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'It's A Mess': Deerfield Valley Worries About Economic Impact Of Hermitage Closure

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Camille Swanson, right, and her husband Doug Swanson own Swan Electric in Wilmington. The company has had to scramble for work for this coming summer after The Hermitage shut down.

As The Hermitage resort in Wilmington struggles to emerge from its financial difficulties, others in the Deerfield Valley are worried about the ongoing effect of the resort’s closure.The Hermitage is a private, four-season resort that includes a ski mountain, golf club and wedding facility. The state of Vermont shut down operations in March after the owner, Jim Barnes, failed to make payments on back taxes he owes — currently, Barnes owes almost $1 million.

More from VPR: Tax Department Shuts Down The Hermitage Ski Resort [March 19]

Berkshire Bank also is moving ahead with foreclosure proceedings because Barnes has not been making payments on the more than $16 million he owes the bank.

And Wilmington Selectboard member John Gannon says The Hermitage also owes the town more than $800,000 in back taxes.

Gannon says that while Barnes, the owner, owes a lot of people a lot of money, the town is worried about having the golf course and the wedding and party facilities quiet during the summer.

“Obviously right now there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty as to what’s going to happen with the club,” Gannon said. “You know, for Wilmington, our busiest two months of the year are July and August. So we’re getting close, you know, to that time, and it’s unclear what the status of The Hermitage Club will be over the course of the summer.”

If The Hermitage is closed throughout the summer there will be financial impacts felt throughout the Deerfield Valley, says Gannon. He notes it’s probably too late for people to book their weddings there, and organizations that hold their annual golf fundraisers at The Hermitage have had to take their business elsewhere.

And Barnes bought restaurants and inns all over Wilmington which are now closed up, just as the busy summer season gets closer and people are looking to make reservations.

The Hermitage did not respond to numerous requests to comment for this story.

"It’s a mess for a lot of people — from, you know, the club members, to contractors and vendors in the area, to people who just provide services" — John Gannon, Wilmington Selectboard member

Gannon, who also represents Wilmington in the Vermont Legislature, says it will probably be a little while before The Hermitage is once again contributing to the local economy.

“It’s a mess,” Gannon says. “It’s a mess for a lot of people — from, you know, the club members, to contractors and vendors in the area, to people who just provide services.”

Swan Electric has been working for The Hermitage ever since it opened in 2011, and co-owner Camille Swanson says contractors throughout the region have supported Barnes’ plan to build an exclusive member-only resort from the start.

“We were there in the very beginning,” Swanson said. “We’ve been involved in many of the residential homes and the condominiums and some of the snowmaking. And it was exciting. It was an exciting time.”

And she says when the news hit a few months ago that The Hermitage was in some serious financial trouble, it affected a lot of people.

"Until six months ago, or four months ago, we were planning on doing some work there. We had things lined up. Well now that's not happening." — Camille Swanson, Swan Electric

Swanson says Swan Electric turned down other jobs because they thought they’d be busy all summer at The Hermitage, and the sudden closure has affected other contractors around the region.

“Until six months ago, or four months ago, we were planning on doing some work there. We had things lined up,” she says. “Well now that’s not happening, and that’s not just us — that’s everybody in the Valley that does construction.

"You know, we depend on this. We plan for it. We staff for it. We buy vans for it. We buy trucks for it. We, you know, do all those things in preparation. And then when things don’t happen, it becomes difficult. It's big. You know, it’s a big impact.”

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Construction projects around The Hermitage are at a standstill since the Vermont Department of Taxes shut down the private resort. The owner owes money to construction businesses all over the region.

Construction up at The Hermitage has stopped. Slabs of concrete are piled up where a new hotel was supposed to go, and there are open foundations where club members hoped their new homes would be built.

Swanson says the members and the staff and all of the rest of the contractors who are still waiting to get paid are holding out hope that a group of buyers step up and take over The Hermitage.

“You know there’s many more homes to be built, and there’s much more to come from that — you know, which it can really benefit our community,” Swanson said. “It would be the worst thing to have it not be successful, and to have it actually become, you know, something that ends up being empty and unused.”

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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