JAY PEAK, Vt. — At this remote outpost by the Canadian border, Bill Stenger is overseeing what he says is the biggest economic development project Vermont has ever seen.
He is expanding Jay Peak ski resort, which he co-owns, but he is also building a biomedical research firm and a window manufacturing plant, extending the runway at the airport and rehabilitating much of the nearby town of Newport, where he lives. There, he is developing the waterfront, adding the town’s first hotel and a conference center and rebuilding an entire downtown block. He is also creating what he says is the largest indoor mountain bike park in the world and a state-of-the art tennis center.
The price tag for the entire project, which Stenger says will create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs over several years, is $865 million.
But even more unusual than the size of the undertaking is the method by which Stenger and his business partner, Ariel Quiros, are financing it. They have tapped into a federal program that gives green cards, or permanent residency, to foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in an American business — the reward for the investment is a chance at U.S. citizenship.
Stenger has attracted 550 foreign investors from 60 countries to put up $275 million for the first phase: a hotel at the Jay Peak ski complex, an indoor water park the size of a football field, an ice hockey arena, condominiums, restaurants and stores.
The second and third phases, now under way, require 1,000 additional foreign investors to put up $500 million to overhaul Newport and to develop the nearby Burke Mountain ski area.
Stenger and Quiros are putting up $90 million themselves. But even at $785 million, this is one of the single biggest projects in the country financed under the investor program.
But the sweeping overhaul has created concerns. Some worry that Newport will become gentrified and too expensive, especially for older residents. They expect traffic jams. And some say that however beneficial the project may be in creating short-term jobs, it will never attract enough business to sustain itself because the region is so remote.
“There’s a level of nervousness — watching Bill spend money is like watching my grandson spend Monopoly money," said Chris Braithwaite, publisher of the local newspaper, The Barton Chronicle. “But Bill has been here a long time and has a real commitment to this community."