Quick EB-5 solution sought at Mount snow

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DOVER — Mount Snow administrators have asked the federal government to "expedite" approval of an independent EB-5 regional center in Vermont so they can solicit more foreign investment before year's end.

That news came Thursday as Peak Resorts, Mount Snow's Missouri-based parent company, reported its latest financial results.

Analysts asked the company several questions about the troubled EB-5 investment program. In response, Mount Snow leaders said they are working hard to separate the Dover resort's expansion plans from Vermont's EB-5 center, which federal officials have threatened to close.

"Going forward, we don't believe that [the state] is going to have a major impact on our ability to raise funds, because we'll be raising those funds out of our own regional center," said Tim Boyd, Peak's president and CEO. "We will not be raising them through the state of Vermont's regional center."

The federal EB-5 program, which offers visas and permanent U.S. residency to foreigners who invest in job-creating projects, has been driving growth at Mount Snow.

The resort raised $52 million in its first EB-5 offering. After a prolonged federal approval process that caused financial stress at Mount Snow and Peak, the companies gained access to that money in December and quickly put it to use.

Mount Snow administrators in June broke ground for their new, EB-5-funded Carinthia Lodge, which is expected to be ready for the 2018-19 ski season.

Foreign investment also is paying for the 120-million-gallon West Lake snowmaking expansion at Mount Snow. During Thursday's earnings report, Boyd touted that project several times and said it is "ahead of schedule and nearly complete."

"We expect to have it fully filled by early November, when we'll begin to start making snow," he said. "The long-term benefit that will be realized here will be our ability to open more terrain quicker, (and) that will result in more skier visits (in the) early season for us."

Mount Snow is eyeing a major housing expansion for its next EB-5 project - the creation of 102 luxury condominium units with "ski-in, ski-out" access.

But the EB-5 program, coordinated in Vermont through a state-operated regional center, has come under intense scrutiny due to allegations of large-scale fraud at Jay Peak Resort.

Citing the Jay Peak scandal, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services last month announced plans to close the state's EB-5 regional center. State officials vowed to appeal that decision, arguing that the center should be phased out slowly rather than shut immediately.

Mount Snow administrators hadn't commented on that development until Thursday, when Boyd brushed aside concerns about any fallout for the resort's expansion projects.

"From our perspective, the problems that the state of Vermont has had are all centered around the Jay Peak project," Boyd said. "That part of it hasn't had any real effect on us." Mount Snow previously has signaled its intent to establish its own EB-5 regional center in order to continue pursuing foreign investment. But Boyd disclosed that the company asked Citizenship and Immigration Services to approve a new regional center in December, months before that news was made public.

"It was always our plan, once the state started having problems with the Jay Peak issue, to move out of that regional center and move into one of our own so that we aren't associated with that state organization," he said.

The question is whether federal officials will approve Mount Snow's EB-5 center and, if so, how soon. Boyd said the company is awaiting "final approval" but also said administrators have tried to nudge the federal government into action.

"We actually recently have made a request to have that expedited, so we can get that approved so that we can use that for our next offering coming up," Boyd said.

Citizenship and Immigration Services officials said they were unable to provide information about any application from Mount Snow or Peak Resorts.

A USCIS spokeswoman said the agency currently is considering regional center applications submitted on or before December 25, 2015 — a full year, apparently, before Mount Snow's application was submitted.

Boyd sounded optimistic that a favorable decision is forthcoming. "We expect to be able to get out our next (EB-5) offering sometime before the end of the year," he said. EB-5 issues aside, Peak leaders also said they were optimistic about the upcoming ski season at their 14 resorts. The company has said sales of its "Peak Pass," which offers access to seven resorts including Mount Snow, are up about 9 percent over last year.

Boyd said he's not worried about the recent expansions of Vail Resorts, which earlier this year acquired Stowe Mountain Resort, and KSL Capital Partners, which now controls Stratton Mountain Resort.

"Their presence in our markets is still very limited," Boyd said. "We don't anticipate at this point in time that they're going to have much impact."

Mike Faher writes for VTDigger, the Brattleboro Reformer and The Commons. He can be contacted at mfaher@vtdigger.org.


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