Barnes’ presentation included updates on marketing and membership totals, job creation, and the direct and indirect impacts his plan will have on the local economy. But the master plan begins with a key ingredient: memberships. “We started two seasons ago selling memberships the day it (Haystack) was sold,” said Barnes. “ We had 30 members in the first year, then with the new lift and new cabins, people started to get a great experience. It’s a vision that has worked.”
The Hermitage Club’s membership has since climbed to 200 members, and by using an aggressive media campaign, Barnes has his sights set on reaching 1,500 members over the next four years. The plan is to pick up 200 to 300 members each year, but Barnes also warned that initiation fees will continue to increase. When the Hermitage began selling memberships the initiation fee was $20,000, and has since been raised to $35,000. The cost will continue to rise in $10,000 increments on September 1, at the end of December, and in February 2014, when the cost will reach $65,000.
The new marketing strategies include the use of digital and print media, in-home marketing, and the employment of three advertising and marketing firms. Another part of the plan is to sell corporate memberships to businesses within the five-state area, as well as local innkeepers and real estate companies. Barnes said this would allow more visitors to use the Hermitage Club, while also filling rooms at more inns throughout the valley. “This will allow their guests to use the club for a day as a member would, including the spa and workout facility,” said Barnes. “We see this as a great way to tie in all the interests of the valley.” Barnes hopes to eventually turn those corporate guests into full-time members.
Along with building a membership base, the Hermitage has been working on the physical layout. Work has already begun on the 80,000-square-foot base lodge, complete with a two-lane lap pool, movie theater, workout facility, teen recreation headquarters, 1,500 lockers, a salon, and a spa. Barnes presented his audience with slides depicting each level, as well as the unbeatable view of the valley, which will be on display from all corners.
Barnes also explained that plans for the lower mountain area known as Stags Leap have changed, shying away from the original plan that featured more development. “The lower area was designed with more townhouses, and a hotel complex,” said Barnes. “What we decided to do was really back down the level of development there and treat it more with a nice, open, private feeling with barn-styled houses, sugarhouses, and farmhouses, and things that look really attractive and really Vermont.”
Stags Leap will include three cul-de-sacs featuring 14 home sites that the Hermitage anticipates permits for during the first week of September. The homes will have ski-in, ski-out access, and will also access a new lift, which will take skiers from the gatehouse at the entrance to the upper mountain, with a stop midway at Stags Leap.
The presentation also comes just under a month after the town of Wilmington and the Hermitage entered into a purchase and sale agreement for 55 town-owned tax lots in the East Tract and High Peaks area. According to Barnes, the newly acquired elbow room will allow the Hermitage to expand the airport, and make local resorts and attractions more accessible from airports like Westchester, NY, Martha’s Vineyard, MA, and Teterboro, NJ.
Along with airport expansion, the new land will serve part of the Valley Trail from Wilmington to Dover, and the VAST access trails for recreational vehicles. The Hermitage also plans to combine their newly acquired lots to create open space and facilitate bear habitats.
Over the next 24 months the Hermitage has a planned $31 million budget to make the plans a reality, with $20 million alone going into the 450-unit base lodge. Other expenses include the creation of a well that the Coldbrook Fire District will operate, costing Hermitage $1.8 million, and $2 million for two more cabins on the mountain. “Over seven years we will have added $5.5 million in property tax money to the Deerfield Valley,” said Barnes.
Along the way, Barnes says the Hermitage will be adding jobs to the area as more construction gets under way and as the resort’s facilities expand. Barnes said that while the exact number of full-time permanent jobs is yet to be determined, 75 to 80 employees are currently on the payroll and at least 100 more workers will be needed when the base lodge is finished. Most of these jobs will be targeted toward those in the 20-to-24 age group, which Barnes pointed out was a goal of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies.
Barnes made sure to note that the Hermitage had its goals set to support the surrounding towns as well, and is accomplishing that through selling homes to club members. Barnes said the Hermitage would continue to support groups like the Wilmington Fund VT, to make sure those towns can provide more reasons to come to the valley. “Folks coming here today, they want to shop, and we really hope that we have a really vital Wilmington,” said Barnes. “We’re supportive of all the businesses in town and want to make sure they’re very strong.
“This project lifts all the boats to the rising tide. We believe it, we see it when members come up here and buy furniture, snowmobiles, skis, clothing, are going to local restaurants. We believe by partnering with all the innkeepers and all the restaurants, retailers, and realtors, we can have a big economic impact on this valley. I can’t overemphasize, of the people that are coming here, at least 50% have never been to the Deerfield Valley. They’re coming because they want to be part of this.”