Grand Haven Tribune: Debtors eye closed northern Mich. ski resort
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Debtors eye closed northern Mich. ski resort

By Rooke Kansier and Mark Johnson/Traverse City Record-Eagle (TNS) • Jun 4, 2019 at 4:00 PM

MANCELONA — Sam Porter is closer to realizing his Mountain of Dreams — but liens, a new levy and unmet promises burden his recent purchase of the defunct ski hill.

Monday yielded new developments in the Traverse-based entrepreneur’s list of unpaid debts, with a hearing awarding lender Shannon Walters a charging order — akin to a lien, or dib — against Porter’s Mount Mancelona property.

“I’m hoping he’ll come up with the money and do what he’s supposed to do — pay off his debt,” Walters said. “Simple as that.”

The Leelanau winemaker, who remains $50,000 in the hole, filed suit in February to recoup money he lent Porter to realize a lease and purchase option last October.

That loan eventually allowed a Colorado-based Mountain of Dreams LLC — registered to a Phillip Lee Allen but listed under Porter’s Eighth Street home address — to purchase the lot. That $395,000 sale wrapped April 2 via a covenant deed — a title transfer allowing seller Antler Bar Real Estate to include caveats on use and development.

Walters’ charging order and levy against real property, awarded at an early morning hearing by Judge Kevin Elsenheimer, cuts Walter a slice of the pie to satiate his debt if Porter ever sells the lot or declares bankruptcy.

“We don’t believe Sam Porter is probably collectible otherwise,” Walters’ attorney, Nicole Graf, said during the hearing. “I realize it’s not a quick way to get paid, but I told my client — ‘this might be the only way you ever get your money back.’”

Porter made no appearance in court — a norm, it seems, with default, or no-show, judgments ending several suits against him in recent months. The list includes Walters’ case, which netted a yet-unpaid default judgment on April 15; a $320,000-some settlement owed to philanthropist and part-time local Casey Cowell; and another $5,000 owed to Discover after a February decision. Porter’s also been taken to court by Antler Bar — an LLC linked to Chicago businessman and Pentwater part-timer Matthew Halbower — for unpaid fees, and in 2017 didn’t show for a suit filed by former office landlord Hilltop Properties of TC over unpaid rent.

Porter and his many LLCs were garnished in several of those cases, and others yielded liens and orders to seize property.

Court Officer Rick Robbins has made no shortage of trips to Porter’s home and Mount Mancelona to seize property. But it falls short.

“Nothing that’s going to pay off any of his debt — nothing’s that’s going to bail him out,” Robbins said. “He has nothing, there’s no other assets out there.”

Finding assets that don’t fall under liens proves a challenge, he said, and several items listed as collateral don’t actually belong to Porter.

“I don’t know how he’s going to pull out of this,” Robbins said. “He could file for bankruptcy, but he doesn’t have the money for that.”

But he has Mount Mancelona. It’s a property Porter has owned, lost, leased and now reclaimed since September 2017.

The defunct ski hill once drew crowds to Mancelona every weekend for skiing and events. Its closing in the 1980s was only compounded by the 2008 recession and closure of major Mancelona employer Dura Automotive, leaving the small Antrim County town marred by empty storefronts.

So when Porter — the brain behind several successful Traverse City events, like summer and winter beer festivals — announced plans to renovate the lost icon, Mancelona rallied.

He scooped up the 70-some-acre ski hill in September 2017 for $450,000 with plans to rebuild ski areas and add cabins, yurts, an educational farm and a bee sanctuary. Regular posts on the Mount Mancelona Facebook page added to the list, with plans for low-cost skiing, timeshares and summer camps.

Porter lost the lot after missing his first and second mortgage payments, however. His six-month grace period to buy it back ticked down, and in a last-minute deal, Porter brokered a six-month, paid-up-front lease with Antler Bar for more time to come up with the money.

The mountain’s social media fell mostly quiet as Porter’s lease — and purchase deadline — came and went April 1, leaving locals wondering as to the mountain’s future.

But Porter reignited the mountain’s online presence last week, previewing the property’s summer schedule. It includes a “pick and chew” feast Aug. 2-4, a Founders Brewing Co. beer takeover, outdoor activities and a music lineup including beatboxer Heatbox and Yonder Mountain String Band.

Porter wrote that proceeds will fund scholarships for a teen summer camp and repairs to the ski hill’s T-Bar, which earned the hill a cease-and-desist order from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs this winter for operating without proper licensing and inspection.

Locals like Mancelona Township Supervisor Chuck Johnson hope it’s a new chance for something good.

“He keeps hanging on — there must be a reason for it,” he said.

Porter and Halbower did not return calls for comment. Antler Bar real estate attorney Jim Rose declined to elaborate on the matter, and Graf declined further comment after Monday’s hearing.

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