Big Tupper remains in limbo
Court decision on if foreclosure will go forward may come in spring
TUPPER LAKE — As the winter season gets underway, and slopes around the area are filled with skiers and snowboarders, one mountain remains empty — the Big Tupper Ski Area on Mount Morris.
Village Mayor Paul Maroun believes there’s a chance the mountain could make its way into new hands within the next year, a step on the path to reopening the long-defunct ski area. But this process would take a couple more months at least, and then a long period of rebuilding on the ski mountain.
Maroun says a majority of his fellow Franklin County legislators are open to agreeing to taking ownership of the property if a judge grants an “in rem” foreclosure order, and then transferring ownership to another government body.
This would all happen after Maroun has left the legislature, though. He lost his reelection bid on Nov. 8 to Tupper Laker Nedd Sparks.
During the campaign, Sparks said he wants to make sure the community as a whole wants the county to act on acquiring Big Tupper. If so, he’ll go after it “aggressively.”
In Malone, Justus Martin beat incumbent Donald Dabiew for his county seat. But Maroun still thinks there’s a majority of legislators that would agree to it, with the right agreements.
Everyone wants it to happen, he said. The mountain would bring in sales tax revenue to the county, tourists and maybe even new residents to Tupper Lake and bolster a much needed winter tourism economy in the town, he said.
This whole plan rests on whether or not Franklin County Judge Craig Carriero, who oversees this potential foreclosure case, approves the in rem order.
The issue comes down to money. The county wants its back taxes paid. A foreclosure and a new owner would allow it to potentially start collecting these. But the numerous creditors who are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars by the current owners of the mountain also want to be paid the money they’re owed. If the in rem order is signed, their liens would be eliminated. The creditors are challenging the foreclosure in court.
Maroun said if Carriero signs an in rem order, the county would get first rights of refusal to the property. If it takes it, which he expects it will, the county could transfer ownership to the town or village of Tupper Lake, or a government-adjacent organization like the Franklin County Economic Development Corporation.
This government body could then lease the property to an operator who could run the ski area.
It’s expensive to run a ski mountain nowadays, Maroun said, and requires much more money than any municipality could afford.
Maroun said he’s been speaking to an anonymous wealthy group to potentially get the Big Tupper Ski Area in the county’s hands and allow a private company to reopen the ski mountain.
“I think that there would be a group that would want the mountain to be operational for other aspects of their plan, yes,” Maroun said. “I believe that there is a group out there that has the financial capability to do this.”
It will take a lot of money to get the mountain back up and running, he said. Skiers nowadays want snowmaking to extend their seasons, something the mountain does not have yet. They’ll also want a nice lodge and some of the lifts will likely need some work, Maroun said, as they’ve been stagnant for a while.
History of the mountain
The town built the ski area in the 1960s and ran it for two decades until it sold the property in 1987. Local businessmen Peter Day and LeRoy Pickering kept it running until they closed it in 1999, and it fell into disrepair.
In 2003, developers Michael Foxman and Tom Lawson planned to revive the ski area and build a resort and luxury home development on it and its surrounding land, called the Adirondack Club and Resort. But after stalled state agency permits and long legal battles with environmentalists and creditors, the project ran out of momentum.
These legal battles put Foxman and Lawson into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and unpaid back taxes with Franklin County — the reason for the county’s attempted foreclosure.
Maroun said Foxman and Lawson’s Adirondack Club and Resort was “underfinanced from the start,” with a decade-long court battle with the Adirondack Park Agency over other parts of its ACR plans depleting their finances before the ACR was finally successful in court. But Maroun doesn’t like when people say the project was a failure. Maroun said the ACR brought national, even international, attention to the mountain.
He said he’s speaking with people who are interested in Big Tupper.
“The people who I’m now working with on that mountain are not underfinanced,” Maroun said.
In what now?
“In rem” is Latin for “against a thing.”
In rem gives the court authority to declare who owns a parcel of land. Franklin County Treasurer Fran Perry said it is the county’s way of foreclosing on a property which owes back taxes to the county.
The county is owed $302,554.34 in back taxes, Perry said on Tuesday. Payments on these back taxes have not been made in the past year, she said.
Maroun said a new owner could form an agreement with the county to pay the back taxes, sort of like a payment in lieu of taxes agreement. The county legislature would need to approve this, too.
An in rem order would also vacate nearly all mortgages and liens, except for federal liens. Developers Foxman and Lawson owe hundreds of thousands of dollars to multiple creditors.
Perry has requested Carriero to allow the county to take title of the land, but this process is being challenged in court by Foxman and Lawson, as well as lien holders owed money by Foxman’s business.
Legal firms Shanley, Sweeney, Reilly and Allen, and Whiteman Osterman and Hanna, which were hired by Foxman and Lawson for their court battles, filed “service of answers” with the court, as did Bleeker St. LLC, the estate of James Robert Treadwell and James Robert Treadwell, the Baxter Group, Raymond L. Struble and Brian R. McNaught, who all have liens through mortgage agreements.
Leins give the firms the right to possess property in lieu of a debt.
These creditors will want to get paid the money that they’re owed, Maroun said, and added that they are also sending letters to Carriero asking him to not sign the in rem order, because then they’d get nothing.
This puts the judge in a bind, he said.
Maroun hopes to work out a deal with the creditors to potentially settle for half of the money they’re owed, paid by a new property owner.
They’re not getting paid by the current owners, he said, and are unlikely to in the future. This way, they would at least get something and the county could get the liens and mortgages removed amicably.
If the creditors deny this offer, then, Maroun said the county could go to the judge and say “we tried” and push him to make a decision.
These “service of answers” filed with the court in 2021 are requesting that the foreclosure is thrown out, alleging that the county did not give them proper notice of foreclosure and that foreclosure would be an “inequitable penalty.”
The county has until around May 2023 to respond to these service of answers, Perry said. The foreclosure process has been delayed in the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic. The judge would then look at both arguments and make a decision.
If Carriero rules in the county’s favor it could take the deed to the property within a couple of days, Perry said. She’s confident the county filed for the foreclosure properly.
Perry said the LLCs Foxman and Lawson own the mountain property through have received a tax bill every January back to 2013 informing them they have delinquent taxes to pay, but the taxes have not been paid.
If the in rem order is approved, whichever government owns the mountain, Maroun said, would pay its back taxes, work out an agreement with the creditors and take on the liability for insurance at the mountain.
This would all take a series of memorandums of understanding, he said.
The details not all hammered out yet, Maroun said. The process is slow, but that’s for a reason, Maroun added, to protect everyone involved.