Alpine coaster is Gunstock's latest attraction

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(Photo ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN)

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Mountain Resort, said this week that work is progressing smoothly on an alpine coaster which will become the next attraction at the resort's Adventure Park and that he is hopeful that the ride will be open in time for the July 4th holiday.
Goddard said that the one saving grace of a warm winter that deeply cut skier turnout at the county-owned resort was that the warmth did allow work to proceed faster than expected on the coaster, which is built adjacent to the tubing hill and ski jumps.
Work on the $2.6 million project got underway in December with cutting of trees and staking out the path of the track, which consists of 53 individual concrete footings that had to be placed within a one inch tolerance on the X and Y axis in their strategic locations. Some of these footings were precast and others were made on site at Gunstock.
Electric and water lines also had to be installed and by mid March the first coaster parts, which were manufactured in Germany, arrived.
"At one point we had 170 tons of steel on site," says Goddard, who says that the ride is being installed by crews from Wiegand, a German company with more than 200 coasters around the world, including two in New Hampshire. Gunstock has had 16 of its staff working on the project as well.
Riders will board the coaster carts at the terminal building at the foot of the hill next to the Adventure Park. They will then take a 1,800-foot ride up the mountain along a path through the woods in which they will ride 20 to 30 feet off the ground in some areas before heading onto the 2,660-foot downhill track, which makes two complete circles, known as helixes, and has several sharp turns and crosses five bridges.
The downhill ride has a vertical drop of 221 feet and speeds will reach 25 mph. Riders will use a brake to control their speed and there is also an automatic anti-collision system built in. There will be 40 cars, and rides will last six to eight minutes.
"It's going to be a really exciting ride," says Goddard. "We designed it so that it would be close to the trees and give you a real feel of moving through the forest. We think people will love it and let all their friends know how much fun it is."
He anticipates that the coaster will operate at 25 percent of capacity in the summer and 30 percent of capacity on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the winter, when there are more visitors at the resort. Altogether, the coaster is expected to carry nearly 85,000 riders a year. At an average ride price of $12, the coaster is projected to return an annual operating profit of $530,000, which is one-and-half times the highest annual debt payment.
Goddard explained that the development of the Adventure Park, with its spring and summer attractions, has been the keystone of the resort's strategy to become a four-season recreational destination. He pointed out that 5 million people visit the Lakes Region in the spring, summer and fall.

"We have to get them off the lakes and onto the mountains," he said.
In 2010, total sales between May and October were $1 million, but since the opening of the Aerial Treetop Adventure Course and Segway Off-Road Adventure Tours, they have more than doubled to $2.4 million in 2014 and over $2.2 million last year. Altogether, the Adventure Park has generated more than $7 million in direct sales while increasing collateral sales from retail operations, food and beverages and chairlift rides.
Goddard said that the long-range plan foresees investing $21.5 million in all aspects of the resort's facilities and activities during the next decade. He pointed out that in 2000 Belknap County's equity in the resort was a negative $3.7 million while today it is a positive $9.5 million, a turnaround of $13.1 million.
Gunstock's winter skiing, snowboarding and tubing attractions attract between 140,000 and 170,000 visitors a year and generate between $7 million and $9 million a year in revenues. Originally opened as the Belknap Mountain Recreation Area in 1938 Gunstock was built as Works Progress Administration project during the Depression and is the only county-owned ski area in the country.

City presents improvement plans for Lakeside Avenue

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — "I've been waiting for this for years," said Joe Driscoll, a founding member and first president of the Weirs Action Committee, after city officials presented plans for reconstructing Lakeside Avenue to a few dozen residents and business owners at the Weirs Community Center this week.

Paul Moynihan, director of Public Works, explained that the essence of the project will consist of replacing the water main, improving the storm drainage and improving the sanitary sewer, then reconstructing the roadway with new new curbing and sidewalks between US Route 3 (Endicott Street North) and Tower Street, a distance of 2,200 feet. Bump-outs would be added to each of the four crosswalks to enhance the safety of pedestrians. At the same time, Moynihan said that said that moving the fire hydrants to the bump-outs would limit the loss of parking spaces to less than half a dozen.

Driscoll, who has sometimes bridled at the city's treatment of The Weirs, said he is pleased with the project, but regrets that it reaches only as far as Tower Street, rather than go another block, where Lakeside Avenue is lined with commercial properties, to Foster Street.

What Moynihan called the "base project" is estimated to cost $1 million. City Manager Scott Myers included borrowing the amount to undertake the work in the budget he recommended to the City Council last month. He said that cost includes paving the sidewalks with asphalt, but noted that concrete sidewalks could be installed for an additional $70,000.

In addition to the base project, Moynihan presented a menu of additional features, which altogether would add another $1.7 million to the cost of the project. Of these, burying the overhead utilities, a longstanding priority of the Weirs Action Committee, is the most expensive at an estimated cost of $700,000. Moreover, if the 14 utility poles are removed, 12 street lights hung from those poles would have to be replaced. Moynihan said that replacing the lights, which at a height of 30 feet illuminate the entire street, would require lining both sides of the street with 50 LED lights mounted 16 feet high and spaced 75 feet apart, at a projected cost of $250,000.

Myers noted that burying the utilities will require four property owners on the south side of Lakeside Avenue to consent to placing sector cabinets and transformers on their lots. He said that a decision to bury the utilities must be made in June to enable Eversource to start work in the fall as the timetable prescribes.

Moynihan suggested that the parking meters could be replaced with 14 solar-powered kiosks that accept either coins or credit cards at a cost $150,000. Likewise, the crosswalks could simply be painted at no additional cost or finished with inlaid markings for $30,000 or stamped colored concrete for $60,000. Finally, Moynihan added $20,000 for placing benches and stonework on the bump-outs.

Myers said the base project would be funded by $1 million in the budget. The cost of the additional items, including the burial of the utilities, would be defrayed by a borrowing serviced by proceeds of the the Weirs Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District. He said that in the two years since the TIF District was established, it has accrued a balance of $30,000, not enough to fund the likely debt service. He suggested that the city could share a diminishing share of the debt service until the TIF district accrued sufficient funds to carry it all, which he expected may take five years.

The timetable for the project calls for the water, drainage and sewer work to begin the day after Labor Day and be completed this fall. At the same time, work to bury the utilities would also begin in the fall with the transfer from overhead to underground scheduled for the winter of this year and the spring of next. The roadway and sidewalk would be reconstructed next spring and the final pavement laid in the fall.

The next step is to winnow the additional features to be added to the base project. Myers said that the Weirs TIF Advisory Committee will meet on June 1 and he expected the City Council to consider the project when it meets on June 13.

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Lakeside Avenue in The Weirs

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What bump-outs would look like.

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Robert Ames, foreground, and Charlie St. Clair examine the plans for Lakeside Avenue. (Michael Kitch photo/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

Annalee Dolls has new owners, location

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

MEREDITH —Annalee Dolls, a New Hampshire tradition and Meredith landmark for more than eight decades, has new owners and a new home.

A partnership headed by Andrew Button recently acquired the firm, which since 2009 was owned by David Pelletier and Bob Watson of the Imagine Compnay headquartered in Hong Kong, which manufactured the dolls in China.

At the same time, the company, which left the "The Factory in Woods," where it began in 1934, for the Old Province Common on NH Route 104 then moved to The Shops at Meredith Place on Maple Street, will be moving to the building on US Route 3 that last housed Meredith Ford. Speaking for the company, Betsy Pelletier said "We are really very happy to be keeping the brand in Meredith."

Annalee Dolls will lease the building with an option to purchase it. Pelletier said that in addition to relocating its retail outlet, the company will bring its warehousing operation to Meredith from Maryland. The building will reconfigured and renovated to include a showroom, assembly area and office as well as the warehouse.

Pelletier said that along with the design team, which has always worked in Meredith, the "Assembled in America Collection" will continue at the new location. She said that two or three special dolls will be on offer and customers entering the show room and placing an order will be able to watch as their doll is assembled.

Pelletier said she expected the warehouse would begin to operate in June, with the remainder of the space to be occupied and opened by the middle of July.