COWAN GOES PUBLIC WITH MIF SWAP PLAN
Harbor Bay developer Ron Cowan is going public with a long-rumored plan to swap land he owns on North Loop Road for the city’s nine-hole Mif Albright golf course, where he hopes to build homes.
Cowan said he’ll consider giving the city up to $6 million in financing for improvements at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex and a new nine-hole course, and $3 million to build baseball and soccer fields on his North Loop property. In exchange, he wants to build 112 homes where the Mif stands now, which he said will complete his Harbor Bay development and allow him to pay off debt he incurred building schools, roads and other infrastructure for the project.
“What we really ought to do is all get into a room, move some of these holes around, and we’ll finance the whole thing. And what you end up with is a win-win-win proposition for everybody,” Cowan said during an hour-long interview Wednesday in a conference room lined with plans for new, North Loop athletic fields and ideas for reconfiguring the golf complex.
On Tuesday he met with Mayor Marie Gilmore and Acting City Manager Lisa Goldman to discuss the proposal, and he said he plans to meet with a host of sports and community leaders in an effort to earn their support.
City officials said they’re intrigued by the plan, as did leaders of Alameda’s golf community. But golfers worry that consideration of Cowan’s plan could further stall their own efforts to preserve the complex’s two 18-hole courses and to secure a Mif lease for the nonprofit Alameda Junior Golf Association and a $250,000 cash grant that will help them improve the nine-hole course. Cowan said he wants the city to take 60 days to consider his plan.
“I’m concerned further delays could jeopardize our efforts to move forward at all,” said Joe VanWinkle, who has been negotiating with the city on behalf of the Alameda Junior Golf Association for a Mif lease. He said the junior golf association has worked out business terms with the city to run the Mif, and that KemperSports, the company the city hopes to hire to operate the rest of the golf complex on a long-term basis, is expected to offer city leaders a plan to operate its existing 18-hole courses at a meeting Tuesday.
But Cowan said that if golfers fight his proposal, he’ll fund the 27-hole proposal Kemper offered to the city in January, which golfers have opposed.
“The only thing on the table is 36 holes, or 27,” Cowan said, adding that he’d still offer athletic fields and a new, nine-hole course. “If the golfers refuse to cooperate on the design of the 36, we will lend Kemper the money to do their 27-hole plan.”
The announcement offers the latest twist in a pair of complicated political sagas that became intertwined when Cowan’s efforts to build a final phase of his Harbor Bay development, Village 6, hit a crossroads.
Cowan wanted to build 104 homes on 12 acres he owns on North Loop Road, and he asked the city to rezone the land so the development could proceed. But business owners who operate across the street from the proposed development – which also sits a half mile from the main airstrip at Oakland International Airport – objected, and in May 2008, the Planning Board declined to recommend the city rezone the property.
Cowan had sued the city a year earlier, saying his agreement entitled him to build 200 more homes. He said Wednesday that the settlement that followed guaranteed him the right to build the homes, though minutes from an October 16, 2007 council meeting where the settlement was discussed say it didn’t commit the council to any future action. (Acting City Attorney Donna Mooney didn’t respond to a reporter’s request for the city’s position on the matter.)
Cowan said Wednesday that a few days after the Planning Board meeting, then-City Manager Debra Kurita and then-Assistant City Manager David Brandt asked him to hold off on taking further action on his plan. He said they told him that golf was on the decline in Alameda, and that they might be willing to exchange the 12-acre Mif Albright property for athletic fields on his North Loop Road land.
Both Gilmore and Goldman said Wednesday that they had no knowledge of any such discussions, and representatives for Kemper wouldn’t comment on whether they were working with Cowan.
“KemperSports has been working with the City of Alameda since 2009 to explore all options to improve the Chuck Corica Golf Complex,” a Kemper spokesman said.
Cowan said he wasn’t interested at first, and in February 2009 – when the proposed swap made its way onto a City Council agenda and both the North Loop businesses and then-Mayor Beverly Johnson urged it be considered – he told The Island he hadn’t seriously been approached about a swap and that he intended to build homes on his North Loop property. But on Wednesday, he said city staffers convinced him to change his mind.
He said he stayed silent about the plan at the city’s request until VanWinkle began contacting him, several weeks ago. Cowan, VanWinkle and Tony Corica, who has been working to preserve the golf complex that bears his father’s name, said they have met in the last two weeks, after Cowan said he won approval to go public with the plan.
Golfers’ relations with the city have been strained over the last few years as city leaders sought to trim the size of the golf complex on claims it has been bleeding red ink. They have accused the city of misrepresenting the golf complex’s finances and have fought efforts to shutter the Mif course and reduce the complex’s two, 18-hole courses by nine holes.
Golfers have expressed concern over what they see as the slow pace of efforts to both hire a private company to operate the golf complex and to sign a lease with the Alameda Junior Golf Association to manage the Mif Albright course. The City Council voted in March 2010 to negotiate deals with the junior golf association and KemperSports, which has been managing the complex since January 2009, and more than a year later, both are still pending.
They have also expressed frustration about the swap rumors.
“You know of course, the rumors that have been flying around for years that the Mif Albright property is a goal of Ron Cowan for a new Harbor Bay Club. I’ve been getting calls and e-mails that what’s really going on here is some kind of land swap, that they’re going to get that property, tear down the Harbor Bay property, and build homes there. Everyone thinks that’s really what’s going on,” Golf Commission president Jane Sullwold told the council in February 2009, when the Mif swap was placed on the agenda.
“We’ve heard that. There are a lot of rumors going on around the golf course, and we’re aware of that,” Johnson had responded.
Both the golfers and Cowan said they want to do what’s best for the city. Corica said golfers understand Alameda is facing fiscal challenges and that they want to work with city leaders to address them; Cowan says he wants to provide deeply-desired athletic fields and financing to upgrade the golf complex – money he believes might otherwise be difficult to find.
Gilmore said the latest developments at the golf complex, including Cowan’s proposal and Kemper’s anticipated 36-hole plan, are set to be discussed at Tuesday’s special council meeting.
“We’re going to throw everything out on the table for discussion,” she said.