Traverse City Record-Eagle


April 30, 2010

For $100, public can offer feedback on Sugar Loaf Resort purchase

TRAVERSE CITY — A Las Vegas entrepreneur who said he plans to buy Sugar Loaf Resort wants to hear public feedback before he finalizes renovation ideas for Leelanau County's long-shuttered resort.

Eneliko "Sean" Smith tonight plans to host what he said is the final opportunity for the public to weigh in on the resort's future. The event is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. at Red Ginger restaurant on Front Street in Traverse City.

"This is the time to get it out in the open," Smith said.

Feedback comes with a cost. Smith will charge attendees $100, which covers food, drinks and music by Smith's wife, Sarah Frances Johnston-Smith. All proceeds will go toward reopening a resort that's been closed since 2000, he said.

"I want the people that are there to be serious about being there," Smith said of the cover charge. "It qualifies that you're serious about seeing Sugar Loaf open. I put in a whole lot more than $100."

He said he'll pay $10 million to purchase the resort and associated properties, but wouldn't detail how much he'll spend to upgrade the site.

Tonight's event flier is posted on Smith's website, and he said e-mail notifications were sent to other interested parties. Sixty people reserved a spot as of Thursday afternoon, and Smith said he plans to fill the Lotus Room above Red Ginger. A $1,500 food and drink minimum is required to reserve the private dining room.

Carolyn Collins plans to attend tonight's event because she believes reopening the resort will give the region a huge economic boost.

"This is going to create a lot of jobs," said Collins, a local real estate agent who holds the Sugar Loaf property listing. "Everyone has a memory of Sugar Loaf. We want it all up and running."

Smith previously said he expected to close the Sugar Loaf deal by today, but now said it will occur in May. He doesn't believe purchase delays will hinder efforts to raise money from private sources for Sugar Loaf improvements.

"I'm the only one who will own this resort," he said. "I'm the only one with the intent to get this done. I will own this property in May. I don't feel I'm misleading anybody because I will be the owner."

Kate Wickstrom, who owns the ski and hotel portions of the resort, did not return a call for comment.

Smith chose to host tonight's gathering in downtown Traverse City, a decision he hopes won't trouble Leelanau County residents.

"I hope they don't see this as a dig," he said. "It's all northern Michigan to me."

Smith last week pleaded no contest in California to a felony grand theft charge in a plea deal that will result in a misdemeanor conviction with restitution and probation. He plans to teach boxing in Traverse City for his community service.

"I've been very up-front with all of my investors," he said. "It's all behind me and I'm moving forward."

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