Sugar Loaf Resort Finds a New Lifeline

After months of speculation, it’s finally official: Sugar Loaf Resort is off the market, and potentially on the way to reopening – though that is still years away. “I became the official owner a week ago,” confirms Jeff Katofsky by phone from his office in Los Angeles. The attorney and real estate developer says he’s been working under that assumption for some time. “It didn’t really change anything. I’ve been working on it as if we were going to buy it. We’ve already been working on it for six months.”

So yes, Sugar Loaf has a new owner, and yes, Katofsky has big plans for the long-shuttered ski resort. But he’s not divulging those plans at this time, and he says it will still be another three to four years before Sugar Loaf reopens. “You won’t even see a hammer for two years,” he says. That’s because there’s still so much to do behind the scenes at Sugar Loaf, as well as with the other two properties he acquired as part of a settlement with former Sugar Loaf owner Remo Polselli. He’s ready to reopen the former Detroit Metropolitan Hotel in Romulus as the Radisson Hotel Detroit Metro Airport, while plans are still on to rebuild the St. Clair Inn.

Katofsky, an attorney and real estate developer, says there are similarities between the St. Clair Inn and Sugar Loaf. Both were community landmarks, and both have been closed and abandoned, though in the case of Sugar Loaf for much longer. According to Katofsky, there’s a difference between not being open for three years (St. Clair Inn) and 16 years (Sugar Loaf closed in 2000), but it’s not as big a difference as one might expect. The bigger problem is the fact that Sugar Loaf is a rural property. “It’s so remote and spread out. I don’t have to worry about wells and sewage in Romulus and St. Clair. It (Sugarloaf) is 500 acres. I have to get continuity from the lobby to the airfield to the ski slope. There’s a lot to do. Of the three, it’s the biggest budget. It’s in the most disrepair.”

From Katofsky’s perspective, the largest obstacle to his planned redevelopment is getting financing for what he says will be an eight-figure renovation. He’s looking to the government to bridge the gap between what banks will provide, based on the property’s intrinsic value, and what he wants and believes he needs to do to make Sugar Loaf a viable business entity. “The single biggest challenge is getting the financing to do what I want to do. [And] what I want to do is substantial,” he says. “We’ll well exceed the value of the property. No lender will lend 150 percent of value.” That’s why he’s looking for governmental loans and grants for both this project and the St. Clair Inn. “Banks are interested in the real estate. Government is interested in business – that’s what creates jobs and puts money in the economy. Both are important for us.”

Katofsky demurred when asked to provide any details about what he intends Sugar Loaf to look like. “There will be a lot of amenities. I know what I’d like. I can’t release the information – if I did tell everyone my grandiose plans, then couldn’t do them all, I’d look like a liar.” He says he intends to make the Loaf into a high-end four-season destination. Given the property’s size, the presence of the ski slopes and two adjacent golf courses (which are no longer part of the property), it’s a huge opportunity. But that scale means it will cost a bundle, and everything will ultimately come down to getting the financing he’ll need. “That’s the biggest concern,” says Katofsky.

While Katofsky has had his people on site, he hasn’t visited the property yet himself. That will change before the end of the year. “I’ll have boots on the ground next month,” he says.

Steve Haugen, the building official and inspector for Leelanau County, said he hasn’t yet met with Katofsky or any of his team, but looks forward to doing so when Katofsky arrives. “Right now he needs to have some space and take a deep breath. He needs to have a plan on how he’s going to proceed. (Then) we’ll sit down and talk,” he says. “Everybody would like to see it (Sugar Loaf) reopen.”

Haugen had earlier gone on record as saying his office could recommend and enforce demolition of structures that were condemned, and says that could still happen. “Nothing is off the table until we talk. The violations are still there,” says Haugen. From his perspective, he said the structural integrity of the lodge is the biggest problem, as well as the structural integrity of the warming shed, where the surrounding deck has collapsed. Other problem areas are the lifts, which are no longer operational, and the exterior pool. “But he’s aware of all this stuff,” says Haugen. “I’ve done my research on him, and I’ve been given no reason to not believe him. I think he’s an upstanding person.”

For his part, Katofsky doesn’t expect people to take him at his word, though he hopes they will be patient. “Nobody has to like me. Nobody has to believe me. There’s been enough false starts,” he says. “Nobody has to trust me at all until they can sit in the bar at the hotel and toast some Scotch with me.”


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