Hermitage Club reopening plan hits roadblock

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NEWFANE — Court-appointed Alan Tantleff of FTI Consulting is still hopeful that Hermitage Club officials and Berkshire Bank can reach a resolution but he did not support a plan to reopen ski operations as suggested by the club's president around December.

"I responded that the order precluded operating but I would look at a reasonable, well-funded and thoughtful plan if it was in the best interest of all parties," Tantleff wrote last week in his fourth report, eight months into receivership. "I received a budget that I deemed inadequate to safely operate, and in response I outlined my concerns. The borrower has not since responded."

Appointed as receiver via an order issued in Windham Superior Court, Civil Division in June, Tantleff is tasked with preserving the value of Hermitage properties foreclosed by Berkshire Bank in February including the private ski resort at Haystack Mountain, golf course, four inns and several townhouses.

"Repeatedly throughout my tenure as receiver, the borrower has announced a 'restructuring' to members and the public," he wrote. "I will continue to serve until dismissed by the court; although I do hope the parties come to a successful resolution."

Tantleff said he has not participated in any meetings or discussions regarding permits or future development.

"[T]he borrower continues to do so," he wrote, noting that a fee for an air pollution permit must be paid to the state in order to operate.

Hermitage officials have appealed the Wilmington Development Review Board's decision not to grant a second extension for a permit to build a hotel near Haystack.

Similar to earlier reports, Tantleff was positive about the state of the properties.

"The subject properties have shown significant improvements after I received funding from the bank," he said, as the bank pays him with the expectation that it will later recoup the expenses. "The funding has allowed for regular maintenance and various repairs which maintain the business viability and collateral value of the subject properties."

Hermitage managers have "worked tirelessly" to improve conditions of the properties, Tantleff wrote, adding that "a general lack of preventive maintenance on the part of previous managers caused significant damage to the subject properties prior to my arrival. These issues ... have generally been resolved through the receivership."

Following a court hearing in November, a licensed lift mechanic was rehired by the Hermitage using bank funds. The work plan includes assessing the functionality of all chairlifts, checking the heat of lift terminals, lubing haul ropes, relocating grips, filling gear boxes and winterization. And the Barnstormer lift, which has been the subject of litigation in Connecticut, is being maintained.

"To date, the director of mountain operations and lift mechanic have been able to run all of the lifts on either primary or backup power and have not identified any major issues or faults," Tantleff wrote. "The only issues identified with the lifts have been electrical problems associated with the safety circuits, but the lift mechanic and director of mountain operations have expressed that this would be a 'quick fix' in the situation that the lifts are scheduled to be open and operating."

Snow and freezing temperatures have restricted greasing or oiling of the lifts, according to the report. The lubrication process is expected to begin in March when it's warmer outside.

Hermitage managers have provided weekly security reports on "a timely basis," wrote Tantleff, who said he inspects the properties himself on a regular basis. Projects since his last report involved a heating, ventilation, air and cooling repair; a cleaning a grease trap; generator maintenance; sprinkler inspection at the Clubhouse and boiler cleaning at the Clubhouse, Hermitage Inn, Hermitage Inn Carriage House and Snow Goose Inn.

Hermitage managers lost their healthcare in November due to lack of payment by the company, according to the report. Tantleff said he is "investigating all potential solutions" so any employees he pays have coverage.

The receivership has cost about $592,000 at the time of the report. Tantleff said about $25,000 is left in a fund for his work.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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