By Gary Gray
Johnson City commissioners politely declined the Town of Unicoi’s $400,000 offer on the former Buffalo Valley Golf Course property last week, saying the per-acre breakdown was extremely low and other offers need to be considered.
“As you are aware, we received a single response to our request for proposals,” City Manager Pete Peterson said in an agenda review meeting prior to the formal meeting. “I think we certainly want to give the Town of Unicoi our appreciation for this option, but I think it would be prudent to look at some other options.”
All discussion on the offer came in the early gathering, and Peterson simply gave a very quick summary during the latter. The offer expires March 5.
Buffalo Valley was purchased in 1993 for $1.5 million, but commissioners appeared at a loss when it came to pinning down and tossing out the current value. Peterson said the property had not been appraised in “a while” and that it could cost up to $50,000 to get a proper appraisal on the 125-acre parcel in Unicoi County.
“We certainly don’t want to offend the Town of Unicoi, but I’m fairly certain land in Unicoi is more than $3,250 an acre,” said Commissioner Joe Wise. “We need to map out a way to put a value on it, and perhaps get a broker to market the property. The City Commission does not know how Unicoi arrived at that price. I’d like to know if it’s $3,200 or $32,000 an acre.”
Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl said he has now approached a realtor to assess the value of the property.
Early this month, the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved a resolution setting out the terms of the offer. Conditions include a $200,000 down payment and yearly installments of $20,000 for the next 10 years to be paid at no interest.
The scenic yet financially draining Buffalo Valley Golf Course closed Dec. 31, marking and end to Johnson City’s foray into golf at the Unicoi County location.
A final verdict came several months ago in a unanimous vote by city commissioners after a blunt presentation by golf consultant Jim Keegan, who said “I think the picture that was painted is that it is extremely unlikely that Buffalo Valley would ever break even.”
Serious concerns bubbled up in May when a request was made to pull the city’s golf fund status from an enterprise (self-supporting) and place it instead in the general fund raised some eyebrows. The request included the city’s two courses, Buffalo Valley and Pine Oaks.
A workshop ensued, and most commissioners were hesitant to roll golf’s revenues and expenses into a larger stack of “paperwork” fearing a loss of transparency. A second workshop was scheduled. It was cancelled, however, and there were no additional meetings on the matter.
“I’m not sure if golf revenues have ever allowed it to be self-supporting,” Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin told The News & Neighbor. “In the seven budgets I have participated in, it certainly has not stood on its own, requiring yearly general fund transfers of $400,000 to $600,000 per year.”
Stahl was tasked this summer with bringing to commissioners a recommendation for Buffalo Valley. Options included: continue operating the course; enter into discussions with the Town of Unicoi about a lease/purchase agreement; consider an agreement with a national golf course management firm; sell the course through a brokerage firm specializing in golf courses, or terminate operations and maintain the property until its future is determined.