National Park Service issues letter of intent to lease historic Sleeping Bear Inn and Garage

Photo: Jeff Kato, BEAR secretary/treasurer; George MacEachern, construction general; Maggie Kato, BEAR president.

From staff reports

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore announced today that The National Park Service issued a letter of intent on November 5 for the development of a lease for the historic Sleeping Bear Inn and Garage in Glen Haven to Balancing Environment and Rehabilitation (BEAR). BEAR formed in 2018 as a nonprofit dedicated to keeping the history and heritage of Glen Haven sustainable.

BEAR hopes to reopen the Sleeping Bear Inn and Garage in 2022, the nonprofit’s executive director Maggie Kato told the Glen Arbor Sun today.

It’s a very unique setting,” said Kato. “There aren’t many inns where you’re essentially in a ghost town within the National Lakeshore. We’re hopeful we can improve Glen Haven and restore it to the feel of a hotel in a frontier town.”

Originally built between 1865-1867, the Inn served as a frontier hotel for business travelers and local workers. It continued in operation throughout the next century evolving into a tourist hotel. It has been closed since the mid-1970s. This lease will allow for the restoration and adaptive re-use of both buildings. BEAR will work closely with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and the National Lakeshore to operate the Inn as a premier bed and breakfast lodge.

Kato has wide-ranging experience relevant to this operation that she gained during the past 15 years serving as the executive director of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, before she retired in 2020. During her tenure, close to 500 home builds and owner-occupied repair projects were completed. She built the organization from an annual operating budget of $500,000 in 2005 to $6,500,000 upon her retirement. Her husband, Jeff, has extensive restaurant management experience and will be working alongside her on the Sleeping Bear Inn operation.

The Katos plan to sell their current home in Genesee County and move up north to live in the Sleeping Bear Inn.

Maggie estimated the average price per night at the inn would be $200. The inn will eventually open year-round, with adjusted rates during the off-season.

Superintendent Scott Tucker is thrilled to have found such a strong partner for the future of the Inn and Garage.

“We have been looking for someone willing to invest in the Inn, and we feel we have an excellent match with BEAR,” Tucker said in statement. “The lease will preserve the two buildings and allow greater visitor experience in the historic Glen Haven Village.”

In order to determine fair market value rent, an appraisal of the buildings will be completed this year, prior to finalizing the lease. BEAR will make substantial investments to rehabilitate the buildings which will involve extensive interior work, utility upgrades, and adding a fire suppression system in order to bring the building up to code.

Click on BEAR’s website to learn more about its plans for the Sleeping Bear Inn, including a property overview and renovation phases over the next two years.