Friday, February 11, 2011

Snowy Days Mean Happy Times for Maine Skiers

By Scott Andrews
Staff Columnist
Snowy days mean happy times for Maine skiers and the $350 million industry that serves them. That’s the bottom line -- at least so far -- on the 2010-2011 ski season, say industry officials.
While some Mainers may rebel at the thought of more snow, skiers and snowboarders revel in this year’s abundance of the white stuff, and they’re heading out to the slopes and trails in big numbers.
“We’ve had a wonderful start to the season and all of our members are reporting excellent attendance,” says Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association, the trade group that represents virtually all of the state’s ski industry.
“We’ve been blessed with abundant snow this season,” adds Sweetser. “People see it and touch it and shovel it and then they want to get out and play in it.”
Although Sweetser and others caution that there’s plenty of time remaining this season, they’re very optimistic about results to date.
And skiers and snowboarders are finding plenty that’s new when they arrive at the slopes; most Maine resorts have made substantial capital investments in recent years.
Last month, Sugarloaf opened a large new area for skiing and snowboarding on its eastern edge. Opening the Brackett Basin glades is the first step in a 10-year plan to upgrade the resort, says communications director Ethan Austin. When completed, the Sugarloaf/2020 plan will include trails and glades on the bare summit of adjacent Burnt Mountain, a prospect that has tantalized skiers and riders for decades.
When completed, Sugarloaf/2020 will result in the largest ski area -- as measured in acres -- in the eastern half of the U.S. (Sugarloaf’s parent company, Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, already claims the most skiable acreage in the U.S. at Big Sky, Montana.)
Sunday River, Maine’s busiest ski resort, recently announced that real estate sales -- primarily condominiums and vacation homes -- surged 53 percent in 2010. It’s the highest level ever, and additional projects will be announced this spring.
“Achieving such a success in a still-hesitant economy is a testament to the confidence our guests have in the resort,” says Mark Hall, vice president of development.
Shawnee Peak modernized and upgraded its principal lift for this season and business is solid, according to spokeswoman Melissa Rock. “We booked out all of our lodging for President’s Week back in January, and that’s a whole lot earlier than ever before,” adds Rock. “We’re doing well, and I believe that the best is yet to come.”
Saddleback and Mt. Abram are also enjoying solid attendance. Both are celebrating 50th anniversaries in 2010-2011 and both are in the midst of multi-year expansion plans.
Camden Snow Bowl also has expansive plans for the future. Officials of the non-profit, municipally owned ski area are eyeing a new chairlift and a massive increase in snowmaking capacity. A multi-million-dollar fund-raising campaign is currently in progress.
Photo caption: Maine skiers and snowboarders couldn’t be happier with this season’s weather reports, and the state’s resorts are meanwhile investing in a variety of expansion plans. (Photo courtesy Sunday River)

Opening Scenes: ‘The King’s Speech’

By Chip Schrader
Movie Reviewer
“The King’s Speech” opens with an old style microphone shot from multiple angles in the middle of an empty studio. An unknown man gargles and spits into a bucket, sprays a liquid into his mouth, and recites a humorous array of vocal exercises. Finally, he sits at the chair and measures the distance from his face to the microphone with his hands, and introduces the Duke of York to his radio audience. As the Duke of York steps up to speak, his stammer causes a jam in his speech to the point he is mute. The crowd at Wembley Stadium is visibly uncomfortable.
Colin Firth brings the low-key dignity of the man who would become King. From his stammer to his hot temper, Firth seems to have mastered the complexities of a man who had to be badgered by his therapist into using profanity. The scene where Firth is pacing around the Doctor’s office repeating the same cuss word with increasing speed and ferocity is enough of a comic break to endear viewers to this otherwise reserved and cool character.
Geoffrey Rush plays the peppy therapist, Lionel, who labors to enunciate his lines at a tryout for a lead role in a play. Rush’s portrayal of Lionel is assertive, confident, and subdued as he manages a great deal of laughs from the careful viewer along with some lively scenes where Lionel and the King verbally spar. Rounding out the talented, and Screen Actors’ Guild Award winning ensemble, was Helena Bonham Carter as the Duke’s wife, a no-nonsense and devoted wife to the Duke and mother of the future Queen (Elizabeth).
The acting and writing of “The King’s Speech” is superb. It is a dignified drama that does not plummet to the level of tugging at emotions, or even plea any sympathy from its audience. While the viewer is engaged with each character and feels their frustrations and struggles, never once are they in agony over the emotional turmoil of the character. “The King’s Speech” is high drama with the signature English “stiff upper lip” in place of cheap sentimentality; all the while the viewers sit at the edge of their seats to see the King succeed.
The setting is the gloomy and foggy English landscape, the close-up shots are off-center to photograph the palatial old English rooms, and the predominant colors circle around gray and wood tones. Each frame is hypnotically shot as the acting does plenty to captivate the scene.
“The King’s Speech” is rightfully at the center of the Oscar contest, and the actors are serious contenders. Carter’s recognition for this role is deserved, but Firth and Rush are the standout nominees for this film. The writing and cinematography are excellent, although “True Grit” might have the edge for being the most cinematic. Whether they win all or nothing, “The King’s Speech” is among the handful of must-see films, and stands at the top of even that list. 5 out of 5.
Photo caption: (Courtesy movie poster of “The King’s Speech”)

MaineHousing Grant Brings Jobs, Homes

By Larry Favinger
Staff Columnist
MaineHousing has approved nearly $30 million in federal Low Incoming Housing Tax Credits for construction of privately owned apartments including $3.31 million for a project in Berwick.
“This provides some badly needed affordable rental housing in several Maine communities, and gives Maine’s economy a boost,” said MaineHousing Director Dale McCormick. “We expect the housing will generate several hundred jobs just in construction alone.”
The developments slated for funding and the tax credit also includes 24 units for seniors in Biddeford ($4.8 million), 29 units for families in Ellsworth, ($5.8), 48 units for families in Lewiston ($5.2 million), 25 units for seniors in Freeport ($5.5 million) and 24 units for families in Portland ($5.28 million).
The Berwick project is scheduled to provide 34 units for families and restoration of the historic Sullivan school, according to Dan Simpson, a spokesman for MaineHousing. He said he expects there will be other sources of funding for that project as well.
Simpson said one aspect of granting the funds is that the apartments “need to be affordable to low income families.”
The project, as presented to MaineHousing for funding, includes two efficiencies, 15 one-bedroom units, nine two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units.
McCormick said apartments affordable to working families are essential to attracting and retaining good jobs, and therefore a key component to economic development.
MaineHousing received 11 proposals from throughout the state and granted funds to six of them, Simpson said.
The criteria used for selection includes the need for affordable housing, location close to downtown and transportation, and leveraging of other funding sources. The developments in Berwick and Biddeford, for example, involve adaptive re-use of historic school buildings, while the Lewiston development involves converting a portion of the historic Bates Mill into housing.
According to a release from MaineHousing, the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is a way to raise private capital to finance affordable housing. The tax credits are used to attract private investors, such as banks, insurance companies and other large corporations, to participate in the ownership of the housing developments. As part of the ownership, they receive the credits and use them to offset federal taxes.
Most of the new apartments will be restricted to households earning 50 percent of the median income or less. The tax credit funds are meant to replace the direct federal rental assistance that once was used to subsidize affordable housing.
“The tax credits are a public-private partnership to raise private capital to invest in housing with a public purpose,” McCormick said. “Many of our housing programs operate on that same public-private model.
The mission of MaineHousing is to assist Maine people to obtain and maintain decent, safe, affordable housing and services suitable to their unique housing needs.