On a 2-1 vote, the Platte County Commission decided to begin negotiations to sell Shiloh Springs Golf Club to an Overland Park, Kan. based firm.
The commissioners approved a proposal submitted to the county from GreatLIFE Kansas City at the Monday, Nov. 20 regular administrative session. After audience input from concerned Shiloh Springs supporters, the commission cast their votes with second district commissioner John Elliott voting no.
The current commission of Elliott, Ron Schieber and Dagmar Wood have all voiced concerns about the county-owned course, which has operated at a net loss for many years. The commissioners have each previously stated intentions to seek options for the course with Wood and Elliott running successful campaigns last fall with the sale of Shiloh as a campaign promise.
In August, the commissioners made good on that promise by issuing a request for proposals for purchase of the course. In October, the county received two — one from GreatLIFE and the other from local developer and Shiloh Springs founder Gary Martin.
After the meeting, Elliott said he voted against the proposal because he was disappointed a local offer was not chosen.
“I’ve said all along I would prefer local ownership,” Elliott said. “I wish there had been more proposals from the community.”
Elliott said he didn’t believe airing his opinion during the open session would have changed anything, so he simply voted no.
Platte County director of parks and recreation Daniel Erickson presented the department’s recommendation, which was to enter into negotiations with GreatLIFE. He said staff visited several courses the company owns and operates and felt the company was the best choice to take over Shiloh Springs.
Founded in 1985, GreatLIFE owns courses around the Kansas City metro area and in St. Joseph, Mo., including Staley Farms and Liberty Hills in Clay County. Other courses owned by the company are Painted Hills in Kansas City, Kan., Canyon Farms, Falcon Ridge and Prairie Highlands in Johnson County, Kan., and Drumm Farm, Royal Meadows and Hillcrest in Jackson County, Mo.
Elliott raised a concern about a course in Leavenworth, Kan., purchased by GreatLIFE that was then reportedly allowed to deteriorate and then sold.
Erickson said when asked about the incident, GreatLIFE representatives reported there was a conflict with an adjoining property owner. It is the only property that has been sold by the company.
The details of the proposal are unknown, as the commission has consulted with county attorneys to invoke its right to keep real estate transactions confidential. Schieber said he believed it was in the best interests of the county and its taxpayers to keep negotiations under wraps until the sale is finalized.
Some aspects of the deal are outlined in the original request for proposals, which stated that Shiloh Springs must remain a public course for at least five years and must remain available for Platte County R-3 School District golf programs for at least five years as well.
Supporters of Shiloh Springs, who have been silent at commission meetings for the last several months, showed up in numbers at the Monday meeting with several speaking out.
“Why are we even selling the course?” Shiloh Springs member Bob Rose said, referencing the 2009 Parks Master Plan, which outlined a plan for the course to become self-sufficient. “Parks and recreation is there to provide facilities for the citizens of Platte County.”
Schieber said the Parks Master Plan required for Shiloh to become self-sufficient by 2014 and that didn’t happen.
“There are amenities that aren’t expected to be self-sustaining, but in the Master Plan the golf course is,” Schieber said.
Rose also brought up a long-debated topic — Shiloh’s designation as a revenue-generating enterprise fund in the county budget.
Supporters have suggested the course’s designation be changed, which would put the facility on par with other parks and recreation assets such as community centers, trails and parks. The commissioners argue that the designation of the course in the budget doesn’t matter because the course would still be losing money.
Like other park’s facilities that are maintained and operated at a loss, all funds used at Shiloh Springs come from a half-cent parks and recreation and stormwater tax Platte County voters have twice approved. The current tax is set to sunset in 2020.
“Whatever fund we put it in really does not matter I don’t think to any of the people on the commission here,” Wood said. “It is a golf club, and we have a plethora of golf clubs in the Northland. We’re competing with the private sector, and we don’t feel that a public entity competing with private golf courses is a role of government. We don’t feel the taxpayers subsidizing golf at up to $20 a round is a function of government.”
Rose asked where citizens were expected to go golfing at a reasonable price.
“There are golf courses all over the place,” Wood said. “You can play golf anywhere. It’s not a function of government to subsidize sports. I’m sorry, Mr. Rose.”
Elliott asked why it mattered who owned the course, so long as it stayed open to the public. Rose responded that it didn’t, so long as Shiloh Springs did remain open and available.
Availability was also key to Michelle Hensley, who said numerous community organizations, the school district, churches and others used Shiloh Springs for fundraisers.
Shiloh Springs supporter Jim U’Ren was concerned about the effect of the sale of Shiloh on property values. He was also was critical of the management of the course since its inception, saying that present and past commissions have “handcuffed” the course for years. He suggested the county treat Shiloh Springs as a valuable asset and study profitable municipal courses to see how to turn things around.
“Parks and recreation has done a great job. I love the trails, I use the golf course. I think what they have done has enhanced the quality of life in Platte County and maintained good property values,” U’Ren said. “When we start selling off assets that are important to the county we’re going to start seeing the effects on property values.
“And one last thing: if you’re saying, ‘Well, you can go play golf somewhere else,’ all that money is flying either across the state line into Kansas or to other counties.”
U’Ren’s comments were met with applause from the audience, as were the comments of several other Shiloh supporters.
Wood said there seemed to be an incorrect assumption that Shiloh would no longer be a golf course after the sale. Schieber agreed, pointing out that conditions of the sale included a requirement that the course stay open as a public course and available to the Platte County R-3 School District for at least five years.
“We want a potential buyer to not only survive but to have a really good chance at continuing to be an asset for our community,” Schieber said. “I believe the private sector will also treat it as an asset better than government can.”
Constructed in cooperation with Martin, the 18-hole 122-acre public course opened in 1995. The partnership with Martin continued for a decade; then in 2005 Platte County became sole owner of the course.
Over the years, the course was operated by both the county and private management. Construction costs were paid off in 2015, using funds from the half-cent parks and recreation sales tax. Shortly after, the county contracted with KemperSports to take over management of the course, but the county’s only enterprise fund has continued to lose money.
According to the county’s annual financial report, Shiloh’s loss increased last year. Operating loss before depreciation was at $144,553 in 2015, but in 2016 the loss rose to $247,448. Auditors reported the loss was a result of the KemperSports contract with the costs of the contract calculated into the loss statement, as were costs of benefits for golf course employees.