City Council agrees to Red Wing golf course deal
RED WING — The light at the end of the tunnel has finally emerged in the multi-year saga involving Mississippi National Golf Links.
The Red Wing City Council voted 6-1 during a special meeting Monday night at the Red Wing Public Library to move forward with a five-year lease agreement with the Red Wing Municipal Golf Corporation, pending approval of the local non-profit's board.
Robb Rutledge, president of the nonprofit organization that will lease the golf course, says his board unanimously voted to accept the city's terms Sunday night, likely making the city's final vote on Nov. 25 a mere formality.
"We think it's a win for everyone involved," Rutledge said. "We're coming home to Mississippi National."
Long time to resolve
The vote, which prompted applause from a crowd of about 100, marks the end of nearly four years of uncertainty at the 36-hole golf course. The city has seriously been exploring options since about 2009, but the discussions took a turn last fall when long-time course operator Wendell Pittenger, of Rochester, closed the course and walked away from his lease.
The course was closed during the 2013 season at a cost of more than $400,000 while the city, Pittenger and Associated Bank navigated through a lawsuit. The case was settled out of court last month when Pittenger agreed to pay $150,000 in damages to Red Wing and another $500,000 to retire a bond with the bank.
The nonprofit organization has been proposing various versions of the accepted plan since 2012, but each has been rejected by the city council. However, the current proposal was the lone response the city received from its recent request for proposals.
Multiple city council members expressed concerns about the city's financial obligation at the 400-plus acre facility, but the proposed agreement will cap that exposure. The city will contribute $210,000 for capital improvements in 2014, with that figure decreasing by 25 percent each year until reaching zero in 2019.
"I was pretty adamant about not having to support this thing forever, but it's going to take a bit to get it going again" said city council member Dean Hove.
Rutledge says his group has raised $320,000 through pledges and cash-on-hand. He expressed confidence that the $400,000 goal would be reached soon after Monday's decision, but the city has set a deadline of Feb. 15.That money, along with the city's contributions, would be used to repair the clubhouse, cart paths and other miscellaneous areas.
The non-profit group will be required to lease or buy its own equipment, such as mowers and carts.
Lisa Bayley, the city council president, acknowledged that finding a solution has been "agonizingly slow," but council member Mike Schultz said its important to give the local group an opportunity because the course provides an "immeasurable" benefit to the community — particularly the local high school golf teams.
"I feel like we need to give (the non-profit) this opportunity, see if they can engage the public and see where this goes," Schultz said. "I think to not give them this opportunity, we'd be remiss."
Kent Laugen, a RWMGC board member, says the non-profit plans to add the equivalent of 12 full-time employees when the course opens, including a new golf professional and a groundskeeper.
"Our local economy is going to get a million-dollar shot in the arm," Laugen said.