Buyer comes forward for vacant Sugar Loaf Resort

John L. Russell
Special to the Detroit News

Cedar — A once-popular northern Michigan ski destination for generations of Metro Detroiters may soon find new life after 16 years of vacancy.

Jeff Katofsky, a lawyer and a real estate developer from California, is hoping to close a deal soon for the vacant and forlorn Sugar Loaf Resort.

Katofsky entered the ownership picture when he settled a lawsuit in 2015 involving Sugar Loaf’s current owner, Remo Polselli, and was given the option to buy three properties the Southfield hotelier owned.

As part of the deal, Katofsky bought the former Metropolitan Hotel near Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus and the St. Clair Inn, a historic and popular eatery south of Port Huron that was shuttered several years ago. The hotel, after extensive work, is expected to open in November as the Radisson Hotel Detroit Metro Airport.

A third and unnamed property was also offered, and speculation in Leelanau County that it might be Sugar Loaf began immediately among residents and former guests of the resort.

“Sugar Loaf is quite similar to the St. Clair Inn,” Katofsky said. “Both were popular places with a lot of support from their communities.”

Katofsky of Sherman Oaks, California, who also owns the Orem Owlz — a minor league baseball team in Orem, Utah — says he is excited about the possibilities of the ski resort property and hopes to visit it before the end of the year.

“I’m not a skier, but I have a lot of ideas, and I have good people working on this with me. We’re working on this daily, it’s a long process,” he said.

“I’m hoping by (this) week I will have the news I want — to see a clear title and move forward. ... I’m waiting to hear from the title company.”

Steve Haugen, who is the construction code inspector of Leelanau County, says he has spoken to the new owner several times and confirmed Katofsky’s interest in the property.

“It would be a good thing to have that place moving forward and in operation,” he said. “Jeff had a group of people go through the facility recently. I’ll have a big sigh of relief when he closes, then I’ll follow through on the impending renovations.”

The resort consists of a 144,000-square-foot lodge and hotel with restaurants, two large storage buildings, four tennis courts, 478 acres, five chair lifts and an airport with a 3,500-foot paved runway, according to the Leelenau County Equalization Department. It was recently listed for sale at $6.9 million.

Katofsky said he envisions reopening Sugar Loaf as a four-season resort.

“It’s a prime piece of property, and I have a lot of ideas. It will be high-end, and I wouldn’t even consider the property if I didn’t think I can make it work,” he said.

He estimates it will take three or four years to build the resort he envisions. “I will only do it right, or I will not do it,” he said. “There’s no cutting corners.”

The new owner will not release the selling price of other costs. “I will say it will take eight figures to get the place open,” he said.

The county filed building code violations in March after numerous attempts to correct the deteriorating structures on the property.

The resort, once the largest employer on Leelanau County, was shuttered in 2000. A series of high-interest bank loans and a couple of winters with poor skiing conditions caused money issues for the resort.

“I’m a carpetbagger,” Katofsky said. “I enjoy rejuvenating old buildings and bringing them back to life.”

John L. Russell is a freelance writer and photojournalist from Traverse City.