Weatherwax Golf Course

I received several comments recently in regards to the article ran in the Journal News on the potential sale of Weatherwax Golf Course in the future.  The first part of the article seemed to generate the concerns…

Weatherwax may be sold after 2016

By Rick McCrabb

While the owner and general manager of Weatherwax Golf Course are pleased with business so far, it appears the course may be sold after the 2016 season.

Jim Kraft, of WMVH (Woodside, Meadows, Valley View, Highlands) LLC, signed a one-year lease in November 2014 with Myron Bowling Auctioneers Inc., to operate the 36-hole course in Madison Twp. The lease expires on Nov. 2, 2015, but Kraft has an option to continue leasing the course through 2016.

Kraft said he’s 99.9 percent sure he’ll renew his lease.

But Bowling said he’s working on a deal to sell the course after the contract expires in 2016. He refused to name the potential buyer or possible use for the land, but said it would be “good for Middletown, good for the community.”

The concerns raised were based on a rumor that the course may be sold to Butler Metroparks for substantially more than Bowling paid to the City.   I have several comments on this.

First, this is a rumor at this point.  I haven’t heard anything definitive that this will happen and if so, how much Bowling will potentially make on the sale.  Even if that is completely accurate, however, keep these things in mind when you look at the city’s conduct in selling the course:

Between the bond payments for 1996 renovations and operating losses, the City was losing $400,000 of your tax dollars each year operating the course.  We received $1.6 million for the course when we sold it, which paid off the bonds and left us with a small profit upon sale and payment of expenses.

We put out a Request for Proposal at the time the course was offered for sale.  We received two bids, and neither was from Butler Metroparks.  If they now have an interest, they didn’t have one at that time.  I’ve heard nothing from Butler Metroparks that they have interest, and I’m not speaking for them in any way on this matter.

Remember, also, that the public wanted Weatherwax to remain a golf course.  The two proposals we received gave us the best chance to get out of the losing golf business and to let the course remain open for our citizens to play.

IF… the course would be sold in 2017 for a higher amount, I have a couple final comments.

First, Mr. Bowling didn’t purchase the course to lose money.  I assume when he bought the course that he intended to make a profit either through leasing the course or by selling it later at a profit, or both.  As some in the public tell us often, the city is not in business to compete against the private market.  The City got what it needed out of the deal, and if it sells in the future, I hope Mr. Bowling gets the best deal possible for the course and makes a profit.  That’s how business works.

Second, if the course sells for substantially more in 2017 than we got for it in 2014, keep this in mind… we were losing $400,000 per year in operations.  If we had operated the course for three additional years from 2014-2016, we would have been another $1.2 million in the hole.  For us to break even on a 2017 sale, we would have to do better than the $1.6 million received plus the $1.2 million loss we would have spent operating the course for a total of $2.8 million.

Hind sight is always 20/20, but I stand by the deal made by the city.  Given our finances and our more pressing needs for paving and public safety, the City no longer needed to own a losing golf course that was miles from our city limits.  It was time to get out of the golf business.

10 thoughts on “Weatherwax Golf Course

  1. First of all Mr Adkins I want to thank you for the effort and energy that you have put into bringing life back into Middletown, but I want to say that if the citizens of Middletown should believe Butler County had not planned on buying the parcel of land where Weatherwax sits I politely ask that you stop insulting the intelligence of those that know better. Butler County had previously purchased neighboring parcels of land in anticipation of making a play on Weatherwax. As a lifelong citizen of Middletown I am tired of surrounding communities preying on Middletown and prohibiting any sort of recovery. This is no different than Warren County blocking what became Cincinnati Premuim Outlets in Monroe, in the Town Mall area out of spite for Middletown annexing that land. The citizens of Middletown have sat back too long and we are now paying the price, and I will admit are to blame for that, but please do not tell us that Butler County had no plans until recently to buy that land. Middletown shouldn’t be in the business of competing with the private sector but we shouldn’t have to be beaten down buy our neighboring communities either.

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    • Kevin – thanks for the comments and thanks for the support. No insult was intended, but I would like to point out a few things. What a lot of people don’t know is that some of the improvements made to Weatherwax and Sebald Park over the years was paid for by Land and Water Conservation Fund Project grants offered by the National Park Service and administered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. When we looked at the possibility of selling Weatherwax, the entire 710 acres encompassing Weatherwax and Sebald Park were encumbered by the LWCF grants. One of the provisions of those grants is that the entire land area must remain open to the public as park land forever. The only way we could accomplish a sale and maintain the grant requirements was to sell the park to another governmental entity who would continue to operate the entire 710 acres as public park land in some fashion. We approached Madison Township, where the course is located, and it was beyond their ability and frankly, not a part of their vision at the time to operate a 36 hole golf course with their limited funds and government infrastructure. They were in the process of developing their own parks. We contacted Butler Metroparks and they also had no interest in the golf course, but did have interest in taking on Sebald Park. I may not remember this part of the conversation correctly, but as I recall it, Butler Metroparks was heavily involved at the time in working on Voice of America Park in West Chester and didn’t have the manpower and resources to take a serious look at Weatherwax at the same time. Butler Metroparks at that time specifically told us that they did not have an interest in the course, and did not submit a bid on the Request for Proposals to sell the course. With that in mind, the City had to go through a fairly extensive process with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior to redefine the grant boundaries to exclude Weatherwax Golf Course, which was the only way to permit a sale to a private entity. It took several meetings, a new survey, and a fairly elaborate submission and approval process to separate Sebald Park from Weatherwax to permit the sale to a private entity. This was all necessary because there was not a government entity interested in taking over the golf course at that time. You are correct, Butler Metroparks did buy the surrounding parcels… from the City. Butler Metroparks may be at a different place now that VOA is nearing completion and they can spend more time and resources looking at other options. At time, however, they were not interested in taking over the course.

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  2. If Mr. Kraft is 99.9 percent sure he will renew his lease then obviously he is making money. What needs to be answered is if he is making money why couldn’t the city do the same or better given their resources?

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    • Two immediate reasons and one speculation. First, we were carrying the debt from the 1990’s renovations at the course, which was costing the City about $200,000 per year in debt payments. Obviously, Mr. Kraft doesn’t have those expenses. Second, the City is required to pay benefits, health care, and pension costs which a private entity is not required to provide in most cases. The last one is pure speculation on my part. To keep a 36 hole golf course operating properly, you simply have to expend capital to keep the course infrastructure in repair or to replace mowers, etc., as they wear out. I have to speculate that as a lessee of the property, he would not put any capital funds into repairing or replacing anything that he couldn’t take with him at the end of the lease or that was absolutely required to keep the course operating. I wouldn’t spend my profits improving someone else’s land. Also, at least to date, the weather has cooperated and I’m assuming that he has been able to water, when necessary, with the water in the lakes on the property. If we get into a dry summer and the lakes dry up, he will have to purchase water from Southwest Water, driving up his costs. The weather is always a crap shoot. We had several years with no water purchases and the worst I remember was $18,000 in water purchases to keep the course from burning up.

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      • Hello Doug, I’m assuming at this point this issue is dead and nothing more can be done to salvage Weatherwax Golf Course but I visited this weekend and it hurts to the core when I see what a beautiful course we had and to know it will no longer be the asset it should for our city, surrounding communities, and the citizens residing within. Your goal of bringing Middletown back to an “All American City” is commendable and we support your efforts but what would it hurt to have some discussion with current management (Mr. Kraft) to look “outside the box” at potential solutions which could bring new revenue to our city. What if instead of losing 400K annually there could be a profit of 75K annually? That money could be used as revenue we need to help do the things needed to bring Middletown back to it’s previous standing. Doug, I respect the job you are doing but please do some due diligence to ensure the city has done all it can to investigate possible solutions. It’s easy to say “well we were losing 400K a year so we had no choice but to sell”, but that is where we were with the expenses and employed staff we had; no one seems to consider the management team in place might have been making bad decisions and not doing the right things. I would think that gaining “All American Status” would certainly be more easily obtained with a fabulous 36 hole golf facility (even 18 holes if we could only salvage half). Recently there was an article in the Journal regarding how well the City of Hamilton is doing with their two golf courses and much of that was due to “outside the box thinking” by their staffs which rejuvenated revenues and made them viable.

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      • Hi Jack. We investigated the 18 hole option and the math didn’t work. The biggest problem is that there are multi million dollar repairs coming to that course and no viable way to breakeven in future years if you make the repairs. The irrigation system is well past its expected life and is actually obsolete to today’s golf course standards. The pipes under the ground are shot and they don’t make the parts for the system that runs it anymore. The cart paths are at the end of their projected life. The clubhouse HVAC and other mechanicals are all at the end of their expected life. The mowers are all used and at or towards the end of their expected life. If you seriously intended to operate the course moving forward, you’d realistically need at least two million in capital repairs to keep the course operable moving forward over the next several years. There simply aren’t enough rounds of golf available in the area anymore to support operations AND the capital repairs needed to continue to operate the course. It’s unfortunate, but Weatherwax was dancing a slow death throughout the recession by not making needed repairs and letting all of this needed capital renovation uncompleted. And we were still losing $400K without making the repairs. I hear you and wish we could do more, but I don’t think there is a business model out there that could break even and make necessary repairs to remain viable.

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      • Doug, I’m by no means an expert on finances to maintain and operate a golf facility but it seems to me if the city truly wanted it to remain a golf course what would it hurt to engage Mr. Kraft on his thoughts and insight on what is needed now and in the future to ensure the facilities viability. I spoke with him personally and he agrees there are legitimate issues needing addressed but the irrigation pipes are made of PVC so they are not deteriorating as stated, he has found replacement parts for the sprinkler heads and circuit boards, and your number of two million to continue operations is way out of line. Where did this information regarding needed expenditures come from? Why don’t we meet with Mr. Kraft for further discussion? He shared some other ideas with me which would totally eliminate any risk to the City of Middletown. If you agree let’s setup a meeting. I’ll be happy to buy lunch.

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  3. The problem for many of us that use Weatherwax and enjoy it that there is a hint of appearance that the current owner had a buyer in his pocket before he bought the course, also, that if Butler Metro Parks is the potential buyer they are using tax dollars. Tax dollars are to be used to benefit the Tax Payer and in this chase that does not seem to be the case. I think there should be more transparency. Butler Metro Parks by not coming to the fore front after the newspaper article appears to make the case that they are in someway involved.

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    • I can’t answer that definitively. When we put out the RFP for proposals to buy the course, Metroparks said they didn’t have the resources available at that time to bid. They were working on the Voice of America park then and their energy and money was being used to fully develop the sports fields at that site. The public told us they wanted the best chance of Weatherwax continuing to operate as a golf course. We were losing $400,000 a year operating the course. If we kept it, we would have closed it in 2013, and the public wouldn’t have had the last two years of play on the course. Selling it to Mr. Bowling was the best chance of it remaining a course. Mr. Bowling is a business man and I would expect him to make a profit selling the land.

      I’m sure we’ll never make the public completely happy with how this turned out, but here’s another few facts that the public didn’t know about. First, the Weatherwax irrigation system is well beyond it’s expected life. The controls use computer boards that haven’t been manufactured for years and there are no replacement boards available. To continue to operate as a golf course, someone was going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to install a new irrigation system. Second, the cart paths, which cost about $1 million to install, are all at the end of their useful life as well. If you’ve played this year, I’m sure you saw repairs made off and on throughout the course. That is only going to get worse as time continued. Someone would have to spend a few hundred thousand dollars in major cart path renovations to make them long term viable again. Third, the club house was always sub-par for the beautiful 36 hole course it served, and the HVAC and other systems are all reaching the end of their useful life. More dollars out of someone’s pocket to remain a golf course. Finally, the mowing equipment was all used and also reaching the end of its useful life. This at a time when golf rounds being played is lower than in the past few decades. For the golf courses in the area, someone was going to close and go bankrupt. it was really a question of how much golf capacity needed to close to be able to support the remaining courses. While closing Weatherwax is a sad experience, it probably saved several other courses from closing as those rounds of golf can now go to other area courses to help them survive.

      This doesn’t make the closing any easier, but financially, it was probably a fairly straightforward business decision. The math just didn’t work long term.

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