A Boston investment firm has made an offer to buy Saddleback Mountain, pledging to invest $25 million to $30 million after the sale to help restart the Rangeley ski resort, which has been closed for four years.
Some details of the Arctaris Impact Fund’s offer to the Berry family, which owns the property, was included in an email shared this week with owners of Saddleback condos. The email was sent by Andy Shepard, CEO of the Outdoor Sports Institute, and Tom Federle, a Portland attorney, who have been working with Arctaris to try to purchase the ski area.
When it was open, Saddleback was the state’s third-largest ski resort, drawing thousands of tourists every winter and providing hundreds of local jobs.
Shepard would not confirm Arctaris’ terms – only that the $500 million investment group is interested in buying the ski mountain and has the means to do so. The purchase price was not disclosed.
“Tom Federle and I have been quietly trying to find a buyer for the mountain for the last four years and connected with Arctaris last fall. We have been very impressed with their commitment and capacity to not only buy the mountain, but doing so with a long term view to make the mountain successful,” said Shepard, the former CEO of the Maine Winter Sports Center, in an email Friday. “Arctaris is the real deal and I’m hopeful for the Berry family and for the people of western Maine that we can get a deal done.”
Federle is a Saddleback condo owner. Shepard said his interest in the deal is in “preserving one of Maine’s most remarkable ski mountains and the role it plays in the economy of the region, an interest shared by Tom.”
Saddleback, which is owned by Irene and Bill Berry of Farmington, has been on the market since July 2015. The ski mountain – one of the largest in Maine with an elevation of 4,120 feet – has not been open since the 2014-2015 season.
FIRM SOUGHT TAX BREAKS
Arctaris is an investment firm that works with banks, foundations and economic development agencies with the goal of revitalizing communities. It expressed interest in buying the property last summer, but said at the time a deal was predicated on getting approval from the state for certain tax breaks offered under the newly designated Opportunity Zones. But former Gov. Paul LePage, who had the authority to designate which Census tracts could be included in the tax program, declined to include any communities in Franklin County and Arctaris withdrew its interest.
Jonathan Tower, the managing partner and co-founder of the Arctaris Impact Fund, did not return calls for comment.
Mark and Faith Berry, the children of Bill and Irene Berry, could not be reached for comment.
Arctaris’ email to Shepard and Federle was shared Tuesday with the Rock Pond Condo association owners, who have homes on Saddleback Mountain, to show Arctaris’ desire to buy Saddleback. The Portland Press Herald obtained a copy of the email. It included a section from Tower, who spelled out the offer and process it hopes to follow to close the deal.
Among the assurances offered by Tower in the email thread were:
• The fund has the capacity to close the deal, and would use its own capital to fund the purchase – it does not need any financing through the New Markets Tax Credit or Opportunity Zone tax programs.
• It expects it will take 120 days to close the transaction, although it is unclear in the email the date of the offer.
• There is significant support from nonprofits and the broader community to help pay for improvements to the chairlift system.
Tower also notes that returns on the fund’s investment will be challenged by the long closure of the resort, the costs to upgrade it and the uncertainty surrounding future real estate sales.
“Despite Saddleback’s considerable challenges, Arctaris believes that there is a path to reopening Saddleback which includes combining our capital with the philanthropic contributions from the Rangeley community,” Tower wrote. “For scale, we are budgeting for a $25-30 million investment plan over the medium term that would include a $3-5 million philanthropic component. … Arctaris is uniquely suited to lead this type of bold initiative that will help to stabilize the Rangeley community, bringing back local businesses, jobs, and real estate values.”
Luke Labbe, a Rock Pond Condo association owner on Saddleback, said the email forwarded to the condo owners was the second time Arctaris included the condo association owners in sale talks, so he believes they are serious about becoming new owners.
“They are interested and they have recently included condo owners in the discussions to help influence a sale with Mark Berry,” Labbe said Tuesday in an email. “It would be a huge shot of energy and excitement to not only the Rangeley Region, but to skiers all over the great state of Maine and all over the country, quite frankly, who call Saddleback their home ski mountain.”
Saddleback offers 2,000 vertical feet of skiing and some of the toughest expert terrain in the East. It also provides significant employment opportunity in Franklin County, as the third-largest employer in the county with as many as 350 employees during the winter.
The Berrys announced they were in a purchase and sales agreement to sell the Saddleback ski area in June 2017, to the Australia developer the Majella Group, but that never happened. And its CEO, Sebastian Monsour, who promised to make it the “premier ski resort in North America,” later was arrested in Australia for fraud after allegedly misusing $5 million from a Chinese developer.
In October 2016, the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, a newly formed group of Rangeley businesses and Saddleback season-pass holders, announced they reached a verbal deal with the Berry family to purchase the ski area and the land around it – buying the core ski area for $6 million. In the same deal, the Trust for Public Land and the New England Forestry Foundation said they had reached an agreement with the Berrys to purchase another 3,249 acres around the ski area to preserve as conservation land, although a sale price had not been determined.
In both cases, a purchase and sales agreement was never signed.
Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: