Northern Michigan’s Sugar Loaf Mountain Back in the News

When Matthies said he could tell Sugar Loaf would go bonkers back in the 70’s, of course he meant “bonkers” in the good way. But “bonkers” can also mean in a not-so-good way. And that’s the kind of bonkers that describes things at Sugar Loaf from the late 90’s till now. During the 90’s the Sills group added a second golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer’s group, but still the resort struggled.

In 1997, Empire Bank took the resort back, but Sills’s group retained ownership of the golf courses and wastewater treatment plant. Many people in the community believe that splitting the golf courses from the ski resort created a fatal flaw for the property because it eliminated summer revenue.

Hotelier Remo Polselli, from Southfield, took over the ski resort in 1997. He spruced up the lodge inside and out and seemed serious about making a go of it, but due to accounting irregularities in Polselli’s books, the state refused to transfer the resort’s liquor license to him. “You can’t run a ski resort without a liquor license,” Matthies says. The resort closed in March 2000.

One of the saga’s kookier moments came in November 2000, when, despite the resort’s lack of running water a dad, mom (pregnant), their seven children and the dad’s parents moved into the shuttered resort. They told Eric Carlson, a reporter at the Leelanau Enterprise who has most closely followed the Sugar Loaf story, that they represented a religious-based organization that purportedly intended to purchase the resort and turn it into a family camp that taught character building. But the deal never happened, and the health department kicked the family out after a few weeks.

An especially low point: in 2003, Polselli pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges related to a different hotel and spent two years in prison.

Hopes rose in 2005 when Kate Wickstrom, a Leelanau County high school grad and operator of a Battle Creek Narconon addiction treatment center purchased the resort for $5.7 million. Wickstrom held a public celebration one bright April Saturday afternoon at Sugarfoot Saloon, near the resort, and locals filled it to standing room only.

She told the crowd that she hoped the restaurant would be open in August and that ski runs might open for the 06-07 season. Within days a construction Dumpster showed up in the resort parking lot and locals excitedly waited for renovation to launch. But an odd silence prevailed. Wickstrom was seen picking weeds from a fl owerbed, but otherwise, no crews appeared. The Dumpster was carted away. Eventually Wickstrom did produce a plan for the resort and replaced some windows in the hotel, but major renovation never happened. [Kate Wickstrom did not return calls for this story.]

As the first decade of the resort’s closure unfolded, various suitors appeared, and rumors of pending deals floated time and again, but they never closed. Speculation also ran high when it was disclosed that Remo Polselli’s wife was listed as the sole owner of the bank that held Wickstrom’s mortgage.

The tale reached a certain dramatic peak just this past spring when a 39-year-old Las Vegas hotel entrepreneur, Eneliko “Liko” Sean Smith arrived on the scene. He said he’d have the restaurant open for summer and people skiing again. But as the weeks passed, it became apparent he lacked the financial wherewithal to resurrect the resort.

He began soliciting donations online—people questioned the legality of soliciting donations for a for-profit venture. It was then revealed that Smith had connections to Remo Polselli, a relationship he had previously denied. Smith held an event at Red Ginger, in downtown Traverse City, where people could pay $100 to hear his plan, eat hors d’oeuvres and listen to his 19-year-old wife sing songs. Few people showed. By autumn, Smith had declared the deal dead and left town.

Article Comments

  • farlane

    Well done Jeff! There’s a bunch of people talking about the Loaf over at Leelanau.com:
    http://www.leelanau.com/blog/turning-the-page-on-sugar-loaf/

  • Anonymous

    An airline executive once offered this advice on how to become a millionaire. "Take a billion dollars, start an airline and soon you will be a millionaire." So it goes with ski resorts, and with "Hope and Change" in full gear – there aren’t many people with enough money to touch this project. Another former ski resort property in Leelanau County, Timberlee, has struggled to find a business model that works for years. The difference of course is that the chair lifts at Timberlee were sold off presumably to help pay for the property acquisition. Sugarloaf still has chair lifts, but it has been so long since they have been run, they may be 100% inoperable. They surely don’t meet the minimum safety standards anymore. It was the revolving restuarant on the top of the Renaissance Center in Detroit that sat idle for seven years while the facility went through foreclosure and/or bankruptcy. When General Motors bought the building, they found the mechanical equipment to turn the platform no longer functioned and the $3,500,000 to restore it was just too expensive, even for the General. The odds are that it will be a long time before Sugarloaf is restored to its’ once grand presence, it at all. I hope I am wrong.

    Kayakman – Oldsmar, Florida

  • Anonymous

    Hey Jeff.

    Chris Grobbel here. I just was retained by the new owner of Sugarloaf (10/2/13) to work with the Leelanau County BRA to resolve any environmental issues, update local land use permits etc., and get things underway…at long last! Be in touch if you’d like to do a follow-up article. Chris Grobbel [email protected]. Thanks!

  • Joseph Snyder

    MSU should by it and run it as an extension of their hospitality college. Could most likely get federal and state grants . Students work their one or two semesters and pay tuition instead of getting a salary …. That should reduce costs. Other colleges could send interns as well…maybe include their sports medicine program and their agriculture areas for growing grapes and hops….maybe include their food science and ecologist programs.

    • Mark Hayward

      I managed to be a Ski Bum for three winters out West with out paying any Tuition ..

  • Tim Weiss

    Why not take the money the spent on oak island and spend it on Sugar Loaf!! Where we know the treasure is!

  • Tim Weiss

    This would be fun! at the loaf!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMnaukMOJ34