After allegations of large-scale investment fraud left Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom reeling, there are new hopes for an injection of fresh energy into downtown Newport.
“I call it our economic disaster,” Newport Mayor Paul Monette said of the scandal involving allegations of fraud at Jay Peak, Burke Mountain Resort, and in Newport. “You hear of natural disasters, I call it an economic disaster.”
A prominent city block in Newport had been set for a major upgrade as part of a sweeping set of real estate investments and expansions that were said to transform the Kingdom.
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However, all progress stopped last year when federal investigators uncovered what they called a complex scheme by developers to misuse $200-million in foreign investors' money in the Newport project and at nearby Jay Peak and Burke Mountain resorts.
Businessman Ari Quiros allegedly used some of the investment money to pay his personal bills, to make personal investments, and to purchase a luxury condo in New York City.
Quiros, who was described in federal court paperwork as the mastermind of the scheme, has denied any wrongdoing.
“Things are down, but they're going to turn around,” predicted Tony Pomerleau, a nearly 100-year-old Vermont real estate legend who has regularly expressed his admiration for Newport, where he used to live.
Pomerleau is part of a new private, public, and non-profit partnership focusing on Newport's revitalization. The team announced Thursday a series of projects aimed at helping add new energy into the city’s downtown.
The projects include a renovation of the local supermarket, the creation of a recreation path around Lake Memphremagog, and projects to encourage lake visitors to also head to Main Street.
“It's certainly tremendously unfortunate things have played out this way,” Mike Schirling, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said about the investment fraud investigation. “But there is an opportunity. While there is a piece of Main Street that currently doesn’t have anything on it, you could think, ‘How many downtowns have the opportunity to completely reimagine a core component of what they do?’”
Schirling predicted that the partnerships formed in discussing the grocery store renovations and recreation path will strengthen over time and will help the community shape the eventual look and uses of downtown Newport.
“This is a community that’s vibrant and we don’t let certain negative things get us down,” Mayor Monette said. “We always look to the future. And this is one positive project of many that are going to come down the pipeline.”
Jo-Ann Brooks, who owns and operates Newport Jewelers on Main Street with her husband, said she welcomes the group’s efforts.
“We need something and we need it soon,” Brooks told necn. “There is potential here. The lake is beautiful! We just need more people to come and see it for themselves.”
Developers said construction on the new rec path is set to start this spring, and expect it should be in use by this summer.