Hotel at 8000 feet in the works for two UA alum
A photo of Mt. Lemmon covered in snow.
Mount Lemmon serves as an important place for many University of Arizona students; a place for solitude, for getting away and for experiencing the outlandishly diverse Southwest landscape. For alumni Andrea and Justin Hafner, however, it served as a place for blasting through the winter snow on makeshift pool toy sleds.
What was once fun and games up in the pines has now turned into a significant business venture for Andrea and Justin Hafner: the first Mount Lemmon hotel since the Aspen Fire of 2003.
Now that Mount Lemmon is nearing the end of 2020's snow days, construction has begun for the new cabin-style hotel. The hotel has sparked plenty of positive feedback and is projected by many to benefit the Summerhaven community and cause an influx of visitors to the mountain.
The couple behind the venture both attended UA and shared a meaningful relationship with the hub of the Santa Catalina Mountains, both during and after college.
“It has always been our getaway,” Justin Hafner said. “There is nowhere in the world where you can be in a major city in the desert and 105 degree heat and drive 40 minutes to be in 70 degrees and pine trees.”
Justin Hafner completed a double major in political science and history at the university after being based in Tucson during his time in the army.
His wife Andrea Hafner, a Tucson native, completed an undergraduate degree in physiology and a master of science in nursing at the UA.
The couple met at a party in 2005, the first year that both of them attended the university. According to Justin, the two spent time in college participating in intramural soccer, going to the football games and enjoying the nice, cool air while climbing elevation on the scenic Catalina Highway.
“During the winters, when it was too cold to swim, we would bring tire tube pool toys up to the mountain and use them as sleds,” Justin remembers.
The relationship that Andrea and Justin Hafner shared with Mount Lemmon is all too familiar to the students of UA. Peter Vollmer, the president of the UA Ramblers Hiking Club, described the importance of Mount Lemmon to many students.
“A big part of dealing with the stress of school and handling these four years of change is creating time in our lives to get off campus and get outside to find some quiet and peace, and Mount Lemmon is the first exposure for a lot of people to find that,” Vollmer said.
Since graduating from the UA, Andrea and Justin Hafner have started a family in Tucson. The two have held onto their love for the hub of the Santa Catalina Mountains, visiting frequently and turning it into their go-to family getaway.
The Hafners came up with the idea to start a hotel on Mount Lemmon while eating at a Summerhaven favorite: the Sawmill Run Restaurant.
“We witnessed back-to-back people ask the restaurant owner where a good place to stay is. It was difficult for him to give them an answer,” Justin Hafner said.
For almost two decades, cabin rentals have been the only option for people looking for an overnight stay in Summerhaven. The Mount Lemmon Inn was a home for visitors until it was burnt down in the devastating 2003 fire, a month-long fire that burned almost 85,000 acres on Mount Lemmon.
Jenni Zimmerman, a Summerhaven local and agent for Mount Lemmon Realty, remembers what it was like when there was a hotel in the town of Summerhaven.
“It was nice because people who would go up for the day to hike and ski could actually go and rent a place for the night,” Jenni said. “Now you have to make a reservation ahead of time.”
Now, 17 years later, with a small business loan, county approval and a long-lasting love for Mount Lemmon, Andrea and Justin Hafner’s plans for a present-day home for Summerhaven visitors are unfolding.
The Hafners plan on creating a self-managed, pet-friendly atmosphere and a physical aesthetic in-line with the rustic setting of Summerhaven.
They also plan on implementing a fully digital check-in system. Customers will be given a code for their rooms online and when they check out, the code will automatically be reset.
Even though details are limited in this stage of the hotel’s development, Andrea and Justin Hafner plan on taking environmental conservation into account.
“We anticipate putting a conservation fund together that comes from bookings,” Justin said. “Also, we are planning to plant at least four trees for every cabin on a lot that is treeless.”
The hotel will be built upon a piece of land in the heart of Summerhaven located about 50 feet from the Sawmill Run Restaurant and 100 feet from the general store. Once the site of a lodge that was burnt down in the 2003 fire, the land has been a vacant dirt lot that has mainly been used for extra parking.
“Members of the community seem to be very open to it and excited for it to happen,” said Leanne Mack, the manager of the Mount Lemmon General Store. “It has been a long time coming and we are excited that somebody is actually going to take the land and do something with it.”
Because of the lot’s vacancy and the ability to build the hotel without invading any natural spaces, the Hafners do not foresee any environmental concerns associated with the development.
Justin acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic could slow down the process of starting the hotel. Every step of the way, they must seek out a county inspector’s approval, so the speed of the process depends on county availability. Current circumstances could make this more difficult.
Members of the Summerhaven community have shown their support and excitement for the Mount Lemmon hotel, praising its practicality and its potential for economic benefits.
“Overall it will be a great stimulant for all of our business,” Mack said. "Just having people spend 24 hours up here and seeing how our little town operates will have a different effect than when people just come up for a few hours.”
Mack describes that with the introduction of the hotel, some improvements to areas such as parking and waste disposal will have to be implemented in Summerhaven. An influx in tourism is making it difficult for the town to provide enough trash cans and enough parking.
“With new business coming, we need help from Pima County with these services,” said Mack.
Despite the changes that may need to occur with the introduction of the hotel, support from the city of Tucson and the Summerhaven community is high.
“We have gotten a very, very small amount of criticism on social media and some bad reviews before we have even started the hotel, but 99 percent of people have been in support,” Justin Hafner said.
When all is said and done, Justin Hafner stresses that family will be a central part of the Hafner’s hotel journey.
“We are a family business," Justin Hafner said, "looking to leave behind a legacy for our kids."
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