The nine-hole golf course at Owl’s Nest Resort. Courtesy photo.
While many hotels are fighting for survival, the Owl’s Nest Resort in Thornton is expanding to become the largest resort in New England, says General Manager Brad McCoil. The multi-million-dollar expansion, which began two years ago, includes a recently completed excavation of a 10-acre lake (the largest man-made recreational lake approved in NH). The lake provides guests with boating, swimming and kayaking. It is also building a lake house that can host events for 400.
The Owl’s Nest also opened eight tennis courts (six clay and two grass) and four paddle tennis courts in September with heated decks for winter play. And, on the docket, the resort will open eight pickle -ball courts in 2021.
Other amenities scheduled to open in 2021 include a new executive nine-hole golf course that goes around the lake (set to open in the fall), and a 10-mile paved loop for jogging, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. A year-round pool with Jacuzzis is under construction with a new food and beverage pavilion. The pavilion will host concerts, and there are plans to build a 500-person amphitheater in the future.
The resort currently generates $4.5 million in annual revenue and is projecting revenue will skyrocket to more than $20 million in the next five years as a result of the expansion, McCoil says.
And that doesn’t even include the revenue that will be generated from the real estate side of the business. The resort is selling 200 new lots around the lake and golf course. “We’re slated to build a new 52-home development that’s called North Lake,” he says, adding those will be two- to three-bedroom homes aimed at retirees and those looking for a vacation home.
“We hope to have three models completed by spring of 2021.”
The resort is also building 90 more rental rooms, 60 of which will be three-bedroom units with kitchens, that will be completed by spring. The remaining rooms will be geared for long-term rentals to accommodate professionals working in the area.
A rental home at Owl’s Nest Resort. Courtesy photo.
Owl’s Nest has 130 employees and plans to increase to 350 as projects are completed.
It’s part of a master plan developed by Owner Brian Lash of LCJ Management in Boston, who purchased the resort in 2014 for less than $2 million after it went bankrupt. He saw the potential in the 600-acre resort, which already had the state’s only Jack Nicklaus-designed course and 29 vacation rental units, McCoil says.
A room at Owl’s Nest Resort. Courtesy photo.
Lash has strong ties to the White Mountains, having raised his sons near Waterville Valley. “He’s always had a love for this area,” McCoil says of Lash, who was the founder of Target Logistics, which specializes in building temporary employee housing primarily for the oil and mining industries. Lash sold that company and while he is experienced in the real estate market, McCoil says this is his first foray into resorts.
McCoil, who has 20 years of hospitality experience, including running resorts, joined the company 18 months ago. He says he’s excited to oversee the expansion at Owl’s Nest as it is essentially a startup. “That ability to be part of a startup and something big drew me,” he says.
Owl’s Nest managed to do brisk business even through the pandemic thanks to the golf course; a new pro shop; a restaurant with outdoor seating; stand-alone, contactless check-in rental units; and a wedding area with a new tent. “All of those things helped us. We didn’t have to get creative with outdoor space like other restaurants. We had the space to do a full outdoor dining room,” McCoil says.
The resort’s clubhouse. Courtesy photo.
On busy weekends, the resort attracts 2,000 to 3,000 guests, and McCoil expects that to double once the expansion is complete. “We were overrun by people looking to do things outside. We were busier than we could imagine. Since lodging was allowed to open up, we’ve been booked out every week,” he says.
Labor Day weekend alone saw three weddings, several wedding rehearsals, and the lodging and golf course fully booked. “If I had more places to stay, I could have filled them, too,” McCoil says.
While many weddings ended up being postponed, bookings for weddings in the coming months have continued, he says, adding they have 60 weddings already reserved for 2021. Aside from its wedding business, Owl’s Nest resort saw a 60% increase in business, he says. “We’re on our way to being very successful,” McCoil says. “We are very excited.”