Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



People pack city hall for forum on golf course

RED WING — After months of contentious semi-public debate, Red Wing officials engaged citizens Tuesday in the first formal discussion devoted solely to the potential sale of Mississippi National Golf Links.

Kind of.

While numerous residents shared their thoughts over a four-hour period that spanned two consecutive public meetings — nearly all of whom opposed the sale — the group that has led the charge, Save MNGL, went a different route before a standing-room-only crowd of about 90 people in the city council chambers. They hired Jay Lindgren, a land-use and municipal-law attorney at Dorsey & Whitney Law Firm in Minneapolis, to present their concerns.

Lindgren hammered on three major points on the potential sale — legal issues with deed restrictions, improving the ongoing process and examining the city's fiduciary responsibility on the 36-hole course — echoing themes that have been made by Erik Fridell and his group for months.

"They've listened to Erik and listened to Erik," said Gary Fridell, Erik's father. "They probably turn you off after awhile, so we brought in somebody new."


Lindgren was the sole speaker during the group's 30-minute presentation, though it's unclear what his future involvement will be. His time came after the city split its segment five ways, including ceding a significant portion to City Attorney Jay Squires, as various people detailed the financial impact of owning the course and various safeguards that will be in place for a potential sale that will ensure it remains a golf course.

The city has been engaged in negotiations with current operator Wendell Pittenger since December to sell him 363 acres of the 417-acre property.

The continuing disagreement about numbers provided the biggest fireworks, as Erik Fridell and finance director Marshall Hallock exchanged verbal barbs over the figures. Hallock says the city projects to save $1.6 million over the next 10 years by selling the course. Fridell and his legal counsel maintain the city has been losing just $60,000 a year since 2006 after poring over budgets and crunching numbers.

"I have a firm handle on the city finances," Hallock said afterward. "The attorney was spinning it a little heavy."

The appraisal was another major point of contention. The city's interest value in the course was judged to be $1,215,000 by an appraisal completed last fall, but many people questioned that low number Tuesday night. Hallock said the city's insistence on numerous covenants and conditions — keeping it a golf course, being the main one — in the sales agreement have an "astronomical impact" on reducing the value.

Lindgren countered by saying the appraisal process for a golf course is something that varies greatly. He also noted that the state conducted three appraisals before selling 301 acres to the city back in 1976. Gary Fridell predicted the city would come out short by about $5 million — the city has invested roughly $6.3 million since 1985, after inflation — if it sells the course based off the initial appraisal.

"If you proceed, take the time to do multiple appraisals," Lindgren said.

The covenants and conditions of the draft sales agreement were also the subject of spirited debate among the planning commission members in Tuesday's nightcap. The commission was charged with determining if the potential sale is in line with the city's comprehensive plan. After nearly two hours of discussion, the commission voted 6-1 that it wasn't, based on the fact that it didn't have enough information — there is ongoing legislation that might affect proceedings, and the sales agreement has not been finalized.


The city council can still move forward with the sale by disregarding that advisory opinion or the council can send the final sales agreement — which is expected to be formalized at Monday's city council meeting during closed session — back for re-examination at the planning commission's May 17 meeting.

"They can say it doesn't matter, but that has a lot of political risk," Gary Fridell said.

While Gary Fridell also implored city officials to consider the long-term positive impact of owning a golf course vs. the short-term savings of selling the property in Tuesday's early session, Hallock went through a laundry list of cuts and reductions the city has already undergone as a way to close the funding gap. More than 20 city employees have been cut since 2002 and about $450,000 from the general fund was used to balance the 2011 budget.

City officials believe that they have explored all the "easy" budget solutions, and more cuts would come from "higher priority areas," such as emergency personnel. That assertion didn't skate by unchallenged, though. Longtime Red Wing resident Roger Kjome — who said he operated through similar budget situations as a manager at 3M — likened it to "blackmail."

Despite the continued disagreements, city staff still expect to move forward with the current time line. The final sales agreement, which will spell out the city's many conditions contingent upon any sale, will be made public shortly, and the second public forum will be in June. An agreement with Pittenger could be reached by May 23, which would open the 30- to 45-window when public offers would be sought.

What To Read Next
Get Local