Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 6, 2013

Editorial: Smith no more credible 2nd time around

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Heeee’s back. And he’s as modest, transparent and credible as ever.

If Leelanau County, Cleveland Township and Leelanau brownfield officials have the sense they were born with, they’ll keep Eneliko “Liko” Smith at arm’s length - or maybe borrow a 10-foot pole.

Smith, of Las Vegas, first blew into town in the spring of 2010 with a grandiose, multi-million dollar plan to rebuild, refurbish and reopen Sugar Loaf resort, which has been moldering for the past 13 years.

At the time, he got a relatively warm reception from Kate Wickstrom, who ostensibly owns the property. At first, Wickstrom publicly supported Smith and his plan. But their relationship eventually disintegrated into name-calling and public attacks. By June, she had banned Smith and his associates from the property. Smith backed out of the deal for good that August.

But not before he pitched his ideas to just about anyone who would listen. He was flashy, flamboyant and filled — in the opinion of some observers, at least — with hot air. At one point Smith hosted a dinner at the Red Ginger restaurant in downtown Traverse City to gather “feedback” from the public and contractors who might want to get in on the action. He charged those interested $100 a plate to attend.

Smith had a past that sent up plenty of red flags. He had pleaded guilty in California in April 2010 to felony grand theft charges tied to his failure to pay about $92,000 in taxes on a California hotel he once owned.

It appears his flair for the dramatic hasn’t diminished. A web site about Smith — theworldsmostextremeCEO. com — states he has acquired Sugar Loaf with plans “to open what will be the grandest vision of a snow resort in the history of The United States.”

Wow. With that kind of billing what can possibly go wrong?

Now as then, things are never quite what they seem with Liko Smith.

Last week, Leelanau officials could not confirm whether Smith had officially purchased Sugar Loaf, even though he appeared to be touting the transaction as a done deal.

“He called our construction codes director Monday morning and said he’s the new owner,” county Administrator Chet Janik said.

But Smith refused to do an interview with a Record-Eagle reporter; a flak said he’d answer just three questions.

Neither Wickstrom or her attorney Joseph Quandt could be reached for comment.

And it’s unclear that Wickstrom even owns the place.

In recent years firms associated with former Sugar Loaf owner Remo Polselli have paid the property taxes to keep the resort from reverting to the county. During Smith’s first try in 2010, he had at first said he didn’t know Polselli, but later admitted he did. So the ownership issue is still very much in the air.

Who’s on first? Who knows?

The one for-sure thing out of all this is that any rehabilitation of Sugar Loaf would be the best economic news Leelanau County has gotten in a very, very long time. At its peak the hotel would be full on winter weekends, the ski lifts hummed, business owners all over the county felt the ripple of visitors spending money and lots of people had jobs. Restaurants were busy, visitors bought kitschy stuff at little shops and the rising tide lifted everyone’s boat.

But the resort and ski hill have been closed for 13 years, and it will take millions to get them back up and running. The county says a portion of the lodge and hotel may have to be torn down, and the ski lifts have been rusting in place for more than a decade. The price of the resort alone has been put at $5.7 million.

This is going to take more than a cool web site or claims that Liko is “theworldsmostextremeCEO” and that he plans to open “what will be the grandest vision of a snow resort in the history of The United States.”

“Show me the money” has never been more appropriate. Ever. In the history of the United States.