By Bill O'Brien
TRAVERSE CITY — Another would-be developer has bolted from Sugar Loaf Resort, leaving the property on the market with no revival plans in sight.
Las Vegas businessman Eneliko "Sean" Smith said he's "officially bowing out" of his pursuit of the shuttered Leelanau County ski resort and hotel, a little more than three months after he unveiled a $10 million plan to buy and upgrade the property and open some hotel rooms by mid-summer.
Those bold plans never came close to materializing, and Smith put the blame on resort owner Kate Wickstrom with accusations of "stalling tactics, misrepresentations and greed ... ."
"(Wickstrom) wants a large sum of money to walk away from Sugar Loaf," said Smith, who said the property won't be redeveloped as long as owners expect a large, up-front payment to sell.
"Everybody wants out because they've been damaged so much over the last 10 years," Smith said. "So we're stuck here, and it's going to keep repeating itself."
Wickstrom responded by calling Smith "a joke" who never proved to have resources needed to purchase and revive a resort that's been closed for a decade.
"(Smith) certainly didn't give people any reason to believe he could pull this off," Wickstrom said Tuesday. "I lost faith in him a long time ago."
In April, Wickstrom voiced optimism about Smith's plans and said the community needed to "embrace" him and support his efforts. But their relationship soon soured and disintegrated to distrust and name-calling.
"I wanted to believe this was going to happen," Wickstrom said. "But he's obviously without the means to do anything."
Smith, a self-described entrepreneur from Las Vegas, continued to discuss plans for the property on his website less than two weeks ago. He said the U.S. Tennis Association was interested in helping revive the resort's former "Sugar Barn" indoor tennis facility, had a firm looking at leasing the ski hills, and that two hotel brands were interested in the resort's hotel.
He spoke of unidentified project partners from Indianapolis, had a Chicago businessman looking to renovate one of the resort's bars, and plans for an interactive gaming lounge in another.
But a week later, Smith's website stated, "Unfortunately, at some point it is not healthy to (pursue) a deal," and he was pulling out of the project.
"I'm like the sixth buyer here, and I've got the farthest," he said.
Wickstrom said she's not sure where the Sugar Loaf saga is headed next. She paid $5.7 million for the resort in 2005 and has given up hope of recouping her investment.
"Would I like to make my money back off this deal? Definitely. But that's not going to happen," Wickstrom said.
She declined comment on whether there are other parties interested in the property.
"As far as anybody else out there, I can't say right now," she said. "We'll have to wait and see what happens."
Former Sugar Loaf owner Remo Polselli, whose wife Hanna Karcher Polselli holds the mortgage on the property, said he's optimistic Wickstrom will find a buyer. Polselli bought Sugar Loaf in 1997 and sold it to Wickstrom eight years later.
"I think Kate can pull this off," Polselli said. "I think she'll find a buyer, hopefully in the near future."
Polselli said he thought Smith was sincere in his efforts to revive the property, but had difficulty lining up major financing in a tough economy.
"If (Smith) had the money, he could have made this happen," Polselli said. "When it comes to the money, the money's hard to come by right now."