Jim Kelley of HK Hospitality Management LLC says the company hopes to pen a deal that could bring millions of dollars to the region, along with a world- class resort and conference center in Cable, Wis., just north of Hayward.
The management company – along with state, regional and local officials – are discussing a possible purchase and hope to sign an agreement for Telemark Lodge this fall, with the intention of closing on the deal before year-end. If their hopes materialize, they intend to deconstruct the existing facility next year.
That’s right, deconstruct it.
“This is an exciting time, but I want to make it clear: If this happens, we are not just buying Telemark and reopening it. We are rebuilding it to be a year-round resort, training and conference center,” Kelley said in an interview.
His company is conducting final due diligence and completing an additional feasibility study, but he doesn’t anticipate those steps will prevent the project from advancing.
In a prepared statement, he said, “HK Hospitality Management LLC does not perceive that either will give any reason for HK not to continue as planned, as we have over the last 2+ years put a great deal of attention into the details to make this project work.”
The group is willing to invest $47 million to purchase and rebuild the lodge. Once complete, it would be a 250-room resort with a 20,000-square-foot conference center. While much of the work would involve new construction, Kelley wants to build on the legacy of Telemark.
“We anticipate keeping the lobby and historical fireplace,” he said. “We want to build on the glory days of Telemark.”
But unlike previous owners, Kelley said their plan will focus on creating a year-round destination beyond regional tourists. That would include building on the strong reputation of Telemark in years past, sponsoring world-class winter activities such as the American Birkebeiner. But that’s just the start. Kelley said they will make a considerable investment in an aggressive marketing plan to introduce the region in key metro areas such as Chicago and the Twin Cities.
Developers also plan to host a series of premiere interactive weekends. They could include events such as partnering with national food publications to host up to three regional Midwest Food and Wine events per year, or, host famed recording artists for a weekend where guests can hear their music, but also attend seminars and interact with the musicians. They are also considering Academy Award weekends where actors present their past films for which they are best known.
In addition, Kelley said they are working on plans to attract customers during the shoulder season by collaborating with industries including accounting and insurance where employees need to continuously complete intense training. That business segment brings in year-round revenue, creating a more sustainable business model and providing year-round jobs.
The company is also in conversations with the Titus family on how they might partner with them or purchase the Telemark Golf Course and Spider Lake Course. The two courses are open and, despite rumors, neither has been sold to HK Hospitality as of press time.
This wouldn’t be the first time the company has achieved this type of success at a resort. HK Hospitality Management has a long history of working with other properties in similar ways to create year-round destinations. Kelley and his partner Steve Hedberg have more than 40 years of combined experience in the hospitality and hotel management world. The company currently has offices in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Florida. This would be its first Wisconsin resort.
A number of individuals and organizations have been working on the deal including the Bayfield County Economic Development Corp., Bayfield County Board of Supervisors and American Birkebeiner Executive Director Ben Popp. Cable Chamber Director James Bolen has worked with HK Hospitality Management on the potential deal since the beginning and said this project would provide a major economic boost to the entire region.
“The Telemark project, if it comes to fruition, would alter the region’s economic climate far beyond the Cable Area. This project would deliver much-needed jobs to our residents and drive revenue into many businesses throughout northwest Wisconsin. With an estimated $25 million direct visitor spending impact, the ripple effect would likely encourage further business development. This project could be the catalyst towards an economic upturn unlike any we’ve seen,” Bolen said.
He calculated the potential direct visitor spending based on data collected by the Department of Tourism through Longwoods International. In general, the average Wisconsin visitor spends $154 per day. Multiplying that by the anticipated occupancy rate of the 250-room hotel, direct visitor spending could reach $25 million annually. Further, the lodge could provide an additional 120 full-time jobs and 80 part-time jobs.
While it is important to note the deal is not done, Kelley said he’s confident enough at this time to go public because he believes in the project.
“We wouldn’t have invested this much time and money into the project if we didn’t believe it was going to happen. We operate projects all over and wouldn’t do this one if we didn’t believe it was going to have long-term sustainability,” Kelley said.
Beth Probst is an Iron River-based freelance writer.