2014-10-09 / Local News

Northport accepts golf course donation amidst many questions

By Mike Spencer
Of The Enterprise staff

It appears that Leelanau County has its first municipal golf course.

The Northport Village Council last week accepted by 5-2 votes a donation of Northport Creek Golf Course from developer Bill Collins and a management plan from Northport Creek Golf Course LCC to run it for at least five years.

Trustees Donna Groomes and Rick Deering voted against the proposals.

“I voted no because I’ve said from the beginning that I’m for the golf course as long as it doesn’t go off the tax rolls,” Groomes said.

Barb VonVoigtlander, president of the council who worked closely with village attorney Will Davison, Collins and Collins’ attorney, said it would be about a month before the council closes on the deal. The property transfer is pending a Phase 2 environmental assessment on the 63-acre course, which abuts the old village dump. VonVoigtlander said historical data showed the need for further environmental investigation.

Thirty-six people were on hand for the council’s regular meeting last Thursday, which was held in the Leelanau Township Fire Hall.

VonVoigtlander assured villagers that the council would not close on the deal if there were unsolved environmental issues.

Third Street resident Mike Danaher asked VonVoigtlander if the agreement included a performance bond. VonVoigtlander said the village’s insurance carrier — Paul Olson of Municipal Underwriters of Michigan — said no performance bond was required because there was no construction going on. Danaher pressed on, saying the village could end up with a six-figure repair bill for the irrigation system alone.

“You don’t have anything to back you up,” he said.

“It’s not necessary,” said VonVoigtlander, who noted that Collins will put $50,000 in escrow should the golf course go under while Northport Creek LLC is managing it.

Mill Street resident Christine Verdon, a member of the village’s Planning Commission, asked that both agreements be read out loud before action was taken.

“Everyone here should know exactly what they say,” Verdon said.

But VonVoigtlander said the agreements were discussed in detail on Sept. 27 and only the changes since needed mentioning.

Mill Street resident Mike Stoffel asked if the council had studied the costs of running a 9-hole golf course in case it took over management of the course in the future. He said a low ball figure he heard was $250,000 in annual costs for wages and equipment, with a high of $500,000.

“If you haven’t looked into it, you should,” Stoffel said. “I realize this is a gift, but this gift could cost a lot of money.

“What are the consequences if the golf course doesn’t go?”

Fourth Street resident Pam Steffens said the council should take more input before accepting the donation.

“Most of the input I have heard over the last year has been, ‘Be careful, be cautious, let it run for a while,’” Steffens said. “And I believe that when it comes to a roll call vote, that the sitting council that is representing us should listen to the people.”

Waukazoo Street resident Ben Walraven, who is chairman of the Planning Commission and a business partner with Collins in Tucker’s of Northport, said concerns over whether the golf course is profitable in the first few years were moot as Collins agreed to pay the village 5 percent of gross revenues regardless of the course’s profitability.

Rose Street resident Doug Kilgren said there were no township concerns on the donation of Woolsey Airport, which is primarily used by those who have their own airplanes. He also said the G. Marsten Dame Marina, which is paid for by state funds but run by the village, was a money-maker.

He said that time will tell whether the golf course is a good or bad gift.

Under the donation agreement, Collins will pay the village taxes at the pre-development rate. The course’s value recently was estimated to be $2 million by year’s end.

“I think it’s a great gift and (Collins) is a real nice man for giving it to us, but our job is to protect the village,” trustee Tim Kehl said. “And part of it is to make sure that we’re not saddled up with any kind of debt.”

Several tweaks in the agreements were made since the special meeting held Sept. 27. The $50,000 in escrow was moved from the donation agreement to the management agreement. The golf course would not be used for non-golf activities unless there was prior written consent of Northport Creek LLC and the village.

Collins also agreed to pay the winter tax bill.

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