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GreatLIFE agrees to purchase Shiloh

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

A golf course that the numbers show has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year will soon be off the books for Platte County.

A purchase agreement has been reached between Platte County and GreatLIFE of Kansas City that will sell the county-owned golf course known as Shiloh Springs Golf Club to the golf and fitness operation that says it is the 9th largest golf course company in the United States.

Closing documents will be executed “as soon as possible,” officials involved in the transaction told The Landmark on Tuesday.

Terms of the deal include a check to Platte County for $610,000, plus a list of assurances regarding continued partnership with a local school district and a pledge from GreatLIFE--backed up by a performance guarantee bond in the name of the county--to complete a list of improvements valued at anywhere from $740,000 to $1 million in the next five years.

“I believe this is a great deal for county taxpayers, golfers and for GreatLIFE,” said Ron Schieber, presiding county commissioner. Schieber had listed selling the golf course near the top of his campaign platform when he ran for office in 2014.

“I think it’s a fair return. And it puts the new owners in a position to succeed,” Schieber said, explaining that county ownership model doesn’t support the investment that private owners will be able to make to the course, which is in need of some capital improvements.

The county ownership model doesn’t support the investment that private ownership will be able to make at Shiloh. The move also meets the commission’s goal of reducing future maintenance costs for the county’s parks system, Schieber explained. He said it is “common sense” that the golf course should be held by the private sector and he believes the course will be “even better” under private ownership such as GreatLIFE.

Schieber added the county is committed to making a smooth ownership transition as Shiloh moves away from being a publicly-owned course.

A goal of the county commission was to sell the course to an entity that would continue to provide the golf course as an amenity to county residents.

Highlights of the purchase agreement include:

•Purchase price of $610,000.

•GreatLIFE will continue the junior golf program and a partnership with Platte County R-3 School District golf program.

•GreatLIFE “has committed” to a goal of retaining existing Shiloh Springs county staff, “within reason,” and will interview all current course employees of Kemper Sports, the company that currently manages the course for the county.

Notably in addition, GreatLIFE is committing to several upgrades to the property to be completed within five years or sooner. Those upgrades, the agreement states, will include:

•All fairways, tee boxes and aprons will be converted to Zoysa grass.

•The process of upgrading at least five of the 12 sand bunkers and golf carts will begin.

•Irrigation systems will be upgraded as needed.

•Clubhouse improvements will be made.

On top of the $610,000 purchase price, GreatLIFE is committing to spend $740,000 to $1 million on course improvements. GreatLIFE has agreed to issue a performance guarantee in the name of the county if the course improvements listed above are not substantially completed in a timely manner.

Schieber said the performance guarantee “gives the county cash” if GreatLIFE doesn’t make those improvements. “It holds their feet to the fire,” he said.

Bryan Minnis chief development officer for GreatLIFE, said the company will also look to add a fitness component to the golf operation at Shiloh “whether that be on site or off site,” he said, adding it’s a matter of “how much and where.”

Typically GreatLIFE offers fitness centers in conjunction with its golf courses.

In an interview with The Landmark after Tuesday’s county commission meeting, Minnis indicated GreatLIFE would like to secure an employment agreement with Mike Shriner, a county employee who has managed the grounds at Shiloh for several years and has been praised by county officials for his work. Minnis said the employees of Kemper who currently work at the course would be given the opportunity to interview for positions.

“We have a great working relationship with Kemper,” he said.

Shiloh Springs Golf Club, located just east of Platte City off of Bethel Road just north of Hwy. 92, has long created a strain on county tax revenues. Financial reports indicate the golf course suffered an operational loss of $247,000 in 2016, with a loss total at more than $366,000 when depreciation is factored in.

County officials said the operational loss was around $150,000 for 2017, but Schieber emphasized it would have been much more than that if the county had chosen to perform some capital maintenance projects the course needs.

“The loss would have been $300,000 to $400,000 for 2017 if we had done the needed capital improvements,” Schieber told The Landmark on Tuesday.

Dagmar Wood and John Elliott, associate commissioners, both supported the move to sell the golf course and had talked about it in their campaigns for office in 2016.

“Selling the golf course is a philosophical decision as much as it is a financial one. I strongly believe that it is not your government's role to spend taxpayers' dollars to compete in a private industry like golf,” Wood said.

“GreatLIFE is committed to continuing to keep Shiloh's doors open to golfers for the long-term and has demonstrated the ability to do so. It's a win-win-win. With the substantial investment that GreatLIFE has committed to put into Shiloh, it's a win for golfers, a win for GreatLIFE, and a win for taxpayers. I am expectant that we will look back on this day as the point in which Shiloh Springs made a sustained turnaround,” Wood added.

She said she wanted to thank Shriner for his passionate leadership and Kemper Sports for increasing the number of events and rounds played.

Minnis of GreatLIFE said the company is “driven by owners who have a passion for golf and who look forward to making investments” at Shiloh and he noted there are “a lot of high quality people on staff” there. He said GreatLIFE has 67 properties in the country.

GreatLIFE’s proposal was one of two received by the county when it put out a public request for proposals last fall. The other proposal came from Gary Martin, who said he didn’t view the situation the same way GreatLIFE did.

“I didnt’ really bid it that way. I was doing it for the community. I wasn’t looking at it as a money maker. I just hope that the golf course stays open to the public. That’s our concern. It’s an asset that I wish more people would understand. It adds quality of life for everybody,” Martin told The Landmark in November.

The course had been constructed in cooperation with Martin and opened in 1995. It consists of 18 holes on about 122 acres.

Platte County became the sole owner of the course in 2005. Bonds that had been used in construction of the course were paid off in 2015. The course and the bond payments in later years were paid for with funds from the county’s half cent sales tax for parks, which was first approved by voters in 2000.

There were no comments from any members of the public at Tuesday’s commission session where the purchase agreement was approved.