Nov. 14--City of Highland Park officials said Monday they're willing to accept the Park District of Highland Park's offer to purchase the 93-acre golf course at the Highland Park Country Club for $500,000.

The offer is a fraction of both the property's appraised value and the $1.5 million the park district previously had offered for all of the country club. Appraisers for the city and park district valued the open land at about $17,500 per acre, which puts the value of the golf course at $1.6 million.

In a straw poll Monday, a majority of city council members supported selling the golf course to the park district before the end of 2017 to allow the park district to begin planning to convert the course to natural areas and walking trails.

"I personally feel we have beaten this horse into the ground," said City Councilman Michelle Holleman, speaking of her desire "in the spirit of cooperation" to move forward on the sale of the golf course.

Park Board President Brian Kaplan said the park board's offer takes into account the $1.4 million the park district plans to spend to convert the course to natural areas and between $100,000 and $150,000 in annual maintenance costs.

City Manager Ghida Neukirch said the park district has agreed to use a portion of the green space for stormwater management.

Under the tentative arrangement, the city would retain the clubhouse that includes the banquet facility and honor all banquet commitments through 2018. The city is eyeing the clubhouse and banquet facility as a possible location for senior programming. City officials also have mentioned renovating the banquet facility and reinvigorating banquet operations.

"As soon as we make an announcement that banquets are here to stay, you are going to see banquet (bookings) skyrocket because the community wants and needs" such a facility, said City Councilman Adam Stolberg.

Under terms discussed Monday, golf would continue at the country club through all or part of 2018 to provide continuous golfing while Sunset Valley Golf Club is undergoing a $7 million renovation to the golf course and clubhouse.

Park district officials in attendance at the city meeting confirmed they would be willing to cover a portion of the financial losses expected in golf and banquet operations next year.

However, both city and park district officials wanted to limit their financial exposure.

"It is one thing to maintain an amenity at a dollar amount that we can cap and justify to the community," Stolberg said. "It is another thing to have an open-ended checkbook."

In October, city officials suggested that a new agreement could be worked out with Kemper Sports Management to give the firm a greater stake in the success of the facility. The firm has operated the golf course and banquet facility for the city, and later the park district, since 2005.

Dean Lytton, Kemper's regional manager, said the firm is not in a position to take on the country club's losses, which have been conservatively estimated at about $138,000 next year.

The firm has agreed to reduce its management fee from $106,000 to $72,000 for 2018.

Lytton proposed writing a 30-day termination clause for golf operations into the contract, which could be exercised if the losses were more than the city and park district could accept.

"Should it rain all of May and June, or should Sunset open and it's a hit to the revenue at the country club," we can take action, Lytton said. "We don't want to get into a situation where the park district and city are losing $200,000 or $250,000."

Under terms discussed Monday, the city would retain ownership of the Golf Learning Center and River's Edge Adventure Golf, a miniature golf course, located off Route 41. The city would lease the facilities to the park district and share revenue.

City officials suggested that two areas at the northeast corner of the golf course could be deeded to the Legacy Club homeowers' association to provide a privately-owned buffer between the public walking trails and the development of single-family homes and condominiums.

kberkowitz@pioneerlocal.com

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