Hermitage members unite in hopes of reopening

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WILMINGTON — With hopes of skiing Haystack Mountain this coming winter, a group of Hermitage Club members would like to see a speedy sale of the properties involved in bankruptcy hearings.

"The members want to move as quickly as possible to rebuild the close sense of community they and their families built together and enjoyed together at the club," Tim Treanor and Stuart Kovensky of the ad hoc committee of members said Sunday night in an email response to questions.

"Although in the meantime members have found alternatives for skiing and golf, the members have continued to gather together and stay connected to each other and to the community. A significant number of members own or rent properties in the [Deerfield] Valley and have continued to come to enjoy time in Vermont."

Those members "have a strong desire to bring it all back together at a club with new ownership and management," and "want to be constructive members of the larger community in the valley," according to the email. "So the view of our group is that time is of the essence — we need to get the club reopened for our families, get people back to work, and return economic vitality and the tax base to the valley."

The Ad-hoc Committee of Members has been allowed to participate in bankruptcy proceedings involving the Hermitage.

Committee members contributed funding to hire counsel "to advance the interests of the members collectively in reviving the Hermitage Club and ensuring that the club has a stable future," according to the email.

Treanor and Kovensky said their group grew out work Hermitage founder Jim Barnes commissioned in the 2017-18 ski season. Members were asked to serve on a Member Advisory Board and an Independent Finance Committee.

"A lot of members contributed significant pro bono time to help Jim and the club to try to be successful," Treanor and Kovensky said. "Those members worked hard to represent the interests of the members generally in moving the club

forward.

"They made real progress and held a number of open communications sessions with members to update them on the work and to address their questions."

Members "finally" felt they had a voice and some influence in how the club was being run but Barnes decided to disband the board and committee after "member input did not satisfy his needs," according to the email.

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"When that happened it was evident to many of us that things were not on the right path and that the membership would need a unified voice and a seat at the table in whatever direction the club took and as events unfolded," Treanor and Kovensky said. "We drafted a charter and began to discuss the concept of an overall member group with leaders of various member interest groups. These discussions were very well received with positive support and encouragement for us to keep moving forward."

That ultimately led the formation of the ad hoc committee, which was originally called the Member Restructuring Committee.

"Despite all of the issues that we had faced with how the club was being managed/mismanaged, there was a strong and growing chorus from members to get the club back on track and to secure/stabilize the community experience that the member families had built together and wanted to preserve," Treanor and Kovensky said. "We were also very concerned about the impact all of this was having, and would continue to have, on employees, contractors, service providers, and the local host communities. It has been our core mission since our founding to fully and strongly represent the collective interests of all members — not individual or select members — and to ensure that the club will be a trusted and dependable source of economic and cultural vitality."

Several subcommittees have been organized to provide independent fact gathering and analysis on legal and financial issues, real estate, club operations, communications and community relations. Hundreds of members volunteered their skills and expertise in those areas, according to the email.

Three members who specialize in survey design, administration and analysis put together a survey. More than 360 members responded, which Treanor and Kovensky considered a 72 percent response rate.

They said 81 percent of the respondents were satisfied or highly satisfied with their overall club experience, 68 percent believe the club has a good or high value, 68 percent are very interested in reactivating their membership if the club is successfully restructured, 81 percent are more likely to reactivate their membership if it is restructured by new ownership and management, and 2 percent said they were likely to reactivate their membership if it is restructured by current management.

"From the beginning, we knew that time was of the essence and that the longer the club remained closed or in limbo, the greater the chance that asset value would decline, member interest would wane and the damage to local communities would continue," Treanor and Kovensky wrote. "By the spring, we knew that this had to move into a bankruptcy process quickly to get things moving and resolved for the benefit of all without losing another season."

They said the committee paid legal expenses for the three creditors who filed an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition against the Hermitage in May and sought liquidation of the assets. That happened days before the Hermitage filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition in hopes of reorganizing the company.

To get the club back open in time for the ski season, the committee believes a sale of the properties to be the best path forward.

"If successful, a turnkey takeover by new ownership/management could happen," Treanor and Kovensky said. "Any new owner would have the critical value and support of an engaged member base willing to recommit and support the club financially consistent with the value offered."

They said they are working on getting financial support from members, and a number of potential investors and partners recognize the value of the club and the "built-in" support of the members.

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


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