Suspicions swirl around resort plans for Andes

In 2006, when word spread that Aman Resorts was going to build a high-end retreat in the Delaware County town of Andes, the locals were thrilled.

A resort, especially one run by one of the world’s most elite brands, meant local jobs, more tourists and a stronger tax base for the Andes school, which is one of the state’s smallest.

But the years went by and no resort appeared. Instead, mysterious groups of investors began to buy up the most prominent buildings on Main Street in the picturesque hamlet. After the purchases, some of the buildings that once housed retail businesses stood empty for months at a time, accumulating broken windows and other damage.

Then Hogan’s, the hamlet’s general store, closed. The building, which was bought by one of the investment groups, has been shuttered for a year, leaving Andes residents with no place to buy gas, beer or a newspaper in the hamlet. 

Galvanized by the general store’s closure, about 40 Andes residents and business owners gathered at the Andes Hotel on Tuesday, June 16 for a community meeting. Tom Joyce, an Andes town councilman, organized the meeting to discuss the “warehousing” of buildings by resort-linked investors.

Above: Andes residents and business owners at a meeting on June 16. Photo by Julia Reischel.

“They’ve had a tremendously negative economic and psychic impact on the town,” Joyce said. “Are you warehousing or are you renting those buildings? Nobody will talk to us about what their plans are or about what they’re doing. We don’t know what the status of the resort is at all. We don’t know why they bought all these buildings in a row at super-inflated prices.”

Andrew Wos, one of the developers of the resort and the manager of the investor-owned properties in the hamlet, was not invited to the meeting. In an interview with the Watershed Post, he said that he is renting, not "warehousing," the buildings, and that he is committed to preserving a vibrant downtown in Andes.

No general store, no peace

Nine buildings in the hamlet of Andes, all of them on the north side of Main Street or on the west side of Delaware Ave., have been purchased by three companies in the past few years: the Andes Property Company, AMDEV Corporation and Keauhou Properties, according to Delaware County’s tax map database. One building once housed a Mexican restaurant; another was the headquarters of CitiHope, an international aid organization

But it’s the loss of Hogan’s, at 103 Main Street, that has angered most Andes residents. The general store building was bought by the Andes Property Company in 2012, and has been without a long-term tenant since the end of 2013. Its most recent short-term tenant closed in June 2014. Since then, the general store has been empty.

Responding to complaints, the Andes Town Board sent a letter to Wos, who is the agent for the company that owns the store, in October 2014.

“After speaking with a number of people who have expressed interest in renting the space, as well as to members of the local business community, there seems to be a consensus that perhaps you are NOT that interested in renting the store but are rather more inclined to just warehouse it for some future purpose,” the town board wrote. “We cannot overstate how vehemently we disagree with such a practice.”

Wos did not respond to the letter.

Argyle Farms, a farm in Andes, is currently in negotiations with Wos to lease the building and operate it as a general store. Both Wos and a representative of Argyle Farms said last week that a deal is imminent.

A resort 18 years in the making

Broadlands Resort Investments LLC is the official owner of the 2,000-acre Broadlands estate that was built by the wealthy Gerry family in 1912

Above: Photos of the Broadlands mansion, once known as Aknusti estate, in 2003. Photo by Flickr user Kellsboro

Aman Resorts has been involved in plans to develop Broadlands campus since 1997, according to Wos.

Aman operates super-luxury resorts around the world, and is in the midst of a high-profile global sale that has turned acrimonious, according to a 2014 article in Fortune.

While neither Broadlands nor the the hamlet properties are technically owned by Aman Resorts, they are linked through Wos. Also, one of the properties in the hamlet — 148 High Street — is owned by a company run by Ajai Zecha, the son of Adrian Zecha, Aman Resorts' founder.

Adrian Zecha himself was in Andes last week the day of the meeting. While touring the shuttered Hogan’s general store with Wos, Zecha quietly slipped out the back while Wos was being interviewed by the Watershed Post in front.

Wos said that Zecha was hosting a family reunion in the Catskills that week, staying at the Beaverkill Valley Inn in Lew Beach and hosting a pig roast at Broadlands.

“He loves it here,” Wos said.

“Support turned into suspicion”

At the meeting on Tuesday, Joyce described his dismay at the state of disrepair of some of the buildings owned by investors — particularly the former Cantina building, which Joyce once owned.

“They’ve had that building now for three years, and it’s falling down,” Joyce said. “There’s holes in the windows, paint is peeling off, they took the deck off the back. We’ve got an historic, unique property that’s in severe jeopardy. I think it’s a crime.”

Business owners at the meeting expressed worry as well.

Above: Main Street Andes. Photo by Julia Reischel.

Jon Schulman, one of the owners of Two Old Tarts, an Andes bakery, said that although residents initially welcomed Aman’s plans for Broadlands, they are now growing worried as the resort plans drag on.

“We really felt that this would bring well-paying jobs,” Schulman said. “You had a town that was really supportive of their endeavor. Then, over the years, that level of support turned into suspicion. Our businesses have suffered because of the general store not being open.”

Sean Scherer, the owner of the curated antiques store Kabinett & Kammer, will be operating a pop-up shop in the Cantina building along with Delhi cider maker Wayside Cider for six months this year. Scherer ran a pop-up store in the same space last year. He said that Wos is reluctant to rent out any of the buildings in the hamlet long-term.

“He will not go beyond a three-year lease,” Scherer said. “No one is going to invest in Cantina or the general store with a short-term lease. I don’t understand what this three-year window is.”

Several people at the meeting wondered who was making decisions about the buildings in the hamlet and the resort.

“We’re really being held hostage by these guys,” Joyce said. “We don’t even know who they are. They’re totally opaque.”

No "shadowy billionaire”

Standing in the shuttered general store across the street from the meeting on Tuesday, Wos said that he is the man behind the scenes of the Broadlands project and the investor properties in the hamlet. He is both an investor himself, as well as a manager and planner, he said. 

“I wish there was a shadowy billionaire,” Wos said. “At least I’d have someone to complain to. If you know of any shadowy billionaires, please give them my number.”

Wos has lived in Andes for 23 years, attracted here by the Broadlands property, which he initially hoped to buy himself, he said. An auto racing enthusiast, Wos moved to the Catskills from New Jersey with a hope of developing Broadlands as a rally racing destination, he said.

That idea fell through, but Wos’s dream of developing the property did not. In 1995, he interested the car brand Land Rover in the property, and helped host the “Land Rover Experience in North America” as a one-off event there.

But Land Rover declined to buy Broadlands and develop it as one of its permanent car courses, so Wos looked for other investors.

In 1997, Wos interested Adrian Zecha, the CEO of Aman Resorts, in the property. Zecha immediately loved Broadlands, Wos said, and Aman Resorts has had an interest in managing it as a resort ever since.

But Wos and Zecha don’t have enough capital to develop Broadlands on their own, Wos said. So together they have been looking for investors to develop a small, sustainable, 40-room resort hotel on the property.

Unlike the proposed Belleayre Resort for the Catskills hamlet of Highmount, which has also been in the planning stages for over 15 years, Wos said that he does not have deep-pocketed backers with funding for Broadlands.

“Under my watch, there have been seven different ownership groups” of the Broadlands property, Wos said.

“I’m the guy who keeps it all together," he said. “Aman isn’t happening fast enough for anyone."

Warehousing or renting?

Wos said that the groups of investors who are buying up properties in the hamlet of Andes are hoping to make money from their properties once the resort is eventually built. (At other Aman Resorts around the world, local shopping is often cited as an attraction.)

But Wos vehemently disputed Joyce’s assertion that he is “warehousing” any of the buildings. He has tenants in most of the buildings he manages in the hamlet, he said, and he has aggressively tried to fill the ones that are empty.

“[The general store] is the only building in town that isn’t rented,” Wos said. “I think this town has to have retail, or else is isn’t a town. We want people to come, park, spend money, enjoy themselves and then go back to where they came from. I want to preserve what’s here. You can’t preserve by doing nothing.”

Wos acknowledged that some of the buildings are in disrepair, but pointed to the rehabilitation of 131 Main Street, which artisanal tea maker Tay Home is now renting. Wos said the owners funded the extensive repairs with their own money.

Wos also mentioned that he founded an indoor farmers' market in the CitiHope building last year and operated it at a loss for much of 2014. (He has decided to shutter the market because it couldn't cover its costs, he said.)

As for Hogan’s, Wos said that he is committed to keeping it operating as a general store, and cited his track record of nurturing businesses there as proof.

“I’m the guy who dragged Don Hogan up here 15 years ago and set him up in this business,” he said.

Since Hogan’s closure, Wos said that he has aggressively attempted to lease the building, and has only received one written offer to lease it, which he is currently considering.

“I want it. Everybody wants it. I don’t want to go to Delhi for gas,” he said. “I’m working as fast as I can.”

Golf buddies

Both Wos and Joyce said on Tuesday that they wished things hadn’t gotten so heated in town.

Wos acknowledged that he did not respond to the letter from the Andes town board asking about the general store.

“I didn’t respond to it because I thought it was insulting,” he said.

Why didn’t Joyce just talk to him? After all, they play golf together.

Across Main Street, Joyce said the same thing.

“I play golf with Andy Wos. He’s a friend of mine.” Joyce said. “I don’t know if he’s being used as a sacrificial lamb.”