Offer to run golf course takes back seat to RFP

Christine Wood Staff Writer / Staff writer
February 3, 2012 01:00 AM

The District of Sechelt has an offer on the table from someone who wants to take over the operations of the Sechelt golf course, pay the lease arrears in full, honour 2012 golf memberships and add a bowling alley to make the site profitable, but so far the District isn't biting.

The District of Sechelt has an offer on the table from someone who wants to take over the operations of the Sechelt golf course, pay the lease arrears in full, honour 2012 golf memberships and add a bowling alley to make the site profitable, but so far the District isn't biting.

Sechelt Mayor John Henderson said in an interview this week that an offer from Lower Mainland business man Peter Kwong isn't detailed enough and may not meet requirements that will be set out in the request for proposals (RFP) in the coming weeks.

"He's signifying that he wants to [operate the golf course], but we haven't even decided what it is that we think the RFP looks like," Henderson said in an interview with Coast Reporter, Jan. 30. "I don't think there's anything in here about time frames, and I don't expect this from him - but dollars, what's he offering? He's not being specific to what's the rent, for example.

"Don't get me wrong I'm not being critical of him, but it's a lot different than what we will need before we can assess this compared to a number two offer or a number three offer."

Kwong said he was for a time a partial owner of the Sechelt Golf and Country Club, but there is litigation surrounding that.

"We ended up purchasing the control of the golf course, which technically was supposed to be 75 per cent of the shares in the company now that is in dispute," Kwong said in an interview Monday.

While at the golf course last year, Kwong said he realized cost savings were needed and he hired CK Golf Solutions Ltd. to find ways to make the golf course profitable.

One of the ideas was to hire a single grounds keeper who would rotate between a handful of golf courses, saving the course about $100,000 a year.

But Kwong said he didn't have time to implement the plan before that ownership fell apart in November, 2011. Then on Jan. 9, the District took over control of the golf course, saying Sechelt Golf and Country Club Ltd. owed the District $191,332 in unpaid lease fees.

The very next day, Kwong submitted a plan to make the golf course profitable, pay the outstanding lease fees and honour all 2012 memberships, but he said no one is talking to him about that proposal.

He thinks it may be because the District wants to take over the golf course permanently by way of a public enterprise model.

"Public enterprises have the right to not disclose their financial information, which is very scary for the taxpayers," Kwong said, noting he has followed issues around public enterprise models closely in New Westminster.

The option of the District taking over the golf course permanently is on the table, according to Henderson.

"In theory we could sell the land. Another structure is somewhat like [what Kwong is] proposing, the third is some subset of people running the restaurant, and then the fourth would be the District continuing to operate it," Henderson said, noting part of the work during the next four months will include assessing the potential for Sechelt to continue operating the golf course.

At the Feb. 1 Sechelt council meeting, council released in-camera documents that showed they have committed to run the golf course for the next four months with Jeff James as the interim operation consultant. Councillors took $50,000 out of reserves to fund the four-month effort, with $7,000 a month going to James for his services.

Kwong says that won't be enough to run the golf course. He estimates it will cost about $37,000 a month just to pay staff, order supplies and keep on top of bills.

Henderson said more could be earmarked for the effort if it's needed.

"We had to do something to get started and we'll find out in the next few weeks if it's enough [money]," he said, noting staff can ask council for more money from reserves at any time.

Whatever the cost, in the end Henderson said the District will recover it by way of profit, rent or an upfront fee.

He said at Wednesday's council meeting that he expects it will take another six weeks before the District is ready to issue an RFP.

Coun. Mike Shanks took issue with the one and a half month wait.

"I'm just pointing out that there was a degree of urgency in getting this put out when we first got the ball rolling setting up this advisory committee. And so the sooner the better, that's all I'm saying. Six or eight weeks to me is way too long," Shanks said.

Henderson questioned the urgency.

"I think when the advisory committee was set up, it was also important to do it right. I don't actually know that there is a high degree of urgency to move forward to making a decision," Henderson said.

Golf course advisory committee liaison Coun. Alice Lutes tried to explain the lengthy process.

"Just to try to put Coun. Shanks at ease, the advisory committee is being cautious and I think that staff and council have to be cautious also. We really don't know that much about operating a golf course. So in order to put out a substantial and well questioned RFP I think we need to see what that has to entail so it may be that we could be two months before that's in front of the public," Lutes said.

"There's people chomping at the bit, but they're hoping they'll get a distress sale I think. So if we work our way through it in an orderly fashion I think the District of Sechelt and the citizens and then past members of the golf course will benefit from that."


© Coast Reporter

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