Plain Dealer Whitewashes Fowlers Mill Sale Issue


Northeast Ohio Golf

The Plain Dealer published a story in its Metro section today by Pat Galbincea about the potential sale of Fowlers Mill Golf Course to the Munson Township trustees, who would use $5 million in grant money from the Ohio EPA to close the course and turn it into a park in the name of water cleanup. [PD story here.]

With all due respect to my friend Pat, this story whitewashes the real issues behind the proposal and incorrectly states several facts.

Yes, golfers have been surprised and dismayed by the idea behind closing one of greater Cleveland’s few nationally-recognized public golf courses. But that is only the tiny tip of this enormous iceberg of a boondoggle. So let’s examine the PD story more carefully.

First, contrary to the PD article, the Ohio EPA has not stated any preference at all for the project, be it like, dislike, praise or disdain. (Many hope the Ohio EPA uses common sense and chooses “disdain”.) The Ohio EPA has accepted the trustee’s proposal for water-cleanup grant money, as that proposal scored high enough not to be rejected outright. But not rejecting something is not “praise”.

The Ohio EPA’s Mike Settles even states directly within Galbincea’s story that it does not yet have a fully-detailed proposal from the trustees. So how the PD turns it that this proposal is being “praised” by the Ohio EPA is completely unclear; the Ohio EPA has not made any decisions on the proposal’s viability and won’t do so until October.

What is particularly disturbing are the headlines used by the PD for this story.

In the printed paper, the story’s headline is “Plan to buy Fowlers Mill Golf Course, turn it into parkland, draws EPA praise”. That’s false; there has been no praise.

In the online version of the story, the headline is at least half accurate: “Idea of turning Fowler’s Mill Golf Course into parkland draws praise from EPA, laments from golfers”. The half-accurate part is that golfers do indeed lament the stupidity of this idea.

Either way, the Ohio EPA has not “praised” the project in any way, so the Plain Dealer is making up facts in its headlines.

Also, Galbincea is in error on the $3.3M purchase price of Fowlers Mill from last December. As Northeast Ohio Golf wrote last week, the real estate purchase price was $1.8 million, the business portion price was $900K, for a total of $2.7 million — and the ownership group would still own the assets of the $900K portion of that purchase after a land sale to the trustees. But using either dollar figure, it’s impossible to justify a $5.1 million dollar price tag just nine months after the fact, especially for a purchase by a government entity solely for land.

Finally, while the PD story gives significant coverage to the “golfer lament” in the loss of a nationally-recognized Pete Dye / Audubon-sanctuary golf course as a recreational entity, it completely ignores the economics of the issue: how the taxpayers of the state of Ohio would be ripped off by such a “real estate flip” between the current ownership group and the Munson Township trustees.

No mention is made about the real issues in the PD story, namely: the gross overpayment for land using state taxpayer funds (from a state that already is screaming about an $8 billion budget shortfall upcoming!); the loss of jobs through the government purchase of a successful ongoing private enterprise; how there is no clearly significant, proven benefit to the Chagrin River from the sale — or that the golf course in any way pollutes the river currently (can we mention again it’s an Audubon-recognized sanctuary?); or the loss of income and sales tax revenues for Geauga county by the closing of the business that is Fowlers Mill Golf Course.

No, the “real estate flip” intent by Todd Peterson’s investment group most likely cannot be proven; it would be almost impossible to find a smoking gun. But while the high-ball offer using taxpayer money just nine months after the purchase certainly doesn’t pass the smell test, the group’s intent has little bearing on the bigger issues at hand. Candidly, if Peterson chooses to sell Fowlers Mill at a huge profit, more power to him; this is America, it’s his property, and he can do as he wishes as the law allows (unless, of course, there was criminal collusion between the investor group and any of the government agencies involved prior to the initial purchase; different story then).

Instead, what the Plain Dealer should have focused on is a sale of a private enterprise using taxpayer funds at a grossly-inflated price for a reason that most likely will not benefit the public in a significant, proven way. That’s the boondoggle the PD should have explored in its story instead of misstating the facts behind the Ohio EPA’s “feelings” or skipping over the real financial loss/lack of benefit to Ohio taxpayers.

Sorry, Pat, your story on the potential sale of Fowlers Mill was a triple-bogey. Maybe even a “ball-in-your-pocket X”.

. . .

How you can help fight the funding/sale of Fowlers Mill Golf Course:

The Ohio EPA’s decision on the grant proposal won’t be made until October. As part of the assessment of environmental impacts associated with the Fowler’s Mill proposal, the public can submit comments for consideration by the Ohio EPA. These comments can be sent via email to Bob Monsarrat, and all comments will be considered prior to a final decision on the proposal.

It would also be wise for the public to make their feelings known to Governor Ted Strickland, the Geauga County Park Board, and the Munson Township Trustees.

A letter to editors of the Plain Dealer may also shine more public scrutiny on this attempted misuse of taxpayer funds and stop it.

2 Comments

  1. August 4, 2010

    Below is a letter I sent to the Ohio EPA, the Governor’s office, and the Munson Township Trustees. I can not be at the meeting next week but I hope there are a lot of people show up.

    Mr. Monsarrat,

    Although I am disappointed as a golfer, I am more disappointed as a taxpayer in the State of Ohio. With the budget deficit that this state has, why in the world would the State spend $5.1m on a piece of property that was purchased for $1.8m nine months ago. This property was marketed aggressively and the best offer was $1.8m for the real estate and another $900k for the business and equipment.

    Can you explain how operating this property as a golf course (as it has been since the 1970s) causes enough damage to the Chagrin River that it justifies spending $5.1m to close the course. I don’t understand the science so maybe you can explain it to me. If the Ohio EPA doesn’t have good places to spend this money, you can return it to the general fund. God knows with their deficit, they could use it.

    As for the Munson Township Trustees, do you think in a million years they would spend their own money to secure this land. They have one full time employee and one part time employee. Does that really justify the need for a 7500 square foot clubhouse? Of course not.

    As for preserving the area and creating walking trails/ parks, anyone who has been to this area knows that they are less than a mile from the Rookery and less than 3 miles from Punderson State Park. Beyond that, this part of the county is filled with undeveloped parcels of property.

    Also, with all the undeveloped land and other purchase opportunities in this area, why would they purchase a property that pays $75k a year in property tax, $200-300k in sales tax and employs 75 people?

    I hope someone on this email can respond and let me know how this deal benefits the public at any level. I am sure the Munson/Geauga residents need the tax revenue and jobs more than a huge clubhouse for their 1.5 person staff so how do the State of Ohio taxpayers benefit by this?

    Thank you

  2. August 4, 2010

    Thank you Mr. Freeman. I couldn’t agree with you more in regards to the “whitewash” spin put on the proposed sale by today’s Plain Dealer. How is it that this beautiful golf course has stood for nearly 40 years and someone is NOW concerned with the quality of drinking water? What a joke. Also, there is an open meeting on August 10th at NDCL to voice concerns. I ask anyone and everyone to speak out and help save this landmark.

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