Red Wing City Council takes golf course issue behind closed doors
RED WING — The drama surrounding Mississippi National Golf Links in Red Wing is expected to continue tonight behind closed doors, a few weeks after long-time operator Wendell Pittenger announced that he'd be permanently closing the 36-hole golf course on Nov. 1.
Red Wing city administrator Kay Kuhlmann declined comment Thursday afternoon, but the city council's agenda released Friday afternoon includes a closed session discussion about the situation.
A short, written explanation says the city requires legal advice from its attorney on the matter and "it would be detrimental to the city's interest for the council to hold a public discussion with its attorney where any adverse parties or their attorneys could listen to or be made aware of the city attorney's advice and the possible legal actions considered by the city council."
Pittender, who is on a Russian cruise and unavailable for comment, has operated the course since it opened nearly 30 years ago. It began as a nine-hole course but has been expanded three times to its current size. The most recent expansion came in 1999 and included a complicated bond that was personally guaranteed by Pittenger but issued to the city in order to receive a more favored interest rate.
After numerous extensions through Associated Bank, a $1.1 million bond payment is due Nov. 1 — the same day Pittenger intends to walk away. Pittenger has yet to make a public statement on the matter and city council member Peggy Rehder declined to answer whether he's informed the city of his intentions with the bond.
"There's a situation here where both parties could be considered in default," Rehder said. It's unclear if the city would have grounds for a lawsuit if the bond isn't paid; Associated Bank becomes the operator by default in that situation.
The city, which is losing more than $150,000 annually on the course, tried to sell the 400-plus acre property in 2011 but turned down two bids that were deemed low.
The Red Wing Municipal Golf Corp., a non-profit group formed by citizens vehemently opposed to selling the course, has continued to offer officials another option. It has developed a plan to operate the course on a trial basis for five years before the city makes a final decision on the course's future.
The idea was rejected by the city council in 2011, but the group remains hopeful.
"We've just been doing fundraising, but we're really in the lurch just waiting," said the group's spokesman Erik Fridell, who is also running for a spot on city council this fall.