Administrators said they now expect to have the West Lake project done prior to next ski season.

“The West Lake project will allow Mount Snow to start each ski season with as much as 50 percent of its terrain open. It will also provide enough water to eventually cover 100 percent of our trails with snowmaking,” Boyd said in a prepared statement.

Boyd added that “further enhancing the ski experience at Mount Snow should help us gain an even greater share of the Vermont ski market — the No. 1 market in the region.”

The Carinthia Lodge project should be “substantially completed” before the 2018-19 ski season, the company said.

State Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, said the EB-5 funding news was “an incredibly important and welcome announcement for Peak Resorts, Mount Snow, and the greater Deerfield Valley business community.”

“These long-planned projects are key economic infrastructure investments in southern Vermont,” Sibilia said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #389 (Wednesday, December 28, 2016). This story appeared on page A6.

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