Leelanau News and Events

Glen Haven's Sleeping Bear Inn, Shuttered Since The 70s, To Be Restored As A B&B Lodge

By Emily Tyra | Jan. 8, 2021

A long-vacant frontier inn within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakehore (SBDNL) will once again open its doors to travelers, starting the summer of 2022. The National Park Service (NPS) issued a letter of intent to lease the 1865-era Sleeping Bear Inn and garage in Glen Haven, park officials announced yesterday.

This lease — to the nonprofit Balancing Environment and Rehabilitation (BEAR) — will allow for the restoration and adaptive re-use of the inn and garage (pictured), which are part of the 13-acre Glen Haven Village Historic District, located within the SBDNL. Renovations are to begin spring of 2021.

BEAR is helmed by Maggie Kato and Jeff Kato of Genesee County. As the nonprofit's president, Maggie Kato brings administrative and organizational experience from her 15 years as executive director of Genesee County Habitat for Humanity (HFH). She retired in 2020. Her husband, Jeff Kato, has extensive restaurant management experience.

In addition to operating as a B&B lodge, the inn will be a breakfast and lunch spot open to all visitors to the Lakeshore. The Katos intend to be the innkeepers of the Sleeping Bear Inn operation “for many years,” with plans to hire kitchen, front-of-house and housekeeping staff.

Maggie Kato also tells the Leelanau Ticker, “Weddings are definitely part of our business plan, though maybe not year one.”

They recruited general contractor George MacEachern, currently construction supervisor at HFH in Genesee County, to oversee the historic rehabilitation, which will involve extensive interior work, utility upgrades, and adding a fire suppression system in order to bring the building up to code. Kato tells the Leelanau Ticker, “We are very interested in sustainable construction both for the environment and for the long-term operation of the inn. We would like to use solar/wind energy if feasible.”

“We are fortunate to have one of the best general contractors in Michigan,” says Kato. “George is a hands-on construction leader, a fact that enables us to do much of the work ourselves under the guidance of the National Lakeshore construction manager.”

During the physical renovation of the inn and garage, BEAR will work closely with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and SBDNL Historical Architect Kimberly Mann.

The style of the guest rooms and interiors will be in keeping with the Arts and Crafts movement, with Mission-style furnishings.

Kato says in addition to the guidance from historians, BEAR will lean on the expertise of a local board of directors “who all believe strongly in the history, preservation and legacy of Sleeping Bear Inn and Glen Haven, including Leslie Voiles, Chris Comeaux, and Kerry Kelly, who is very well known in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore community and past president of Friends of Sleeping Bear.”

Originally the Sleeping Bear Inn served as a frontier hotel for business travelers and local dock workers, and — famously — is where Northern Michigan visionary D.H. Day lived when he first arrived in Glen Haven. He owned the company town from 1881 until his death in 1928. The inn, which naturally evolved into tourist lodging, has been closed since the mid-1970s.

In order to determine fair market value rent for the inn and garage, an appraisal of the buildings will be completed this year, prior to finalizing the lease. BEAR will then enter into a long-term lease, with the NPS always retaining ownership of the property.

BEAR is responsible for securing the funding needed for the rehabilitation and the subsequent operation of the Inn. Initial funding is a combination of personal funds from the Katos; a loan from USDA/Oxford Bank; and grants and donations BEAR was able to secure. BEAR is actively welcoming donations.

“We estimate rehabilitation and furnishings to cost $1,700,000,” says Kato.

The Katos have not yet relocated full-time to Leelanau County. “Part of our financing for the project will come from the sale of our home in Genesee County and we did not want to make that move until we were close to the actual renovation stage of the project,” she explains.

MacEachern also intends to stay on staff to ensure proper maintenance and future rehabilitation.

Proceeds from the Sleeping Bear Inn are to be re-invested throughout Glen Haven Village Historic District. “Our goal is to return profits from the operation of the inn back into all of Glen Haven,” says Kato. “There are several other homes and buildings that need rehabilitation. There are even remains of a tennis court and curling rink in Glen Haven and we intend to restore these structures as well,” she says.

SBDNL Superintendent Scott Tucker is thrilled to have found such a strong partner for the future of the inn and garage. “We have been looking for someone willing to invest in the inn, and we feel we have an excellent match with BEAR,” Tucker said in a press release. “The lease will preserve the two buildings and allow greater visitor experience in the historic Glen Haven Village.”

Adds Kato, “We could not be more grateful for Superintendent Scott Tucker and the hardworking National Lakeshore staff, especially Chief Ranger Phil Akers who was tasked to find a lessee for this project and whom believed BEAR was the team with the right stuff.”

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