Recreation club set to deliberate Arrowhead lease

By PATRICK O’GRADY

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-09-2023 10:11 PM

CLAREMONT — Parks and Recreation Director Nick Lawrence said the decision by the Arrowhead Recreation Club to start over on a possible operating agreement between the club and city is a logical step in the process that he believes ultimately will be successful.

After deciding last Wednesday to not accept or reject Claremont’s proposed operating agreement, the club voted 8-1 to hold a “deliberative session” on Thursday to discuss elements of a new proposal everyone can agree on.

“We are still hopeful, absolutely,” Lawrence said of whether he thought an agreement could be reached. The club “finally decided to enter a discussion about it.”

The proposed operating agreement between the club and the city, as currently written, would remove the club from the main floor of the Arrowhead Lodge and allow The Wheel House bike shop, now located at the Claremont Junction, to lease the space. The Wheel House is said to be negotiating separately with the city but that proposed agreement has not been made public.

“We should start fresh,” Chuck Allen, a club board member, said at the meeting last week, adding that the agreement between Storrs Hill and the city of Lebanon is something the club could borrow from. “This property lease is poorly written.”

Leasing the lodge space, which ARC uses to allow skiers, tubers, snowboarders and others to warm up and get something to eat, has sharply divided the public.

There appears to be unanimous support for The Wheel House’s plan to increase biking on the Arrowhead trails, which has drawn mountain bikers from around New England. But that support evaporates when the proposal puts The Wheel House in the lodge. The city’s proposal moves ARC’s lodge to the basement area, which the club has said is unacceptable.

At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, Lawrence explained the city’s position and why it thinks the operating agreement is in the best interests of ARC and its long-term winter operations.

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Lawrence first said the city is committed to maintaining winter activities at Arrowhead with the goal of utilizing “the Arrowhead recreation area to its full capacity, including four seasons of indoor lodge use.”

Lawrence said the proposed agreement is aimed at strengthening the club financially by lowering its operating costs with the city paying for insurance and part of the non-lodge utility cost. He also said the city “subsidizes” the club with utility costs and rental assistance.

“This $36,000 taxpayer subsidy for limited use of the mountain is a consideration that the city aims to address,” Lawrence said. “By working with a recreation-based entity such as The Wheel House, we will be adding a valuable presence to the Arrowhead land, but also creating a substantial revenue stream for mountain operations during non-winter months.”

Lawrence said ARC has not utilized the lodge to its full capacity and the city believes the two groups can coexist to enhance the recreational economy of Arrowhead and the city.

“Therefore, we are asking ARC to give serious consideration to this proposed agreement, which will reconfigure the currently limited use of the lodge space,” Lawrence said. “In return, ARC will be gaining an active partner that is invested in enhancing the recreational experience on the Arrowhead land for the public.”

Arrowhead volunteer, Brian Zutter, suggested the current impasse could be solved by bringing the city, the club and The Wheel House together to work out a compromise.

Zutter, who said he has experience facilitating agreements between different interests, said he would host the meeting and look to see where the parties agree as they look to the future.

“That is what I am aiming for, middle ground,” Zutter said.

Wheel House co-owner Rob Walker said Friday that like Lawrence, he remains hopeful for an agreement.

“I’m still extremely optimistic that the majority of those interested in Arrowhead want to see success for the mountain and Claremont,” Walker said. “Some say it should stay the same but I don’t think that is being considered. There are a lot of great options out there.”

ARC president Jon Nelson said at Wednesday’s meeting a new agreement is necessary because keeping  the status quo could be worse for the club if the city does not renew its current lease in 2025, possibly ending the subsidy.

The city is asking the club to vacate the current lease and sign a new agreement.

In any negotiation, rarely is the first proposal the final agreement so a decision not to accept the city’s proposal should not mean an accord can’t be reached, Lawrence said.

He said he hopes that the club’s discussion will bring to the surface the sticking points to an agreement and the city can move forward from there.

“We are optimistic we can get everyone to see the same vision we have for Arrowhead,” Lawrence said, adding that they hope to get something done soon.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.

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