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Dunedin golf course operator gets temporary break on rent

Golf teaching professional Paul Sylvester, left, reacts as the putt of 7-year-old Andrew Gliddon, center, falls short of the hole during a June putting competition at Dunedin Stirling Links. The city has agreed to waive rent for up to two years for the company running the city-owned course.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Golf teaching professional Paul Sylvester, left, reacts as the putt of 7-year-old Andrew Gliddon, center, falls short of the hole during a June putting competition at Dunedin Stirling Links. The city has agreed to waive rent for up to two years for the company running the city-owned course.

DUNEDIN — Operators of the struggling Dunedin Stirling Links golf course will get a couple of more years to try to boost revenues before they have to start paying the city rent.

In spring 2010, Dunedin contracted with Billy Casper Golf, a national golf course management group, to assume operation and management of the city-owned course.

In addition to sharing revenue and concession profits above a certain threshold, Billy Casper agreed to start paying the city a $25,000 annual license fee in four years to cover rent. Payments were to start in March 2013.

However, golf officials across the nation say the economic downturn has hit the industry especially hard. Billy Casper officials, whose pleas in 2011 for a city subsidy were rejected, approached Dunedin again last week to ask for a compromise on the rent fee.

This time, city commissioners obliged, unanimously voting to waive rent either for two years or until the course generates annual gross golf revenue of $550,000, whichever comes first.

The Links last year generated $329,398 in gross golf revenue, which includes greens, cart, golf pass and driving range income.

"It sounds like we'll wait and see how things go," said Commissioner Julie Scales.

The vote of the commission was in line with a recommendation by Dunedin parks and recreation director Vince Gizzi, who called the temporary rate abatement the most cost effective of the city's options, given that Billy Casper will continue to cover all course operations and maintenance expenses.

Other alternatives he presented the commission:

• Seek bids from a new management company.

• Absorb the course back into the city parks and recreation department, at a cost of up to $70,000 a year plus improvement costs.

• Seek to merge the course with the adjacent Dunedin Golf Club, which would require the agreement of Dunedin Golf Club's board and at least $50,000 a year in city support.

• Turn the course into a city park, at a cost of up to $150,000 a year plus initial start-up costs.

Still, several city commissioners said they were concerned with complaints about Stirling Links' condition. Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski asked that the city and management company's maintenance expectations be put in writing and reviewed at the end of the two-year rent waiver period.

Tony Cianci, Billy Casper's vice president of operations, said the company is "committed" to maintaining the level of upkeep that city residents and patrons expect. Staff is preparing for peak season by nursing and sodding the greens.

"There will be a slight drop in the way the condition of the golf course looks during the off-season," Cianci said. "But that's good business sense in our minds because it's putting the resources that we have at the time when we have the most people taking advantage of the property."

He also noted that the company has poured at least $150,000 into renovations during its agreement with the city and never missed an annual payment to the city's capital reserve fund.

If the course finally manages to beef up revenues, Gizzi said Dunedin's contract makes it eligible to receive a 20 percent cut of gross golf revenues above $550,000 and 10 percent of concessions profits above $150,000.

Contact Keyonna Summers (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Dunedin golf course operator gets temporary break on rent 08/06/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 6, 2013 6:37pm]
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