RANGELEY — An Australian developer has agreed to purchase the Saddleback ski area, which has sat idle for two years, saying he plans investments that will make it “the premier ski resort in North America.”

Sebastian Monsour, CEO of the Majella Group, was introduced as the buyer of Maine’s third-largest ski area at a news conference at Saddleback on Wednesday morning. The resort’s sellers, Bill and Irene Berry, and representatives from Maine’s congressional delegation were among the more than 100 people who attended the news conference.

Officials would not disclose the sale price. The company’s purchase of the resort is expected to be finalized this summer, representatives said.

An opening date for Saddleback has not been set, said Fred LaMontagne, the former Portland fire chief who will be the CEO of the resort, which previously employed about 300 people during peak times.

Monsour’s LinkedIn page says Brisbane, Australia-based Majella is a “multinational company operating in a number of sectors, including technology, design, engineering, project management and consulting services, property developments and capital finance.” The company has no experience owning or operating a ski resort.

Attendees applaud as former Saddleback Resort owners Irene and Bill Berry, right, pass the traditional wooden ski to Sebastian Monsour, chief executive officer of the Majella Group, at a sale announcement Wednesday morning at the resort outside Rangeley. Monsour has agreed to buy the resort in a sale expected to be finalized this summer. Staff photo by David Leaming

During the news conference, Monsour said he first visited Saddleback in 2011 while searching for a location for his company’s U.S. headquarters. He recounted how he and his family fell in love with Maine’s beauty and the warmth of its people, and he decided to base their company in the state because it “felt like home.”

As he described his family’s attachment to the area, Monsour choked up, saying his mother, who had died recently, had come to love the state deeply.

“We understand the importance of Saddleback to Rangeley, but also to the whole of Maine,” Monsour said. “So we are making this commitment to you today that not only will we be turning Saddleback into the premier ski resort in North America, but also into a four-season resort that we know and all think it deserves to be.”

As part of its first wave of projects, the company plans to replace the Rangeley Chair and Cupsuptic T-bar lifts. LaMontagne said the group will look at other infrastructure upgrades in the future.

“In this first year, our focus is to get everyone here and skiing,” LaMontagne said. “When our team has a date that ensures we can deliver to you the skiing experience that all of you deserve, you will know, and it’s as simple as that.

“We’re here to do it once and to do it right.”

Greg Sweetser, executive director of Ski Maine, said in an interview later Wednesday that Saddleback was always a key part of Maine’s ski industry, but it was only after the mountain closed that its true importance to the region became clear. He hailed the deal for the stability it will bring to local communities.

Former Portland Fire Chief Fred LaMontagne, the new CEO of Saddleback Mountain ski resort, speaks Wednesday of the excitement of the purchase and appreciation for the local support for the resort. Staff photo by David Leaming

“You know when you take something away you can’t deny what’s gone and people, I think, were shocked at how important it was,” Sweetser said.

He said the company’s focus on bringing more year-round recreation to the region is in line with similar efforts throughout Maine’s ski industry, where gateway towns such as Carrabassett Valley, Greenville and Millinocket have invested in attractions for hikers, mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that goes into building a resort, and especially the ski resorts,” Sweetser said. “If we can utilize these facilities for more than just the winter season, I mean, it’s just a good business decision.”

The Berrys wished the new owners the best and said they would help in any way they can. Bill Berry said the family had received four or five serious inquiries about the mountain over the past two years, but they believed Majella was best positioned to not only sustain but also expand operations.

“A number of the groups I think had the ability to run it as it was, but it needed more than that,” he said. “Majella seemed to have the horsepower necessary to bring it to a higher level.”

News of Majella’s purchase of Saddleback came even as the Saddleback Mountain Foundation was attempting to raise money to buy the resort and make it community-owned. The foundation is a partnership of local business owners and season-pass holders who have been attempting since last fall to raise $4 million toward the purchase.

In a statement Wednesday morning, Wolfe Tone, the foundation’s acting executive director, said his group “applauds the effort of the future owners of Saddleback Mountain and the Berry family.”

“We wish them the best for this vibrant mountain and are excited for the lifts to be spinning again,” Tone said in the statement.

Ken Haley, who with business partners owns 200 lots in the Rangeley area, attends the announcement Wednesday that Bill and Irene Berry are selling Saddleback Mountain ski resort outside Rangeley to the Majella Group. He said he felt “ecstatic.” Staff photo by David Leaming

Though Majella lacks experience managing a ski resort, LaMontagne said the company has designed and worked on other resort projects. As part of its management strategy, Majella will be keeping on some longtime Saddleback staffers – including mountain manager Jim Quimby, and controller and director of finance Greg Andrews – in addition to bringing on local real estate developer Perry Williams.

“What we’re really excited about here is the local team,” LaMontagne said. “This is a solid operation here, and the Berrys have really given us a gem to build off of. It’s got a great core and a great infrastructure underneath it, and that’s what we’re looking forward to building on.”

Monsour has had previous business dealings in Maine. In July 2012, he eyed development opportunities in Portland’s East End, including investments along the eastern waterfront. He said Wednesday that those efforts didn’t result in any development.

His father, Frank Monsour, bought a historic church in Portland’s West End in 2012 with plans to develop it. The proposal prompted a neighborhood group to sue the businessman and the city because the property needed to be rezoned. The citizens’ group initially won its lawsuit, when a Superior Court Justice ruled that the city had erred when it rezoned the 1877 church property. But in 2014, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court reversed the lower court’s ruling, clearing the way for construction of office space in the church’s parish house.

That space will be renovated and will open in the coming months to serve as Majella’s U.S. headquarters, Sebastian Monsour said Wednesday.

The Berrys bought Saddleback and 8,000 acres surrounding it in 2003. Over the course of their ownership, they invested $40 million in improvements. In July 2015, the Berrys announced that they would not open for the winter unless they secured $3 million in financing for a new chairlift. In the fall of 2015, they announced that they were in negotiations with a buyer, but the sale was not successful and the mountain sat idle.

Kenneth Haley, who owns 200 lots in the Rangeley area with business partners, said Wednesday that he felt “ecstatic” after the sale announcement, “mostly for the business opportunity for the town, for the people.”

“It’s unbelievable for the future of the town,” Haley said. “It sounds like it’s going to be tremendous for everybody.”

Haley also said he was not disappointed that the group did not set a date for the reopening.

“They’re better off getting it ready and making it a showcase.”

Kate McCormick — 861-9218

kmccormick@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @KateRMcCormick