(Editor’s note: Three former members of the Sartell City Council have written an open letter addressed to the current council, strongly disagreeing with its intention to sell the city land on which the Pine Ridge Golf Course is operating under a lease. The three who wrote the letter are former Sartell Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll and former council members Steve Hennes and Pat Lynch. The following is a copy of their letter.)
As a former mayor and members of the city council, we remain interested and vested in the well-being of the city we call home. We understand the potential sale of the Pine Ridge Golf Course land has been under consideration for several months, but only recently have the potential terms become available to the public. After reviewing the packet materials for your May 8, 2023 council meeting, this is a terrible deal for the city and we urge the council to either reject this potential sale outright, or at a minimum to delay it to give more thought to whether this is truly the best option.
As you are certainly aware, this land was purchased by the city in 2008 with regional half-cent sales tax dollars. The authorization for that sales-tax revenue expressly stated the proceeds must be used for regional amenities. There was considerable debate by the council in 2008 about the purchase of this land. Some members were concerned about the process being rushed and the price too high. Others viewed it as a generational opportunity to secure a significant amount of park land in the heart of the city. Ultimately the council voted to acquire the 160 acres of land for roughly $3.5 million.
Today, you are proposing to sell half of that for $426,000. On top of that, the city is going to pay out a $60,000 termination fee to the current operator of the golf course, netting $366,000 for the city. Land generally appreciates in value over time, especially land in a prime location. Perhaps the city did overpay for it, but it would be a tremendous loss to the taxpayers of the region to sell it today at this price. It would also be a betrayal of the intent of the half-cent sales tax dollars to acquire public amenities with public dollars and then turn around and sell those assets to a private party at a bargain price.
The rationale for this proposed sale at this time fails for other reasons as well. Despite the 30-year restriction to operate as a golf course, it seems an almost certainty the city will release this obligation well before the 30 years. Golf is a sport that has gone through boom and bust cycles. It was in a 20-year decline before COVID gave the game a needed jolt. It seems most unlikely the city would require a private entity to operate a business at a loss if the game’s popularity wanes again. At that point, a private owner has 80 acres of developable land acquired on very favorable terms.
The city memo on the proposed sale also touts this “redevelopment opportunity will achieve the goals of the City and provide a longstanding request for more full-scale restaurant opportunities and outdoor music/food venue options . . .” We would argue the city has no interest in selecting a winner among the restaurant opportunities available to Sartell area residents. The city should work to provide a favorable environment for investment and development for all businesses, but selling on preferential terms to one operator puts other restaurant options in town at a disadvantage.
This proposed sale also fails a basic cost/benefit analysis. On top of the net proceeds from the sale being minimal, the tax dollars generated from this land becoming privately owned are miniscule and will have no material impact on the city’s revenues. However, the city will have given up 81 acres that could be developed for public benefit in the future. That was the stated reason for this purchase in 2008, to acquire land that could be used for generations by future Sartell residents. We may not have a specific use or the revenues to develop it today, but does anyone doubt the city will want more park land in 20, 30 or 40 years? Where else will it acquire 81 acres for $366,000? The simple answer is it won’t.
When that 160 acres of land was purchased, the city didn’t have the revenues to develop it. With the assistance of private partnerships, money was raised and the city committed more dollars down the road. That land sat fallow for a few years, but today it’s an asset all in the city are proud of. What could we have in the future on the south side if we were patient?
There is nothing compelling the sale at this time, and the benefits are simply not there. In addition, the city would be forever throwing away the opportunity to develop that land for the public’s benefit, as it was intended when purchased. We urge the council to reject this sale at your May 22 meeting.