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Saranac Waterfront Lodge sold

The Saranac Waterfront Lodge on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake is seen on June 28. (Enterprise photo — Andy Flynn)

SARANAC LAKE — A Malone-based hospitality group is set to purchase the Saranac Waterfront Lodge on Lake Flower Avenue. This comes after the four-year-old hotel’s deed was transferred to a bank in lieu of a foreclosure as the owners and lenders of the property shifted control of it around.

With this purchase, the man who initially proposed the luxury hotel is getting back involved with it after almost a decade away, and there are plans to offer ski packages with Titus Mountain, near Malone, which is owned by some of the hospitality group’s members.

Branch Hospitality Group President Michael Doran said BHG is set to purchase the business and its land on the shore of Lake Flower, and that while the transaction has been finalized, the official ownership transfer will be completed in the next 30 days.

The banks that were the key lenders of the money to build the hotel — Champlain National, Evans and Cattaraugus County banks — took possession of the land’s deed in May, transferring the deed from Saranac Lake Resort Owner LLC to Lake Flower Street LLC, which is held by Champlain National Bank, the lead lender. Doran said the property was not advertised as being for sale, but BHG asked the banks if they could buy it, and the banks agreed.

“This hotel has all the boxes checked,” Doran said. “It’s on the water, there’s activity, it’s in Saranac Lake, a hub. … It just seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

Doran said he could not reveal the purchase price for the land and business. The property’s full market value was assessed at $7,664,100 this year, according to the Essex County tax map, up around $300,000 from the 2023 assessment.

The Branch Hospitality Group consists of five members: Malone attorney Nathan Race; Malone insurance and real estate entrepreneur Chris LaBarge; and the Monette brothers — Bruce, Brian and Christopher — who own and operate various businesses in the North Country, including the Titus Mountain Family Ski Center.

LaBarge initially proposed the project in 2013 and did a lot of the work to get the hotel, but eventually the project was purchased by two men from Maryland and Washington, D.C. who were the named partners in Saranac Lake Resort Owner LLC.

It cost around $28 million to build the hotel.

Champlain National put up $13 million. The state’s “NY Green Bank” — a state-sponsored investment fund with a focus on sustainable projects — put in $11.5 million of taxpayer money. Empire State Development put in $1 million, half of what it had initially pledged, as the hotel did not employ enough people to get the full $2 million. Saranac Lake loaned the project $734,000, which the village was paid back. The Essex County Industrial Development Agency provided the project a number of tax breaks.

The hotel opened in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but a fire in a heating and air conditioning unit on its 50th day of operation put it out of commission for 118 days while water, smoke and fire damage was remediated. After the fire, the hotel sought more investors for the business.

Doran said the management of the property will be transferred from HEI Hotels, which has managed the hotel since December 2022, to BHG’s in-house management team. But he said they plan to keep all the same people involved — the same staff and general manager.

“Part of the appeal of bringing the Saranac Waterfront Lodge into our group was the superb team of professionals working at the facility under the leadership of General Manager Matthew Taormino,” Doran said. “We appreciate their engagement and attentiveness to their guests as well as the way they have dealt with the uncertainty of the last few weeks.”

Last week, Taormino said the hotel was in rough shape when he came in with HEI in late 2022, but it started getting busier.

Taormino said the hotel has around a 75 to 80% occupancy rate “in season” and a much lower rate out of season. Adirondack weather dictates a lot of their rentals. Events like the April 8 eclipse, Saranac Lake Winter Carnival or Can-Am Rugby Tournament are big opportunities for the hotel. Taormino said they are sold out of rooms for the coming Can-Am weekend later this month.

Doran echoed what Taormino said, that the hotel’s performance is trending up.

“It’s had a huge turnaround in the last year,” Doran said. “We’re just looking to take that momentum forward.”

As they “make it (their) own,” Doran said they are working on a plan to increase the hotel’s revenue and occupancy.

“I think the hotel needs stable leadership,” Doran said. “That’s what we intend to bring.”

He said they’re in it for the long haul.

“We don’t do anything short-term,” he said.

Doran said he believes BHG will be able to turn the Saranac Waterfront Lodge’s financial situation around. They’re local and their combined effort give them business acumen, he said. The five members separately own Holiday Inn Expresses in Malone and Oswego, Titus Mountain, Adirondack Energy, Eastern Insuring and “many other” businesses in the area, Doran said.

Champlain National Bank President and CEO Steven Cacchio said the three banks were happy with the sale, a move he had teased a few weeks ago.

“We could not have imagined a better outcome than we have here,” Cacchio said in a statement. “All the financial institutions involved believe this is the optimal resolution for the buyer, employees, guests and community-at-large.”

Taormino said the hotel currently employs around 25 people. They are hiring for hostess, bussers and maintenance workers. Taormino added that it has become harder to hire locals with a lack of affordable housing in the region.

Bruce Monette, the Titus Mountain director of operations, said the ski mountain will offer “ski and stay” packages this upcoming winter between the mountain and hotel, which he called a “sister property.”

Doran said during the coronavirus pandemic, when Whiteface Mountain was limiting the number of ski passes it would issue at a time, they were able to capitalize on people who stayed in Lake Placid but traveled to Malone to ski at Titus. Since then, they’ve been looking to increase their cross-promotion.

The ski mountain is around a 50-minute drive from the hotel.

There are also golf packages with the Malone Golf Club being proposed.

“We are grateful to serve as the stewards of the exquisite Saranac Waterfront Lodge and we do not take this responsibility lightly,” Brian Monette said.

The 93-room on Pontiac Bay also holds the Boathouse restaurant, and rents pontoon boats, kayaks and paddleboards.

Requests for further comment from HEI, Champlain National Bank, Evans Bank and the hotel’s general manager were not returned by press time on Friday.

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