Lodge owners unable to give business away

Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2003

This time wasn't successful, but Kenai Lake Cabins and Tackle Shop owners say they are considering making another go at relieving themselves of their Cooper Landing business.

"We want to sell it," said co-owner Cameron Hawthorne. "But, if we want to keep the 'for sale sign' up for another year, we may as well try again."

Hawthorne is contemplating giving another go to a plan he envisioned to give away his Cooper Landing business. The plan called for a contest that would have entrants submit a 500-word essay,along with a $400 entrance fee, describing how owning the business, mortgage-free, would fulfill a dream of escaping the drudgery of a 9-to-5 life.

The contest winner would receive the 3,300-square foot lodge-home and tackle shop that consists of three hotel rooms, six cabins, public restroom and showering facilities and a fully-equipped tackle shop, all on 1.4 acres of land overlooking Kenai Lake at Mile 47.1 of the Sterling Highway. The property alone is worth $223,100, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough assessing office. Hawthorne valued the entire business at about $510,000.

And to sweeten the deal, he would throw in 15 percent of the proceeds from the entry fees -- between $90,000 and $180,00 -- to go toward the $153,000 federal income tax liability on the winnings. To work, however, he needed to receive between 1,500 and 3,000 entries, which could net from $600,000 to $1.2 million dollars.

Hawthorne bought the property with his wife, Sandy, in May 1997, when he said found the lodge "just falling apart." He said he bought the property with the intent of fixing it up and selling it. Hhe made good on the first part of his intentions.

He said if the contest worked, he would pay off the mortgage and any associate business debts, and pay his tax obligations on the property with what was left over after giving the winner 15 percent for the tax liability. Then, he said he would move with his family back to Montana.

"We might come out a little ahead of if we sold it right out," he said.

But this didn't happen. The contest, which ran between the first of the year and the end of March, received only "a couple hundred" entries, Hawthorne said. Although the contest was publicized on www.bnbweb.com and www.essay.com, he said he didn't get the kind of exposure that he felt was needed to generate entries, because he didn't have the budget to effectively advertise the contest.

"If we could reach a million people, that actually could do it for us," he said. "If we could have had full-page ads in the Anchorage Daily News and the Clarion, maybe. But it's going to take at least $10,000 to make it work."

Hawthorne said ty he wasn't prepared to throw hat amount of mone at the contest this time around, however.

"If we ran the contest for a year and spent all that advertising (money), I'm pretty sure we'd succeed," he said. "But I don't want to spend that kind of money up front. There's no guarantee to get a return on your investment."

Since the contest didn't work out, he has placed the business on the market and said he has turned down at least one offer to buy it.

"They were going to level it, and just keep the well," he said.

In the meantime, he is beginning to prepare for the coming tourism season and is planning to add a road that runs around and behind the hillside property, where he intends to build bath facilities closer to the six separate cabins.

He said the business makes enough money during the three-month summer season to pay for most of the operating costs for the year, but by adding restrooms and showers to the cabins, he can increase the year-round business and, and thereby boost profitability.

Still, the thought of beginning the contest again in the late fall or winter is one Hawthorne said he is measuring. He said if he did start it after the tourist season, he would consider cutting the entry fee in half or even doubling the amount he expects to pay for advertising.

"There's a formula for this and it works," he said. "But you've got to get out your wallet."

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