CLEARWATER — Over the mayor's objections, the City Council has decided to buy the clubhouse of the Clearwater Country Club for about $2.1-million.
Council members did so reluctantly, after debating whether it's really necessary to make this purchase to ensure that Clearwater won't lose control of the city-owned golf course the clubhouse serves. The measure passed Wednesday on a 3-2 vote.
"I think it's an important piece of property for the city," said council member Carlen Petersen, who, along with fellow board members John Doran and George Cretekos, voted to buy it. Petersen said this was a "unique opportunity" for the city to gain control of a parcel of private property that sits in the middle of its public golf course.
"Opportunities like this put you in the poorhouse," cracked Council member Paul Gibson, who, with Mayor Frank Hibbard, voted against the purchase.
"I think we're investing in the future," Petersen responded. "I think this is something that will be good for the city in the long run. It seems kind of silly to have a big piece of property minus the middle."
At issue is the unusual arrangement at the country club off Drew Street just northeast of downtown.
The city owns the nearly 100-acre public course there, but not the clubhouse, restaurant, pro shop and parking lot. Those are managed by the nine-member board of Clearwater Country Club Management Inc., which has owned those 6 acres for 85 years.
But the country club has been having trouble paying its mortgage, leading to fears that a bank would foreclose on the clubhouse and sell it to another buyer. A worst-case scenario was that a new owner would shut it down, cutting off access to the course altogether.
Hibbard felt that was unlikely, and that this purchase was unnecessary: "I am telling you I don't think there's any risk in somebody else coming in and swooping up the clubhouse and the parking lot in this economic climate without owning the land around it."
Hibbard suggested the city wait for the bank to foreclose on the property, then work out a deal with the bank.
Other council members doubted the city would save much money that way, so they didn't want to take the risk of waiting.
As it is, the city will draw from its reserves to buy the clubhouse for $2.1-million, the balance of the country club's mortgage and debts.
The country club's treasurer, John Bailey, told council members that if the club went into bankruptcy it would lose its assets to the bank, so the city would end up spending a sizeable amount of money on equipment to keep the golf course operating.
At this point, the country club's existing management team will lease the place for $200,000 a year and run it on the city's behalf. The club says it has plans to market the course and increase its revenue.
Hibbard and Gibson have doubts about the country club's ability to get the golf course in the black. If the city becomes dissatisfied with the country club's performance, it can bring in another outfit to operate the place — similar to the way it hired a company to run the publicly owned Clearwater Air Park Golf Course.
Said Cretekos: "We're all going to hold our nose and support this, and hopefully help the club turn it around and make it a gem."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.