Council agrees to explore Mif Albright swap plan
In a letter to city leaders last week, Harbor Bay’s chief executive officer, Ron Cowan, offered up to $9 million for Chuck Corica Golf Complex improvements and sports fields on the North Loop Road property in exchange for the right to build 112 homes on the Mif site.
The developer, which has submitted a formal application to the city seeking action on the plan, will have 60 days to offer more details, including where they would place a new Mif Albright course. Participants in Tuesday night’s meeting said a portion of the golf complex’s existing South Course is being considered, though they said the city could be forced to cut into Godfrey Park or bump up against wetlands or burrow owl habitat if it chooses to move the Mif course.
“The only reason we’re even willing to entertain this proposal is for the upfront capital and for the potential benefits to the rest of the sporting community,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said after an executive for KemperSports, which is managing the golf complex, said up-front financing for improvements the golf complex needs isn’t available.
Gilmore said she wants to see where a new Mif course would go; plans for sports fields on the North Loop property and for homes on the Mif property have already been submitted, Planning Services Manager Andrew Thomas said.
Harbor Bay President C. Timothy Hoppen said his firm has retained a golf architect to sketch out plans.
City Councilman Doug deHaan said he’s concerned that exploring the proposal will further bog down efforts to secure a private operator for the golf complex and ink a deal with the Alameda Junior Golf Association to run the Mif Albright course. He said he thinks it would take a year for Harbor Bay’s proposal to gain the approvals it needs to move forward, a timeline Thomas confirmed.
The council agreed to move forward toward a term sheet allowing the junior golf association to run the Mif, a document that will serve as a precursor to an actual lease that’s now due before the council in 60 days. But they have not yet decided whether to put the golf complex lease back out to bid. The city is currently negotiating with KemperSports, which has managed the complex for the last two years, for a long-term lease.
Kemper offered to pay for $5.8 million in improvements over 10 years, offering $500,000 of its own money to finance upgrades in the first year of its lease and using profits from the complex to pay the rest of that amount. Kemper Vice President Ben Blake also offered a plan to maintain the complex’s two existing 18-hole courses, jettisoning an earlier proposal to maintain just 27 holes.
“The community didn’t like that idea. And we’re sensitive to that,” Blake said when council members asked him why the company was now offering a 36-hole plan.
Golfers offered mixed opinions on the Harbor Bay proposal. They questioned where the money Harbor Bay is offering will come from and whether it will be enough to pay for the things they’re offering. They also asked whether the course, which now sits on a 14.4 acre plot, will fit on the eight acres they say is available.
“I think it would be wonderful to come up with a scheme that is a win-win-win for all concerned. But I have deep reservations about this plan,” Golf Commission President Jane Sullwold said.
Youth sports leaders said they’re interested in a plan that could offer sports facilities they have long sought. But they also expressed support for the junior golf association’s efforts to take over the Mif.
“If Ron Cowan wants to buy off the sporting community, in my mind he’s going to have to pay a lot more than $3 million (for fields), because that’s not going to do it,” said Pat Bail of Alameda’s Youth Sports Coalition. “The Alameda sporting community wants fields, but not at the cost of what’s right.”
The City Council decided in 2008 to seek a private company to lease the golf complex, and it ultimately chose to negotiate a lease with Kemper. But a deal has yet to be struck. The council also decided to negotiate with the junior golf association to run the Mif course.
Meanwhile, the Planning Board had turned down Harbor Bay’s request to rezone 12 acres on North Loop Road for a housing project dubbed Village 6 after business owners complained that homes would encroach on their commercial efforts. Cowan told The Island last week that a few days after that decision, city staffers had asked him to consider trading his property for the Mif instead of appealing to the City Council.
“This is one of the last projects we are trying to complete under the orig Harbor Bay agreement,” Hoppen said Tuesday.
Blake said that while his company had an “ongoing dialogue” with Harbor Bay, he wasn’t aware of the company’s plan until it emerged in the media.
“The process has led us to an interesting point, and we’re here to find a solution,” Blake said. “The new proposal from Harbor Bay is also an interesting – a new wrinkle to the discussion.”
Separately, the Golf Commission’s Sullwold raised fresh questions about transfers the city has made out of the golf complex’s budget. She said the city has been double-dipping into the golf complex’s budget to pay debt service on previous complex upgrades, and she questioned charges for city services made after Kemper took over the golf complex. The redevelopment authority governing Alameda Point also took a $300,000 loan to study a new course there.
Acting City Manager Lisa Goldman said the loan would be repaid, though she said the city still incurs costs at the golf complex.