So city leaders don’t know whether the Town of Unicoi’s $400,000 offer to buy the golf course is acceptable.
During Thursday’s agenda review meeting, Johnson City commissioners cautiously tip-toed around the offer, saying they would neither decline or accept it until more due diligence was completed.
“We certainly want to extend appreciation to Unicoi for making an offer. At the same time, I think that it would be prudent upon us as part of our fiduciary responsibility to weigh this option and see if there are other options available,” City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners.
“(I’m) not suggesting that we reject this offer at this time. I’m just suggesting we may want to look at some other options that may exist for that piece of property.”
Peterson said he wanted another week or two to allow his staff more time to explore those “other options” and get a better understanding of how much the 123-acre property is actually worth. City officials paid $1.52 million for the golf course in 1994.
Including all the equipment and any operating subsidies, Peterson estimated the city has invested between $5 million and $6 million into the property.
The latest appraisal, completed in 2017, showed Buffalo Valley’s land market value to be approximately $2.81 million, according to the Tennessee Comptroller’s real estate assessment data.
“We want to be careful in how we communicate to Unicoi in the sense that they’re our neighbors, and whether this deal goes down the way that we hope or not, we certainly don't want to do anything to aggravate or cause some disunity or dissension there,” Commissioner Joe Wise said.
“At the same time, when I look at roughly 125 acres and a $400,000 offer, I’m pretty confident land values in Unicoi County are in excess of $3,500 an acre, and that’s not an operating golf course.
“So my concern is we also have a responsibility to our taxpayers that this is a city-owned asset, and to just give it away without consideration of its real value would be to short-change that responsibility,” Wise said.
Johnson City Mayor David Tomita said, “I don’t think that’s an offer worth considering, but if there was something in the ballpark or in the terms that were different that we’d like to counter. It’s going to be fairly expensive to get an appraisal. Are we ready to spend that?”
Peterson guessed it would cost between $50,000 and $60,000 to get the land professionally appraised.
Commissioner Jenny Brock pitched the idea of possibly leasing the golf course long-term to the Town of Unicoi, but Wise said he still wanted to know what it was worth to know how much it would have to be leased for.
Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch and Glenn Rosenoff, a Buffalo Valley homeowner and a member of town’s golf course committee, both found some positives in the city’s preliminary response.
Rosenoff said he appreciates the city choosing to continue to consider the town’s offer. And he was encouraged to hear commissioners describe the golf course as an asset in their Thursday night meeting.
“They consider the golf course an asset and they didn’t chose to reject (the offer) right out. That’s two positives. And, hopefully, we’ll keep the negotiations going,” Rosenoff said.
Lynch said is thankful city leaders are considering the offer and understands their desire to approach it carefully and to get “top dollar” for the property.
“We’d like to get a quick decision so we can work on the golf course if we need to do some maintenance things. But there is not a lot you can do at this point. We’re in the waiting period to see what they decide to do.”
The city’s request for proposals on the course gives the commission 60 days from the receipt of the offer to make a decision.
“I’m patient. And I think patience is important right now,” Lynch said. “I’m thankful they’re considering us. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
In early December, Johnson City commissioners voted to close the golf course on Dec. 31. City officials then issued a request for proposals in an attempt to sell the land, but apparently knew little about what it was actually worth.
With many of the golf course’s neighbors worried about their property values, the Town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen met Jan. 15 and formed a committee that hurriedly drafted an offer.
The final offer, submitted just days before the Feb. 7 deadline, totaled $400,000, with $200,000 paid up front and $20,000 yearly installments for the next 10 years with no incurred interest. The Town of Unicoi also stated it was not interested in taking ownership of the wastewater treatment facility located on the property.
Johnson City Indoor Soccer declined to submit an offer, while RE/MAX and Randy Miller did not respond to the city’s request for proposal.
Dating back to 2010, Buffalo Valley Golf Course lost the city a combined $2.07 million, and it only remained operational through subsidies. In fact, for the past 17 consecutive fiscal years, Buffalo Valley and Pine Oaks, the other city-owned golf course, have operated at an annual loss.
This story has been corrected to identify Glenn Rosenoff as a Buffalo Valley homeowner and member of the town’s golf committee. The original story misidentified Rosenoff as a member of a group of Buffalo Valley property owners who have committed to manage and operate the golf course if the city accepts the town’s offer.