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Seeking daylight on Mount Morris

By no means is the Adirondack Club and Resort project out of the woods yet, but now it may now know which way is north, and perhaps can navigate its way into the clear from there.

Michael Foxman and Tom Lawson’s Preserve Associates company is too beset by debt to continue the Tupper Lake project, the largest ever approved by the state Adirondack Park Agency. But two of their creditors, Stanley Rumbough and Mike McNally, formed a group called Crossroads LLC and went around Preserve Associates to buy out its mortgage from the Oval Wood Dish Liquidating Trust. The trust had sold Preserve Associates the 5,800 acres of land in 2017 and also financed the purchase, but Preserve Associates had not made a single payment since then.

Now that Rumbough and McNally own the unpaid mortgage, they are trying to foreclose on it and send it to auction. They hope to buy it there, but no matter who does, the sale would remove liens from the property, letting the land go debt-free to a new owner and leaving the debts with the men who accrued them. Unpaid lawyers, consultants and banks, golf legend Greg Norman, unpaid taxes to local government — these creditors may never get all their money back, but at least the Tupper Lake community and its economic future won’t be held hostage in that struggle.

“How did Preserve Associates get into this hole?” you may ask. They and some locals are right, to a degree, in blaming environmental groups such as Protect the Adirondacks and the Sierra Club, which sued to block the APA’s approval of the project. The green groups kept losing, but also kept appealing. While they never won a court battle, they won a war of attrition. The developers racked up legal debts they could never afford to pay.

Yet that’s only one reason for their failure. It’s clear now that they were overly optimistic from the start, too willing to spend money they didn’t have, too unwilling to pay people back. They had proposed this 6,400-acre project in 2004, on the back of the national real estate bubble, and they never really scaled it back after the nation went through a serious reality check in 2008. Lawson additionally bought up lots of commercial property in Tupper Lake, which was a wonderful show of optimism for the community, but debts had started to hound him even before the green groups sued.

Rumbough and McNally, on the other hand, are being careful to limit people’s expectations. McNally insists they are not developers but are open to working with developers after they free up the 5,800 acres. Also, they remind people that they are not buying the Big Tupper Ski Area next door, which Lawson and Foxman own, although debt has been a problem there, too. The ski area is what local people care about most, since they grew up enjoying it when it was owned by the town from the 1960s through the ’80s, and then privately until it closed in 1999. A local volunteer group reopened it for a handful of winters starting in 2009, but even those memories are now fading. It’s a wonderful ski spot, with plenty of long runs and two tiers of chairlifts, but it would take a lot of work and money to bring it back — too much, perhaps, to ever make back on revenue.

Still, someone is trying to seek daylight on the slopes of Mount Morris, and that gives reason for hope.

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