County commissioners approve Big Moose Resort TIF District

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Piscataquis County Commissioners approved a tax increment finance district on April 20 for the proposed Big Moose Resort, a ski resort with year-round attractions on 1,700 acres overlooking Moosehead Lake. The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development will now review the project’s TIF application for approval.

The ski resort in Big Moose Township, an unorganized territory six miles north of Greenville, would replace the Big Squaw Mountain Ski Resort with new ski lifts, a hotel, marina, condominiums and more at the site that has fallen into disrepair. A portion of the slopes has been run by the Friends of Squaw Mountain for nearly a decade. A chairlift should be in place for the 2021-22 ski season. The hotel, lodge, brew pub and other amenities could open after the winter of 2021-22.

The commissioners formally backed the project in February, supporting the developers seeking up to $135 million in bonds through the Finance Authority of Maine, which was recently approved.

The bonds would cover the costs of acquiring the property and designing, constructing and equipping the resort. They would also cover initial operating costs and some financing-related costs, according to the commissioners’ resolution.

Project plans have been filed with the Land Use Planning Commission.

“You are creating a district in which we are freezing an assessed value,” Stephen Wagner of Rudman Winchell, said, as the difference between this and new value is captured via the TIF. With a TIF, new value goes back into the project and it would be capped at 80 percent for the ski resort and the other 20 percent would go into the county’s Unorganized Territory budget with future agreement amendments possible.

“The project is buying the old ski area and really developing it into a four-season area,” said developer Perry Williams of Spruce Head and Provident Resources Group of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He said the project will include a new chairlift, lodge, hotel, marina and housing parcels on about 200 acres of the property for up to 450 units to be built over time.

“The long-term goal is to make it really sustainable, so when it opens it stays open,” Williams said. He said the plan would create hundreds of full- and part-time jobs, with the bulk of these being year-round so the numbers do not go up and down by the season as is the case at other ski resorts.

“It will bring a lot of people who want to come here, stay here, work here and have their kids go to school here,” Williams said. 

He said the construction window is about 18 months, starting this summer with tearing down old structures and installing the chairlift to be in place for the 2021-22 ski season. The hotel, lodge, brew pub and other amenities could open after the winter of 2021-22.

“The grand opening would be Christmas 2022,” Williams said.

The TIF would be in place for 30 years to match the bond terms, Andy Nelson, executive vice president of Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure Capital, said.

“We’re not really asking anything of the county to take on risk in any way,” he said.

Commissioner Andy Torbett said given the history of proposals for the ski area falling through, the commissioners wanted to be sure the county would not be taking on financial obligations.

Currently about $20,000 in taxes is paid annually on the property.

Nelson said the Big Moose Resort TIF district would be composed of all 1,700 acres, including the mountain. The  plan is to gain tax exempt status for the bulk of the project, the exception being the housing parcel.

“The plan will bring families who will utilize schools and support our businesses,” Greenville Town Manager Michael Roy said, as the community is in support of the project.

“Clearly a tax increment financing district is the appropriate tool here for debt service and it will also help the county generate revenue for the area,” Moosehead Lake Region Economic Development Corp. President Steve Levesque said.

“Greenville’s had some real tough times the last 25, 30 years,” he said, saying the resort would provide numerous economic opportunities for the region.

Luke Muzzy of Greenville, senior land asset manager at Weyerhaeuser, said for the last decade and a half he has been traveling around the state to promote the Moosehead Lake region and the ski resort usually comes up in conversation. Muzzy said he hears “‘when is the mountain going to get back on its feet, when is the chair going to go back to the top of the mountain?’”

Muzzy said he is all for the TIF. 

“We still need a winter industry beyond what we have now,” he said. “In order for us to sustain our future, we need a mountain that’s sustainable. Not one that opens and closes and opens and closes.”

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