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Delayed but undaunted by wildfire and COVID-19, Mount Lemmon Hotel nears completion

Delayed but undaunted by wildfire and COVID-19, Mount Lemmon Hotel nears completion

After lengthy delays from a wildfire and the COVID-19 pandemic, the 17 cabin-rooms of the new Mount Lemmon Hotel are finished and furnished, awaiting guests seeking relief from the scorching summer heat or some winter fun in the snow.

But the hotel is still weeks, or perhaps months, away from opening, as the project awaits vital construction materials, said Justin Hafner, co-owner of the hotel with his wife and fellow University of Arizona alum, Andrea.

“We probably picked the worst year to open a business. … 2020 on Mount Lemmon has been really hard,” Hafner said.

The hotel is tantalizingly close to completion — furniture was delivered recently — but Hafner said the project has most recently faced delays in delivery of concrete for sidewalks and curbs needed to finish an essential roadway.

Now, with the concrete scheduled to arrive in mid-December, Hafner still hopes to open sometime this winter.

An early Winter storm brought snowfall to the higher elevations in the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson and throughout Arizona early on Nov. 9, 2020. Video by Rebecca Sasnett / Arizona Daily Star

The Mount Lemmon Hotel broke ground in the spring on the site of the former Alpine Lodge in Summerhaven, which burned down during the Aspen Fire in 2003.

With the installation of prefabricated, 400-square-foot casitas, Mount Lemmon Hotel was originally expected to open this past summer.

But the project faced delays from the start, as workers excavating the site uncovered an old bridge over the nearby Sabino Creek that had to be removed — along with old footings from the Alpine Lodge.

Then the Bighorn Fire, which started in early June and burned all around Summerhaven until late July, prompted a six-week evacuation and later closed the mountain to construction crews.

Hafner figures the fire alone set the project back by three months, as crews filled their schedules with other projects, and four separate COVID-19 outbreaks among the crew also delayed some construction.

Besides the delays, the construction issues have pushed up the cost of the hotel project from about $2 million closer to $3 million, Hafner said.

Once open, Hafner said, the hotel has a great chance of success as Summerhaven visitors’ first new option for overnight stays — besides the private, reservation-only cabins that dot the hillsides — since the Alpine Lodge burned.

The Mount Lemmon Hotel will feature 17 detached casitas with a kitchen, bathroom, queen-size bed and fold-out couch, sleeping up to four people comfortably, and some will have little pet yards.

Rates will be between $99 and $149 a night, with discounts for military members, reservists or veterans, and some medical professionals, said Hafner, who is an Arizona Army National Guard reservist.

The hotel will follow COVID-19 sanitation protocols, and guests will be able to pay online and check-in with keyless entry using texted codes for each casita’s digital locks.

Hafner thinks more people will be looking for accommodations like the casitas rather than traditional hotel rooms.

“With COVID-19, I think travel has probably changed forever, people are looking more for private settings,” he said. “We feel that these personalized cabins offer a COVID-safe, family and pet-friendly experience.”

Mount Lemmon travelers will have even more lodging options in the future.

Nearby, the 16-room Mount Lemmon Lodge broke ground in November and is expected to open in the spring of 2022.

Contact senior reporter David Wichner at or 573-4181. On Twitter: @dwichner. On Facebook:

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