New owner, new dawn for Sugar Loaf?

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Katofsky to close escrow, acquire property this month

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

Jeff Katofsky — a Southern California attorney, property developer, and minor league baseball team owner — is on the verge of taking over Sugar Loaf from the ski resort’s longtime owner Remo Polselli. Katofsky told the Glen Arbor Sun he will close escrow before the end of October. According to Leelanau County code inspector Steve Haugen, the transaction could be official by the end of this week.

SugarLoafChair-RabidouxSugar Loaf was once Leelanau County’s largest employer before the resort closed in 2000. Despite stunning vistas, its moribund chairlifts have sat idle for 16 years. Since then, a revolving door of mysterious characters, con-artists and businessmen with dubious records have promised the heavens to Sugar Loaf’s devoted fan base. They’ve delivered nothing more than empty boasts and broken dreams.

Katofsy won three properties from Polselli as the result of a lawsuit settlement. He renovated the Radisson Hotel Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, which he acquired for $8.5 million, and is also in the process of refurbishing the historic St. Clair Inn near Detroit, which he got for $4 million. Sugar Loaf was the “player to be named later” — as first reported by Crain’s Detroit Business in early May.

Katofsky has not yet visited Sugar Loaf, but hopes to do so in November. He often spends three days a week in southern Michigan, tending to the projects in Romulus and St. Clair. He says he has spent “not an insignificant amount” on hiring consultants to investigate Sugar Loaf’s financial viability. He has pored over photos and videos of Sugar Loaf they’ve sent him. Despite expressing doubts throughout the summer to the Sun and other local media, Katofsky appears willing to acquire the title and proceed forward … with caution.

“It’s a terrific location,” said Katofsky. “It’s a community that can handle and support a year-round, high-end resort, which is what we would do there. We’re not deep enough into the numbers to know whether that will ultimately work. At this point it’s project number 3 of 3. I’m only going to do it if we know it will succeed.”

The California developer confirmed that winter downhill skiing would return to Sugar Loaf if his bet pays off.

“You’ve got a ski hill, so you ought to use it. But we need to make it a year-round resort.”

Katofsky wouldn’t divulge much about his plans for Sugar Loaf. Though he did admit that he and his wife recently vacationed in the resort town of Whistler, Canada, “to get ideas.”

He compared a premature unveiling of ideas to “telling people what you’re going to name your kid.”

“These pieces of real estate are my babies. I can picture what I’m going to do there, but honestly, until I know I can do it, I’m not going to share it.”

He added that, to his knowledge, nothing on the ski hill is salvageable. But the lodge itself is an open question.

Katofsky has read about Sugar Loaf’s dubious history and is aware of the legal hurdles surrounding the property. He is cautiously optimistic.

“If I don’t have a community that wants this to succeed and is willing to support its success, then it’s not going to work. I’m not going to [invest] $10 million if it won’t work.”

“I’m confident enough to close escrow. It would take at least 8 figures to get it up and running.”

Cognizant of Leelanau County’s battle scars related to Sugar Loaf, Katofsky confirmed that Polselli will have nothing to do with the project.

“My involvement with Polselli is that I sued him,” said Katofsky. “I know that a lot of people in Michigan hate him. But I know he has an eye for fabulous real estate. He ran them all into the ground, but he has an eye for it.”

County officials play supportive role

Construction code inspector Steve Haugen confirmed that if Katofsky does officially acquire Sugar Loaf, he would need to address code violations at the decrepit, boarded up ski lodge “within a reasonable time frame” but didn’t clarify exactly what that meant. Haugen said that he and Leelanau County prosecutor Joe Hubbell intend to give Katofsky some time. They don’t want to scare the potential new owner away.

“If it’s a serious opportunity, I don’t want to make things difficult for him,” said Haugen. “We don’t want to order a demolition and be the ones standing in the way of a deal that could be great for Sugar Loaf.”

Passion for baseball

In addition to being an attorney and property developer, Jeff Katofsky considers himself a “baseball nut” and co-owns, together with family members, the Orem Owlz, a minor league baseball team in Orem, Utah, and an affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Sun talked with Katofsky on Friday, before the American and National League Championship Series got underway. He predicted that the Toronto Blue Jays would win the World Series (Cleveland currently leads Toronto, 3 games to 1), and that the Cubs would beat the Los Angeles Dodgers but fail to win the World Series, on account of their youth (the Dodgers lead the Cubs, 2 games to 1).