GIVE CANNON MOUNTAIN A NEW LEASE ON LIFE

by NH Sen. Ted Gatsas and NH Rep. Gene Chandler

Cannon Mountain Ski Area located in Franconia Notch, is known for its challenging terrain and family friendly atmosphere.  Unfortunately, it is also known for its low skier attendance, yearly deficits and financial burden upon the state park system and taxpayers.  It’s time for a new day at Cannon Mountain, one with thriving attendance, improved infrastructure and increased revenues to enable it to run on its own two feet.  It’s time to seriously consider leasing Cannon Mountain. 

Cannon Mountain is a businessa business that’s losing money.  The ski industry is volatile and the State of NH is ill equipped to be successful in this type of business.  A public-private leasing partnership of Cannon Mountain is the answer to its financial woes. 

To clearly understand the benefit of leasing Cannon Mountain, one must examine the Mount Sunapee success story.  Over the course of seven years at Mount Sunapee private monies have been invested to improve trails and infrastructure while maintaining the integrity of the state park.  The numbers speak for themselves: skier attendance at Sunapee has increased 45%, $2,892,492 has been paid to the state of New Hampshire in lease payments, $635,000 collected in state business taxes, $589,000 collected in state rooms and meals taxes, $720,000 has been paid in local property taxes and $2.7 million has been invested annually in salaries and wages at Mount Sunapee. 

Conversely, the financial history of Cannon Mountain is spotty at best.  Year after year, Cannon runs in the red.  Since 2004 Cannon Mountain has lost nearly $1.2 Million from its Capital Account and that is just where the money drain begins.  Year after year, skier attendance has flat lined due to Cannon’s lack of terrain diversity, and because it is a state-owned entity, no taxes at the state and local level are being collected.  Cannon is operating on the back of the taxpayer regardless of an affinity for skiing. 

The other piece of the Cannon Mountain story is the entire state park system of the State of New Hampshire.  The parks are in total disrepair; campgrounds need upgrades, trails need maintenance and historic landmarks and structures need refurbishing.  In 2006 the legislature, in conjunction with, Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) produced an in-depth study of the overall system.  Part of their findings read as follows, “The Legislature should approve two bonds totaling $20 million in succeeding biennium’s. The Commission believes that is the minimum necessary to meet the most urgent needs in the state park system. As part of a request to the legislature, the Director of Parks will provide a detailed and prioritized plan for the expenditure of these funds, including the impact on revenue generation throughout the park system.”

A public-private leasing partnership for Cannon Mountain is the solution to our problems.    Lease payments to DRED (from Sunapee and Cannon combined) will be enough to pay the debt service on a $20 million dollar bond.  Business taxes and the rooms and meals taxes will provide the revenue to the state for ongoing park improvement after the upgrades are made.  The local communities will be able to collect property taxes from the mountain to aid their local economies.  From a public-private partnership upgrades and improvements are possible and with that comes more skiers, which mean more tourists that equals more spending that will benefit the local economies and the state park system as a whole.  What is also important about a lease proposition for Cannon is the potential to save the taxpayers of New Hampshire millions of dollars.  We owe it to the taxpayers to make Cannon profitable.  

Opponents of this possibility see Cannon through rose colored glasses, choosing to ignore its serious funding issues, and claiming that leasing the mountain will jeopardize the integrity of the park and decrease access.  The success of Sunapee is a testament to these concerns.  This is not an issue of development, there is no place to build as Cannon is surrounded by state park land and the state will have control of lease details.  The issue is about saving our park system without hurting the taxpayer.  

Cannon could and should be the crowning jewel of our North Country.  It’s time we give it a new lease on life. 
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Senator Ted Gatsas of District 16 which is comprised of Bow, Candia, Dunbarton, Hooksett and Wards 1, 2 and 12 in the city of Manchester and Representative Gene Chandler who represents Carroll District 1 which is comprised of Bartlett, Chatham, Conway, Hale’s Location, Heart’s Location, and Jackson