It's been more than five years since the last skier went down the slopes at Powder Ridge.
But if residents OK Sean Hayes' proposal to buy the property and turn it into an adventure winter sports park, the developer is promising to bring skiing back to Middlefield by the end of 2014.
"We don't think we have a magic bullet. What we believe is between a bunch of things happening at the right time, amongst the right partners, with the right facility, the timing is right to restore Powder Ridge," Hayes told an audience of about 100 residents gathered at Memorial Middle School Thursday night for a public hearing on his plan.
Hayes has agreed to buy the 225 acre property from the town for $700,000 and invest another $2 million in restoring the abandoned ski area under the name Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort LLC.
The reality, according to Hayes, is that he will need to spend between $3.5 million-$4 million in phase one of his efforts to turn Powder Ridge back into the destination it once was.
"The plan is very simple: give everyone in the family something to do," he said.
Hayes' plan involves leveraging Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, his successful business in Portland, by combining the two businesses into one operation.
The synergies created by the two properties "make sense," said Hayes, who was joined at the hearing by his investors, a small group that included his brother, Ed.
The sales agreement between the town and Hayes will be voted on at referedum on Aug. 16. Last month, the agreement was approved 2-1 by selectmen and was endorsed by the town's Economic Development Commission.
On Thursday night, Hayes received several other endorsements, including one from Portland First Selectman Susan Bransfield who told the audience that she came to Middlefield to hear Brownston's plan for Powder Ridge for herself.
"I work with Sean a couple of times a week," she said. "We maintain a beautiful area in Portland. There were some neighbor problems in the very beginning. We've probably gone from 25, maybe 30 complaints in the summer the first year, to zero this year."
Restoring Powder Ridge would create jobs and produce tax revenue for the town of Middlefield, according to Jeff Pugliese of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.
"This is a proven group of investors. They have demonstrated the ability to develop and implement a successful business plan and they have our support," Pugliese said.
Selectmen Ed Bailey and Dave Burgess both addressed concerns about costs.
Bailey estimated that taxpayers currently pay about $112 per year for Powder Ridge. Selling the property to Hayes, he said, would reduce the average tax burden to about $63 per year.
When asked directly how long it would be before Middlefield made any money on Powder Ridge, Bailey said 14 years, or the number of years the town has left to bond.
Meanwhile, Burgess said he considered the asking price of $700,000 "too low" and felt the town was wrong in providing what he said amounted to an interest free loan to Hayes.
"Ultimately, it's going to be your choice," he said. "And an informed voter is a wise voter."
Before opening the hearing up to the public, town attorney Kenneth Antin briefly reviewed the 120-page sales agreement. He said much of what existed in the document was the result of the town's negotiations last year with Alpine Ridge LLC, which agreed to buy Powder Ridge for $1 million but .
"The vote was 259 to 28 in favor of the Alpine Ridge contract," Antin said. "It's essentially the same deal."
While several residents continued to raise concerns about the agreement, many in the audience appeared to be in favor of selling the property to Hayes.
"The reason I am here is because I started skiing at Powder Ridge in 1977," said Tony Edwards, who now works as president of the Connecticut Ski Council. "I'm just here to tell you, that if Middlefield and Powder Ridge come together on this deal the Connecticut Ski Council will put you back on the map and help you out the best that we can."
Resident Bob Monthei said he'd visited Powder Ridge during one of Hayes' recent open houses and called the property "devastating."
"If they can fix that place up, all the power in the world to you guys," he said. "The town is giving you a hell of a deal. But don't come back and say you can't do it."
Alice Malcolm, a member of the town's finance board, urged officials to delay the sale of the property by four months. By doing so, she said, the town would not have to pay Middlefield Holdings the $225,000 it owes the firm under a lease agreement.
"We're not obligated to pay that back. Why are we rushing?" she asked.
Dr. Jim Brown said he felt the deal was being pushed through during the summer, when some residents are away and can't vote.
"I'm against the deal," he said. "It's not a fair deal. We don't get enough for it."