It's hard to know where to begin talking about the collapse of the EB five program in the Northeast Kingdom. We’re not at the beginning and we’re certainly not near the end. And just as certainly, all is not lost from an economic development point of view.
Jay Peak, largely with EB-5 foreign investment money, has turned into a four-season resort, just as Bill Stenger imagined. He sought to do the same at Burke Mountain. It’s pretty clear he will not now lead the effort.
But there are tens of millions of dollars in investment and hundreds of year-round jobs at stake and the state, to the best of its ability, must do what it can to help ensure the viability of these projects, not only for economic development, but for the peace of mind of Vermonters living in the Northeast Kingdom.
The nearly complete Q Burke Hotel should be the first order of business and the demolition site in downtown Newport should be second.
The Newport site is an open wound covered with weeds and cracked cement and imprisoned by a chain-link fence festooned with warning signs. It’s a metaphor for everything that went wrong.
That site still represents at least the potential for hope, as do the already developed projects at Jay and Burke. And there are examples of big projects with failed initial business plans and even criminal intent that turned out well for Vermont.
The original business plans for both the Inn at Essex and the Jack Nicklaus golf course in South Burlington didn't work out. These things happen. One must take risks in business. And in both cases new owners eventually came along with different plans and now both are thriving.
It’s also worth noting that the scheme to raise money to build the colossal Fletcher Allen Health Care underground parking garage ultimately sent the CEO at the time to jail. He cooked up an offshore financial deal. But it helped the hospital, now called The University of Vermont Medical Center, and it and the local economy have been the beneficiaries. Hardly anyone cares now about the history of those financial deals and everyone has moved on because the projects have become successful.
State and Newport officials have just discussed short and long-term opportunities for downtown Newport. In the short term, even a Band-Aid of turning that hole in the ground into green space would go a long way toward healing the wound.