“Liko-polooza” returns to Sugar Loaf

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SugarLoaf1Las Vegas businessman claims sale is complete … but property still listed … Kate Wickstrom out of picture

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

Eneliko Sean “Liko” Smith, the enigmatic West Coast hotelier and self proclaimed “extreme sport entrepreneur” who has left a trail of dubious business transactions in his wake, is once again bidding for Sugar Loaf, the long shuttered ski resort in Leelanau County.

A press release published Saturday by PRNewswire and distributed, unedited and unverified, to several media websites nationwide claimed that Smith had purchased Sugar Loaf and plans to open a 560-acre snowboarders mecca called “The RoK” by November 2014.

“This is the single biggest challenge of my life,” said Smith in the release. “I’m fortunate I was able to find partners that not only understand the risks involved at Sugar Loaf but also the complexity of reopening a resort that has been shuttered for over 10 years.”

[Liko Smith is fielding interview questions through his assistant at New California Hotel, and will reportedly grant the Sun a phone interview late this week consisting of pre-approved questions. Laguna Beach-based New California Hotel is owned by Remo and Hanna Karcho Polselli.]

Sugar Loaf’s chairlifts haven’t transported skiers or snowboarders up the mountain since the winter of 2000, and the resorts travails over the ensuing 13 years have read like a soap opera, with potential buyers appearing and disappearing. Smith, himself, made a bid in the spring of 2010 to acquire Sugar Loaf from nominal owner Kate Wickstrom. But a lack of financial support or co-investors, and what he described as squabbles with Wickstrom, hampered that effort.

LikoSmith-HeadshotIt’s unclear who Liko Smith’s partners would be this time, but he has long done business with Remo and Hanna Karcho Polselli, who owned the resort before selling to Kate Wickstrom in 2002 and who still control the mortgage. For years the Polsellis have played a game of cat-and-mouse with Leelanau County, paying back taxes on the property just in the nick of time to avoid forfeiture.

Wickstrom told the Glen Arbor Sun this week that she no longer has anything to do with Sugar Loaf, and hasn’t in nearly a year. The property reportedly transferred back to the Polsellis in 2012, but they allegedly failed to register the deed with the county, and Wickstrom now worries that an eventual sale would reflect that she, and not the Polsellis, are selling it to Smith — what she calls “an absolute lie”. A study of the MLS real estate website confirmed that ROK Investment LLC (a real estate investment group based in Miami) is listed as the owner of Sugar Loaf, though Wickstrom is listed as the taxpayer. Wickstrom declined to elaborate further until after she met with her attorney, Joe Quandt. Phone calls to Quandt’s Traverse City office Tuesday went unreturned.

John Peppler of Coldwell Banker Schmidt Real Estate in Glen Arbor has listed Sugar Loaf at $5.7 million. Despite Liko Smith’s claims that the sale has gone through, the MLS website reveals that the listing is still active and accepting counteroffers. Another local real estate agent, who spoke under the condition that he remain anonymous, said that closing on a property as valuable and as contentious as Sugar Loaf wouldn’t happen overnight — even if an offer was made in cash.

“Currently there is a purchase agreement in place, and now there are many things that need to be completed before an actual sale can take place,” Peppler told the Sun. “It’s akin to you buying a house, and waiting on inspections and the like. Once those are satisfied, the sale can be completed.”

“A sale has not been completed yet, but eventually one will be, so if there has been some publicity to this effect, yeah, you might term it premature.”

SugarLoafLiftLakesBut while $5.7 million may be the asking price for the property, other resort owners in Northern Michigan estimate that renovating the ski hill, replacing chairlifts and probably building a new lodge would cost between $20-$30 million. For over a decade, no one has come forward with the financial means to transform and reopen Sugar Loaf.

Either way, Peppler hopes to make a sale that will allow the resort to re-open and bring skiing, snowboarding and their money-generating fortunes back to the area.

“Sugar Loaf has two very significant, positive impacts on Leelanau County, and we’ve been missing out on them for (over a) decade,” said the Glen Arbor realtor. “First, it’s an economic engine for the community, providing several full-time and hundreds of part-time jobs for everyone from a farmer who wants a little winter income and fun, to a kid who gets his first job bussing tables. It is also valuable to every business and property owner in the area.”

Liko Smith’s press release on Saturday no longer appears to be a publicity stunt. Something is in the works for Sugar Loaf. If the mountain does open in 2014, it may resemble a glitzy snowboard theme park more than it does the ski hill of yesteryear. But for this long shuttered resort, almost any news is good news.

“Sugar Loaf is a safe place for kids, and mom can drop off a group of kids for the day, and she has time to do what she needs to, and the kids can enjoy the tremendous fun that skiing provides,” said Peppler. “Think about it: we have a whole generation of kids right now who have never been able to experience the joy that prior generations have.”

Sun editor Mike Buhler contributed to this report.