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Future of Buffalo Valley Golf Course still up in the air

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 31, 2018 at 11:01 PM

Teed up with a $400,000 offer to buy Buffalo Valley Golf Course still on the table and no official word of the city’s decision on the offer, the town of Unicoi is waiting for the city of Johnson City to play through its options.

Near the end of Thursday’s city commission meeting, City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners a request has been put out for proposals from real estate brokers to market the golf course.

The city has also applied for a permit from state Department of Environment and Conservation to resume its removal of topsoil from the course, a project that began soon after the city closed the course on Jan. 1. On Friday, the TDEC website listed the status the permit application as “incomplete.”

Earlier last month, Peterson told the commission the city has also hired an engineering firm to study the possibility of designating a portion of the course as a federally protected wetlands area that could be used to replace wetlands disturbed in unrelated city projects.

Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said Friday he has “not heard a word” from the city on the town’s conditional bid on the course submitted in early February in response to the city’s earlier request for proposals to buy the course.

The town voted to make the offer, which stipulates its payment to the city be made over time and without interest, was conditioned on a commitment from neighboring Buffalo Valley landowners who agreed to operate the golf course.

When the city opened bids on the course on Feb. 15, the town’s offer was the only bid received and was met by concerns from several city commissioners who indicated selling the course for $400,000 would be a disservice to Johnson City taxpayers.

Real estate assessment data provided by the Tennessee Comptroller’;s Office shows the latest appraisal of the course was conducted in 2017 and put the value at approximately $2.8 million.

The city bought the course for $1.52 million in 1994. Peterson estimates the city has since invested between $5 million and $6 million in operations and equipment for the course.

The city closed the course, citing a significant decline in golf that over the past 17 years has resulted in a combined $2.07 million in operating losses at Buffalo Valley and the city’s Pine Oaks Golf Course.

Unicoi property owners with homes near the golf course have developed a business plan with cost reduction and revenue strategies they believe could generate annual operating gains of about $9,300.

The land owners list the negative impacts of losing the course as reduced property values, loss of business activity generated by golfers, reduced property and sales tax collections and and loss of financial resources for economic development in Unicoi County. Lynch has also cited a loss of the attraction the course poses to manufacturers and other development investors interested in locating the the county.

The city’s deadline to to accept or decline the town’s offer is April 15. If Johnson City declines the offer, the town has requested the city return within 30 days the $40,000 good faith down payment it was required to submit with the offer.

Unicoi Alderman Doug Hopson said Friday that the city’s removal of topsoil, which left a large recess just off a fairway near the Country Club Drive entrance to course, and the removal of marble hole markers and other fixtures on the course, would probably lessen any future offer made by the town.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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