City won't buy course

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2008

After three years of wrestling with the idea, the city of Soldotna decided on Wednesday to stop pursuing the purchase of a golf course.

As of Thursday, Birch Ridge Golf Course is on the market.

Ten days ago, the city sent a non-binding agreement to owners Pat and Myrna Cowan setting purchase terms including a price of $1.2 million for the nine-hole public golf course on the Sterling Highway at the east end of Soldotna.

On Monday, the Cowans countered, offering the golf course, "most of (the) equipment, golf carts, tools, leasehold improvements and water rights on the subject property" at a reduced price of $1,415,600 -- the value as set by the Kenai Peninsula Borough assessing department.

The Soldotna City Council on Wednesday moved into a closed executive session for an hour and 20 minutes, exiting with a direction to City Manager Larry Semmens to reject the Cowans' counter offer.

Myrna Cowan said she was "kind of stunned" to hear about the rejection during a radio news program Thursday morning.

"I have not heard from the city at all," she said.

Pat Cowan also said he was a little shocked to hear the news on the radio, but then spoke later with Semmens, who said he had a written response from the city that he intended to bring to the Cowans.

The Cowans were approached by the city about three years ago to see if they would consider selling Birch Ridge to Soldotna as a municipal golf course. Because they planned to retire within a few years, they said they would.

Numerous meetings with the Parks and Recreation department and the city council followed, and the possible purchase became a campaign issue during Soldotna city elections last fall.

Many favored the purchase, saying a golf course is a quality of life asset the city could not abandon; some were adamantly opposed to the city running a business; and still others remained undecided.

Pat Cowan, who worked in the banking and insurance industries before becoming a part-owner of the golf course in 1988, said an appraisal prepared by Derry and Associates in 2007 set the highest- and best-use value of the property at $1.7 million. Using the income approach, the golf course was valued at $900,000.

"He never did a market-value appraisal," Cowan said. "He said there were no comparable sales in the state and he didn't go Outside for comps."

Not being critical of the appraiser, Cowan said normally, an appraisal price would put equal weight on the three appraising methods, but Derry and Associates put 50 percent of the weight on highest and best use and 50 percent on the income value.

The $1.2 million price the city considered was a split of the difference between the two numbers, according to Cowan.

The price does not include the Cowans' residence, which they plan to retain.

When asked Thursday if he felt the three years of talks were a waste, Cowan said no.

"I managed to get a study (of the business's viability), to get an appraisal and to have the opportunity to meet Larry (Semmens)," Cowan said. "I find he's going to be a good city manager."

Cowan did say he found the process to be "too time consuming -- three years."

"Today the golf course is on the market as a golf course," he said. "I intend to leave it on the market as a golf course until June 12, 2009."

That's the day he turns 70 years old, and he and Myrna plan to retire.

"Then it will go on the market for highest and best use as it is zoned," he said.

The property is zoned commercial and rural residential.

Cowan said he is going to notify the National Golf Foundation and the National Golf Course Owners Association that Birch Ridge is for sale.

He also plans to notify the owners of property adjacent to the golf course as well as the Birch Ridge Golf Association.

Although he said he has not negotiated with anyone besides the city over the course of the last three years, he has had inquiries about its availability.

When asked what he and Myrna will do after selling Birch Ridge, Pat Cowan said, "We have been here 40 years. We have no intentions of leaving.

"We're Alaskans. This is where our roots are. We're staying here," he said.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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