Newport Conference Center Deal Falls Through

Aug 21, 2014

A keystone in the redevelopment plan for the city of Newport has toppled. Jay Peak Resort owner Bill Stenger was counting on buying a shopping center from real estate developer Tony Pomerleau, and converting it into a convention center and marina.

But after some starts and stops, the deal has finally fallen through.

Bill Stenger and Tony Pomerleau have had an on-again, off-again agreement to transfer ownership of this waterfront plaza. Strategically located on a causeway overlooking  Lake Memphremagog, Stenger says it would make a great convention center and marina.

But speaking by cell phone from his yacht in Burlington, Pomerleau says Stenger failed to make the first of several down payments of  $1 million each.

“And he just didn’t come up with the money and I’ve been waiting for four years and I couldn’t wait any longer,” Pomerleau said.

Pomerleau says he felt an obligation to his tenants as he was waiting for Stenger to pay him.

“And I had to be fair to my clients because they had to be moving on or before June, so he made a lot of promises to me which he could not fulfill apparently. So I said, ‘okay the deal is off,’ and the amazing part…not one person called me disappointed that they did not have the convention center,” he said.

"And he [Bill Stenger] just didn't come up with the money and I've been waiting for four years, and I couldn't wait any longer." -- Real estate developer Tony Pomerleau

Pomerleau says a lot of locals tell him they need a shopping center with a supermarket and a pharmacy more than they need a convention center. By next week, he says all the leases but one — a theater — will be renewed.

Bill Stenger was unable to return VPR’s phone calls as he left Thursday for a conference on EB5 funding in Chicago. That’s the federal program that’s supposed to provide much of the financing for a $600 million redevelopment plan for the Northeast Kingdom. Under EB5, qualified foreign investors can get visas for investing in U.S. projects in areas that need economic development. Stenger’s project has been bogged down of late.

But in an email Stenger wrote: “We are committed to a conference center hotel in Newport. There is more than one site potential. Yes, the Pomerleau plaza is not part of our plan as of now. We continue to work on the other quality possibilities.”

Pomerleau says Stenger has been trying to buy another one of his buildings, the former JJ Newberry building on Main Street, but has not yet come up with the purchase price, and has proposed to lease it instead.

Meanwhile, other redevelopment projects, including a new ski lodge at Burke Mountain and a biotech center in Newport, are proceeding on schedule.