Our Opinion: A future for The Hermitage Club

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Now that Vermont Superior Court Judge John R. Treadwell has ruled in favor of appointing a receiver in the foreclosure of the Hermitage Club — the former Haystack Mountain ski area, a golf course, four inns and numerous townhouses, among other properties — attention turns to the future of the sprawling resort complex, and the people who depended on it for employment.

Berkshire Bank, which foreclosed on the Hermitage Club for non-payment of a mortgage exceeding $17 million, succeeded in securing a caretaker responsible for making sure the property remains secure and retains its value. They did so as Treadwell, in his ruling, found that the current owners are in no position to care for the property in the meantime.

Naturally, Deerfield Valley residents want to know if the owners and investors in the Hermitage Club, led by James Barnes, are truly done with the property — and if they are, what Berkshire Bank might have planned next. It would seem that Berkshire Bank at least has a business interest in keeping the resort in one piece; otherwise, it likely wouldn't have bothered with the trouble and expense of petitioning for a receiver.

The bank has been mum about its plans so far. That's understandable given the continuing legal drama, but hardly comforting to a community that's been waiting for answers for months. Maybe the bank can't provide answers yet, but a statement at least acknowledging that it understands the importance of these assets to the Deerfield Valley and its residents would reassure residents who have been living with uncertainty.

As for the Hermitage Club, much hinges upon whether the business plan for a private ski mountain and four-season resort still has potential, or if someone else has a better idea for the property. A number of people did, after all, invest in the concept of a private club, where they could ski without weekend crowds and enjoy a vacation home. It might yet succeed, with the right management and business plan.

What's more, the ski area next door, good old Mount Snow, has managed to survive and carve out a future for itself with a far less splashy approach than its privately-owned neighbor. Like the tried and true fable of "The Tortoise and the Hare," Mount Snow went about expansion and renovations more methodically, using foreign investment capital through the EB-5 program. Meanwhile, the Hermitage Club made ambitious plans and expanded quickly.

Now, Mount Snow has $30 million worth of new snowmaking capacity it long needed, and plans to complete the Carinthia Lodge project by the 2018-19 ski season.

Perhaps if the new owners or new management at the Hermitage follow that slow and steady approach, they, too, will find success is possible on Route 100.

The Hermitage's owners have the right to appeal Treadwell's ruling, and a deadline of next Tuesday by which to do so. And it's still possible that they could somehow come up with enough money to pay off the note, make their creditors whole, and start fresh.

But at this point, whatever goodwill and optimism they brought to the Deerfield Valley when they purchased Haystack Mountain seems long ago and far away. That hope has been replaced with a long line of creditors, including local contractors who weren't paid what they were owed for their work. If the owners were somehow to return, they'd have a lot of fences to mend. Perhaps, too many.

The crumbing of the Heritage Club's ambitious plans is a fascinating story. But it's the people who were negatively affected by the collapse of the business who are the real story, and it's a telling commentary that they're also the people least likely to be made whole through this process. Their stories, and their ability to make a living from whatever happens next on those 838 acres, are the real reasons to hope the Hermitage Club has some sort of productive future.

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