Baltimore moves to end golf contract Head of corporation operating 5 courses vows fight in court

City offers no reasons

Nonprofit group turned tattered links into paying operation

December 18, 1995|By Frank D. Roylance and John Rivera | Frank D. Roylance and John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Baltimore is moving to terminate its contract with the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. -- the private, nonprofit group that revived the city's five tattered municipal golf courses a decade ago and made tars. The letter offered no reasons. Corporation Chairman Henry H. Miller has vowed to fight the termination in court.

"Such a legal battle will be costly to BMGC and the city, and will divert resources that could be better utilized by both entities," Mr. Miller said in a letter responding to the notice from Recreation and Parks Director Marlyn J. Perritt and Public Works chief George G. Balog.

"I am perplexed by your decision to interfere with an arrangement that has proven to be so beneficial to the citizens of Baltimore," Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Balog last night declined to discuss the matter, referring questions to the city solicitor's office. "It's a legal matter," he said. Attempts to reach City Solicitor Neal Janey were unsuccessful.

The golf corporation's contract with the city provides for an initial lease period of 15 years, followed by renewals in five-year increments unless the lease is terminated earlier "for cause."

Mr. Miller said he knew of no "cause."

"We intend to fight it to the bitter end," he said. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke spoke to him about two years ago about ending the contract, he said. "I advised him it would be a big mistake, and it never came through," Mr. Miller said.

This time, he said, the mayor seems serious. "I suspect he thinks he can make a lot more money than he's getting" from the agreement.

If the city does end the contract, and seeks a more favorable one through public bidding, Mr. Miller doubts his nonprofit group would bid on it. He said a for-profit successor would mean that a portion of the city's golf revenues would "leave the city."

The golf corporation was formed in 1984 at the direction of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer. The city's five public courses -- Carroll Park, Clifton Park, Forest Park, Mount Pleasant and Pine Ridge -- were in poor condition and were costing taxpayers more than $500,000 a year.

The first of its kind in the nation, the corporation quickly turned the situation around. Play increased 85 percent, the courses were upgraded and began to make money. More than $4.5 million in capital improvements have been made at no cost to taxpayers, according to Lynnie Cook, the corporation's executive director.

"We've turned it into a professional operation. It's a national model," he said. His operation has won national awards and favorable mention in trade magazines.

Also, under the lease agreement, 45 percent to 50 percent of the corporation's net profits are returned to a city fund for youth golf and other recreation programs. This year the corporation will turn over $225,000 to the city.

If the city diverts more golf revenue to meet other needs, he warned, it risks returning the courses to their former condition.

"That's why we took over, because all the money was going to the general fund, and it wasn't staying on the golf courses," he said.

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