by Dennis Dalman
The terms of a lease between the City of Sartell and the operators of the Pine Ridge Golf Course in the city have been changed to give the operators a bit of financial breathing room.
A long, extended spell of winter weather through April had an influence on the decision.
At its last meeting, the Sartell City Council agreed to amend the lease upon a request from the course operators and city staff. The two operators are Dan Dols and Ted Klein, who also own and operate Boulder Ridge Golf Course in St. Cloud.
In 2008, the City of Sartell purchased multiple acres of land from the owner of the Sartell Golf Course for use as a park. That same year, the City of Sartell, Dols and Klein agreed to a lease through the year 2028 for them to operate a nine-hole golf course in what is now named Pinecone Central Park.
The lease called for payments of about $30,000 a year, with 4-percent inflator added onto that payment each succeeding year of the lease. In the years since, the City of Sartell has received $152,727 in lease payments.
Dols met with the council at its April 22 meeting to request reduced lease payments. Dols said he and Klein have invested at least $400,000 in Pine Ridge Golf Course during the past five years, and they cannot even cover their costs, partly because of the economic recession and – more recently – because of the continued wintry weather through April. Last year, Dols noted, the course was open March 15. Because of the late start of golf season, many prospective members, Dols said, would probably be reluctant to buy a $500 seasonal membership since golfing was impossible in April.
“We’re all hurting right now in the golf business,” Dols said.
Greens fees, he said, have remained unchanged for the past 11 years. The price of fertilizers and gasoline, huge costs for a golf-course operation, have continued to increase.
“We’d have been happy even to break even,” Dols said. “We’re just trying to stop the (financial) bleeding.”
Dols told the council he and Klein spent many hours and money keeping the course in ship-shape condition on top of their other jobs.
“We’re trying our best,” he said.
Last year, Dols added, they lost $40,000.
“And that was our best year,” he said with irony in his voice. “It’s going to be a struggle this year for sure.”
The council was sympathetic toward Dols and his dilemma. Council member Steven Hennes called it a reasonable request, especially in light of the economic slump and all the time and money the two men put into the course. The golf course, Hennes added, is a great plus for Sartell. If the city operated it during those years, it could have been a big financial loss.
Council member Amy Braig-Lindstrom also praised the golf course and the club house as great benefits for the Sartell area. She noted the improvements Dols and Klein made to the course.
Mayor Joe Perske praised the men’s efforts and lauded the fact so many junior golfers and senior citizens use the course.
“It’s a tremendous asset,” he said.
Council members David Peterson and Sarah Jane Nicoll, while not opposing a lease amendment, both said there should be more discussion and more negotiations between the men and the city before a lease agreement is reached. Nicoll said she has owned a business and knows how important lease negotiations can be. Nicoll said she had previously asked the city’s financial director questions about the lease and that the financial director did not have answers to all of her questions. Nicoll said “rushing into” a lease amendment for 20 years would be a “mistake.”
Peterson also said he would rather have further discussions, although when a vote was taken, he decided to vote yes. Nicoll voted against the lease-amendment resolution.
The amended lease calls for lowered payments to the city through 2016: $10,000 in 2013, $15,000 in 2014, $20,000 in 2015 and $25,000 in 2016. After that, there will be a 3-percent inflator added yearly through 2019 and a 4-percent inflator through 2032. The lease was also extended from 2028, as in the original lease, to 2032. The total of future lease payments will be $622,000, about $65,000 less than calculated in the previous lease.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.