Two large Chelsea-area properties once touted as promising bright spots on the local business scene have gone dormant this year, baffling the community and raising questions about their long-term prospects.
Robin Hills Farm, an ambitious enterprise dedicated to organic farming and sustainable practices, occupies 130 acres on M-52 just north of Chelsea. It opened in 2015 before closing abruptly earlier this year.
“It’s kind of one of the mysteries of the town right now,” says Monica Monsma, executive director of the Chelsea Area Chamber of Commerce. “At the moment they are not operating.”
Last August, an early morning fire destroyed the clubhouse and banquet hall at the 150-acre Reddeman Farms Golf Club in rural Lima Township. The eighteen-hole course now stands unused, with no-trespassing signs posted on its perimeter.
Vargo Golf Company, which owns and manages golf courses in southeast Michigan, bought Reddeman Farms in 2015. The company started working to increase traffic to its restaurant and to host more special events such as weddings and corporate gatherings–though there was some resistance from Lima Township officials wary of disrupting the rural charm of the neighborhood.
A Chelsea Fire Department spokesman says investigators never were able to determine the cause of the blaze. Reddeman Farms’ website now directs visitors to another Vargo course, Whispering Pines in Pinckney.
“It’s in a transitional phase with what’s happened to it,” says Laura Nicholson, Vargo’s vice president of marketing when asked about Reddeman Farms. “So that’s all I’m allowed to say, so thanks anyway.” Nicholson, based in Lake Orion, then abruptly ended a phone call and cut off any further inquiry.
Robin Hills was more responsive. Ron Xu and three others invested $2.4 million in the property, building a special-events facility with classrooms, a cafe, and a retail marketplace as well as developing nature trails, a pond for dragon-boat races, a barn, an outdoor amphitheater, and an aquaponics greenhouse. Monsma says it had a staff of about twenty, including event coordinators, a naturalist, and workers in the kitchen and on the farm. But she says two friends who worked there were laid off months ago, and events booked for this year and next year have been cancelled, including the May 2019 Chelsea High School prom.
“We haven’t been able to get hold of them so we’ve left their listing alone,” says Monsma, referring to a business membership listing on the Chamber of Commerce website that still records Robin Hills as a member. That seems to have been the right call.
“There are plans to reopen it,” says Adam Kovsky, the farm’s head of business development. Kovsky says Xu currently is out of the country but released a statement from him explaining that over the past several months Robin Hills has been “consulting with farming specialists so that our hospitality and food service are enriched by what we grow on the farm” and also has been talking to “experts in hospitality and food service with the goal of providing the very best experience for guests on the farm.
“Robin Hills is committed to its mission to create a space rich in natural resources and sustainable design to engage the community through hospitality, recreation and education,” the statement says, later concluding: “We remain very excited for the future of Robin Hills Farm and are thankful for the continued support and patience of the surrounding Chelsea community.”