LACONIA — The Belknap County Convention voted 11-2 Monday night to approve a $2.6 million bond issue which will add an alpine coaster attraction to the Gunstock Mountain Resort's Adventure Park offerings.
The vote came after a public hearing on the proposal and survived an attempt to postpone the vote until next month when more members of the 18-member convention could be present.
Rep. Peter Spanos (R-Laconia), who had originally questioned whether a vote should be taken with so many members absent, changed his mind later in the evening after seeking an assurance from Rep. Russ Dumais (R-Gilford), who chairs the convention's Gunstock Area Committee, that the proposal put forth by the Gunstock Area Commission, which projected the investment would pay for itself within five years, was a sound plan.
Dumais, who at one time had worked as a manager for Attitash Mountain, which installed an Alpine water slide at the former Alpine Ridge Ski Area in Gilford in the the 1980s, said that the proposal was a good plan and that he supported it.
Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford) also questioned the wisdom of taking a vote last night and voted against taking a vote, along with Rep. Roy Howard (R-Alton) and Rep. Sherry Lebreque (R-Belmont). That proposal lost 10-3 and Hurt then joined the majority in the 11-2 vote for the project.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) argued for taking a vote, pointing out that there were many instances in recent years when major decisions were made without all convention members being present.
He and Convention Vice Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) both maintained that the convention should act in a timely manner in order to allow the project to proceed and allow the county to obtain the lowest interest rates possible.
Hurt had earlier asked what harm would there be in putting off a vote on the proposed project for a year or two.
Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Mountain Resort, said that Gunstock was continually reinvesting in its infrastructure and that the projected surplus of over $500,000 a year from the alpine coaster ride could be used for more improvements to the area's year round attractions.
He said that the coaster, which carries riders in carts running on rails, will be built adjacent to the tubing hill and ski jumps.
Looking up the hill, the track taking riders to the starting point will follow to the right of the roadway that serves the jumps, reservoir and cell tower. The downhill track will wind through the wooded area to the right of the uphill track, making two complete circles and several sharp turns along the balance of its length. The downhill track will be 2,660 feet long with a vertical drop of 221 feet and a maximum grade of 18 percent. A round trip will take between four and five minutes, leaving the same amount of time to load and unload passengers. With 40 carts, the coaster can carry 250 riders an hour.
It is estimated that the ride will be completed in July 2016.
The project is estimated to cost $2.6 million, of which the purchase of the coaster represents $1.5 million. Goddard anticipated that the coaster will operate at 25 percent of capacity in the summer, and 30 percent of capacity and operate only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the winter, when there are more visitors at the resort. Altogether the coaster is expected to carry nearly 85,000 riders a year. At an average ride price of $12, the coaster is projected to return an annual operating profit of $530,000, which is one-and-half times the highest annual debt payment of the 10-year bond issue which is being sought to finance the project.
The convention also held a public hearing on the request of the Gunstock Area Commission for a $650,000 revenue anticipation note, which was approved by a 12-1 vote. The note will be repaid by April 1, 2016, from operating receipts.