by Jim Boyle
The Elk River City Council approved a motion to send out a request for proposals for the sale of Pinewood Golf Course at its Feb. 16 meeting.
The deadline to submit proposals will be 4 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25, and they would be considered and accepted by the council on March 1.
Council members had no qualms with the quick turnaround, as the individuals and groups who have expressed interest in submitting proposals are already aware of the opportunity. City Administrator Cal Portner told the council they could extend the window and push off council consideration to the second meeting in March if it wanted.
Council members were more concerned, however, about other details of the RFP than the quick turnaround for buyers, and they addressed how the council should go about ensuring the golf course remains a golf course.
Council Member Matt Westgaard said it was important to make it clear the council would be considering proposals that call for keeping the golf course a golf course for a “minimum” of 10 years, and concessions could be considered if the commitment was for a longer duration. For instance, if an offer was made with a commitment to keep the course a golf course for 20 years, the potential price could conceivably be lowered, Westgaard said.
Elk River Mayor John Dietz said that stipulation would be fine with him. He also said the short timeline made sense and asked if it would be legal to send the request for proposals to the parties who expressed interest in addition to advertising the request for proposals process. Portner said that would be fine.
Council Member Garrett Christianson sought language to bolster the council’s ability to perform its due diligence by requiring suitors to provide information on experience, past performance, business plan and financial information.
“Obviously, we all want it to stay a golf course, but if it goes belly up in five years, that land is going to sit there for five years,” Christianson said.
Others said it would be up to the applicant to make their case and the council will have to judge for itself if they would be qualified.
“Of the three we know about, the Elk River Golf Club is the only one with experience running a course,” Dietz said. “I don’t think we should restrict them. They should put in whatever they want.”
“The responsibility lies with the applicant (buyer) to convince the seller that (they’re) a viable candidate,” Westgaard said. “What other language would you like to see put in here to get the depth of response you’re looking for?”
Elk River resident Michelle Binsfeld was given a chance to address the council even though it wasn’t a public hearing. She explained how she felt experience would be valuable and the request for proposals should reflect that. She shared how she got an SBA loan recently and had to give them a business plan and show she had the capabilities and experience to carry it out.
She said it’s important the council does its due diligence to make sure that it will be successful golf course for at least 10 years.
“The people (who are concerned now) won’t disappear in 10 years when this doesn’t fly,” she said. “They’re going to be really upset because they warned you to do your due diligence.”
Westgaard said if it was a contract for deed, one of the options listed in the request for proposals, a business plan would become much more important because the city is financing it.
“The remedy (if the venture fails) is it does come back to the city for full control at that point,” Westgaard said. “There is some remedy in that avenue. We can still control that it remains a golf course.”
Talk of selling the course surfaced after an out-of-the-blue request to buy the course was made to Mayor Dietz. The council held a closed meeting last month to consider the offer, and in its first public discussion of it at its Feb. 1 meeting, the council received considerable feedback from the public and two additional suitors spoke at an impromptu open forum. The council directed staff to prepare a request for proposals.
City staff did that and had its attorney look it over. The council made a few changes to the request’s language and kept the deadline of 4 p.m. on Feb. 25.
The city requests proposals from responsible firms, individuals or teams for the purchase of Pinewood Golf through a fee title or contract for deed. A proposal should include the type of sale proposed, a proposed minimum period of time for operation as a golf course and a mechanism for ensuring its operation, a purchase amount and terms of payment, evidence of financial resources and information related to golf course management experience and a business plan.
Final purchase terms would be negotiated with the respondent that best meets the city’s goals for the golf course and the city. The council reserves the right to reject any and all proposals.