What does the future hold for the long-shuttered Sugar Loaf Resort in Leelanau County?
It's a question residents have been asking ever since the popular ski resort closed in 2000. Now, two vastly different scenarios are emerging – scenarios that could collide this afternoon when county officials complete a scheduled inspection of the property.
Purported Sugar Loaf owner and controversial entrepreneur Eneliko “Liko” Sean Smith posted a lengthy update on his website this week stating, among other plans, that he intended to fly in from the West Coast to attend today's walkthrough, then host a community “karaoke night” meet-and-greet tonight at Cedar Tavern to discuss the project. County officials had successfully petitioned a judge for permission to inspect Sugar Loaf's disused buildings after residents complained about the property's deteriorating conditions.
In Smith's proposed scenario, following a successful inspection, Sugar Loaf would be transformed into “the world's first snowboarders mecca,” a first-class resort called The RoK at Sugar Loaf that would undergo a $25 million renovation over the next five years and boast the “most advanced terrain park in the U.S.”
The redeveloped property would be open and ready for business by Thanksgiving 2014, according to the entrepreneur.
But before Smith's or any other future plans can be finalized, there's another reality: the findings of today's inspection (including potential code violations), $50,000 in unpaid back property taxes – and the establishment of rightful ownership of the resort.
As of this story's press time, Leelanau County Administrator Chet Janik was still waiting to receive documentation proving Smith is the actual owner of Sugar Loaf. Officials have struggled for months to sort through a tangled web of ownership; Kate Wickstrom, who has legally owned the resort since 2005, claims she allowed the property in 2012 to defer to previous owner and convicted felon Remon Polselli, an associate of Smith's. Polselli, in turn, claims Smith now controls the property. But Smith has been unable – or unwilling – to provide documentation to that effect.
“If he's still not the owner of record (today), he won't be allowed to enter any buildings or accompany us on the inspection,” says Janik.
Inspection access may not be Smith's only concern. On September 17, a felony no-bail warrant was issued for the business owner's arrest in El Dorado County, California for a probation violation relating to felony grand theft charges. El Dorado County District Attorney Investigator Dave Stevenson tells The Ticker,“(We) have no intention at this time to request the warrant be recalled. In the event you see Mr. Smith, we would request you contact the local authorities and ask that he be arrested.”
Leelanau County Prosecutor Joseph Hubbell is aware of Smith's warrant, calling it an “extraditable” one. While Hubbell says local law enforcement won't “treat Mr. Smith any differently than anyone else” or “be waiting for him at the border,” he does acknowledge an arrest is possible if Smith were to appear locally in public.
So will Liko Smith actually show in Leelanau County today? In an extensive email exchange with The Ticker (see the full Q&A here), the entrepreneur evaded the question but noted, “My ownership needs to be irrefutable for the people of Leelanau County.”
“Until (that happens), I am not going to set foot at Sugar Loaf or waste anybody's time,” Smith said.