June 18, 2019
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Prospective Saddleback buyer disputes claim that he just wants resort for immigrant visas

Spencer Mendell | Saddleback
Spencer Mendell | Saddleback
An Australian company said it is raising money to complete the purchase of the Saddleback Mountain Resort in Rangeley.

The Australian executive planning to buy Saddleback Mountain Resort in Rangeley disputed news reports that he wanted the resort mainly for its immigrant visa program potential rather than reopening the ski operation.

Sebastian Monsour, group CEO for the Majella Group of Brisbane, Australia, said extensive planning at great cost has gone into making Saddleback a year-round resort that “takes in all the benefits, offerings and services of the landscape.”

He added that the EB-5 immigrant visa program is not the major funding mechanism for closing the purchase, as had been indicated in media reports Wednesday.

Excerpts alleged to be from an audiotape of Monsour talking during a Sept. 11, 2017, staff meeting were released Wednesday by Portland NBC affiliate WCSH. The tape was reportedly leaked by former Majella employees.

On it, Monsour seems to be heard saying, “The EB-5 program is the reason we are actually buying Saddleback. The mountain and opening the mountain is something we would like to achieve, but if we don’t, we are not going to lose any sleep with regards to it.”

The EB-5 visa program allows foreigners who invest at least $500,000 into a U.S. business and create at least 10 local jobs to qualify for permanent U.S. residency.

Sen. Tom Saviello, a Republican who represents the district that includes Saddleback, said the comments on the tape about the EB-5 visa didn’t make sense to him.

“You need a viable running business on the ground, and there are job creation requirements,” Saviello said.

Saviello said he’s heard from a person close to the resort operations that five to nine people are currently working at Saddleback to care for its structures and to plow, and they’re being paid by Majella under an operating agreement while the funds are raised to complete the purchase.

Monsour said he is finalizing funding agreements that “do not include the EB-5 program to finalize the sale and to fund the reopening of the mountain.”

“We were looking into the EB-5 program, but it is not a priority funding model for Majella and we are [finalizing] other funding models that make more sense for Majella to get this deal done and the mountain reopened,” he said. “It should also be clarified the any EB-5 program or approval requires job creation and that Saddleback would have to be operational and running for use in any EB-5 program and not the other way around.”

Commenting on the tape, on which he appeared to say Majella is cash poor and hadn’t paid certain contractors, he said Majella doesn’t comment on internal meetings or financial statements.

“But to clarify, we are in a compensation dispute with one former employee and for legal reasons I would prefer not to comment further,” he wrote in the email to the Bangor Daily News.

“Our priority is completing the deal to close the land, then to reopen Saddleback and the resort,” he wrote in an email. “We will be making announcements about this in the future, but rest assured we have been developing an extensive plan that is about a year-round resort.”

He gave no timeframe for closing the purchase. He signed an asset purchase agreement for the property last June.

The resort, which is Maine’s third largest, has been closed since July 2015, when the Berry family that owns it said they couldn’t afford to replace a chair lift.

Monsour said his company is in the final stages of a process that will fund all its commitments now and into the future.

“This is a complex deal and has posed numerous challenges to our investors. We are focused not just on closing but ensuring we have the long-term, sustainable plan in place for future of the mountain and the existing approved development district which includes opening the resort and keeping it open,” he said.

He added that the Berry family has helped with the operating agreement that allows Majella to continue work to maintain and reopen Saddleback. He said when the deal is done, it will bring jobs back to Rangeley year-round, and not just seasonally.

The private deal has been cloaked in silence. People involved Rangeley’s economic development seemed cautiously optimistic about Majella being able to complete the purchase, but did not want to be quoted.

Meanwhile, the Saddleback Mountain Foundation, a nonprofit group that had bid to buy the mountain a couple years ago, continues to look for an opening to buy the resort, according to its spokeswoman, Crystal Canney.

“We meet monthly should an opportunity arise for the mountain to become available for purchase,” she said, describing the foundation as a group of people passionate about the mountain. “We are in a good situation to take advantage of that.”

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