Haystack officials announced this week that they’re aggressively pursuing the same EB-5 visa program that has pumped more than $250 million in foreign investment into Jay Peak. The federal “immigrant investment program,” administered by the state of Vermont, was created in the early 1990s to stimulate the economy through foreign investment. Under the program, foreign nationals who invest a minimum of $500,000 receive permanent residency (commonly called a “green card”), along with their spouse and children. The investment must create or preserve 10 jobs, and investors can live and work anywhere in the United States.
In Vermont, the Agency of Commerce and Community Development EB-5 Regional Center administers the program, and approved activities include ski industry development, manufacturing, information technology, professional services, education, and health care.
Since 2005, Jay Peak has funded an ambitious expansion through several EB-5 investment phases, raising more than $250 million from more than 500 investors from 56 countries, according to Jay Peak President William Stenger in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Stenger said the program has created more than 2,000 jobs, and will create another 2,000 jobs over the next two years.
So is Haystack a good candidate for the program? Haystack’s Bob Rubin says it is. He and Haystack owner Jim Barnes have hired a team of consultants with experience in the EB-5 program. Rubin says Haystack meets the program requirements, including the number of jobs that will be created at the resort, outside the resort, as well as the jobs created during construction and after construction. The team must prepare a study that includes the job numbers as well as cost projections and revenue. “It’s complicated, but doable,” Rubin said. “We have all the elements we need to present an excellent package to the program.”
One of the EB-5 projects that added to Jay Peak’s recent success was their new water park, and in Haystack’s second surprise announcement this week, Rubin said plans for a Haystack water park are on the drawing board. “Ski areas that have invested in water parks have enjoyed excellent success,” said Chris Shaddock, director of membership at Haystack Club. The proposed indoor/outdoor water park would be a four-season attraction, and the plan is to build the park on the site of the old “new” base lodge in front of the Hayfever lift.
Although Haystack is building a private ski club in accordance with their original purchase and sale agreement with Mount Snow, Rubin says some Haystack amenities may be open to the public, just as the Haystack Golf Club is now.
But Haystack developers remain enthusiastic about the resort’s private club aspect, as well. Shaddock says the concept appeals to a certain “niche” buyer – someone who’s looking for a top-notch skiing experience without the crowded slopes of the public resorts. He equates it to a private country club or yacht club. “All other popular ski resorts have some private entities, but Haystack is going to be a private, gated community,” Shaddock says. “We want the people who are looking to avoid the masses.”
Shaddock says Haystack Club will offer a piece of southern Vermont to about 1,500 of the 60 million people within a five-hour drive of Haystack. They’ll have access to almost 1,000 acres of Haystack holdings, including the Haystack Golf Club, and the Hermitage. Shaddock says Barnes continues to add new properties. The huge property includes hiking and biking trails, snowmobile trails, and “secret” fishing spots.
Jill Adams, who recently joined the Haystack team, says the 1,500 new second-home owners will provide a tremendous boost to the community. “Just think how 1,500 new people will impact our economic development,” she says. “And second-home owners love to support the local economy.”
Rubin says Haystack also supports local businesses whenever possible, and has used local products and labor in their recent construction. They recently finished their membership center and three other townhouses in the building that was partially completed before work halted in 2007. In October they started work on their second building.
Shaddock says the club is closing in on its 10th member since sales opened last month, but he expects it to “snowball” once the ski season is up and running. “We need snow, and when we get it, people are going to come here,” he says. “They need three inches in their backyards to believe we have a foot.”
Haystack hopes to be open for skiing on Friday. Under their purchase and sale agreement, Haystack can sell up to 250 tickets a day to local residents, and they’re hoping the locals will come and use the mountain. “We need them to come help us with day ticket sales,” Rubin says. “We want to invite Wilmington skiers and we hope they come along with our buyers.” Prospective buyers can also ski the mountain as part of the tour when they visit the sales office.
Although Shaddock says the team has been “doing our snow dance,” they’re also looking at more reliable methods for supplementing Mother Nature.
The resort has purchased about 25 new, efficient, fan guns to supplement the old snow guns, which will still be part of the resort’s snowmaking system for now.
Other new equipment includes a brand new Pisten Bully dubbed the “Haystack Catallac” which, in addition to grooming, will ferry passengers to and from the Hermitage. The Hayfever lift has been substantially renovated, and Rubin says Witches is next on the list. “In five or six weeks, people will be able to ski the Witches,” he says, referring to some of the mountain’s more challenging terrain.
Other projects that will get underway in the next several months include a new lift, a base lodge, and a new maintenance building. Rubin says Haystack has a “team of experts” working on all aspects of the development.
“The best part of this is, the whole region is going to benefit,” says Shaddock. “People have an opportunity to be part of this at different levels, whether as a member or someone who has a full-time, year-round job.”