City to look into future options for golf course property
Northwood Golf Course debt totals around $1 million
BY KEVIN BONESKE
All options are on the table when it comes to the future of Rhinelander’s city-owned Northwood Golf Course.
At issue is what to do with the property the city received about 30 years ago from Wausau Paper for the purpose of it being used as a public golf course, for which the city’s financial figures show it has accumulated debt in the neighborhood of $1 million and continues to be run at a deficit.
A joint meeting of the city’s Golf Course Advisory and Finance committees was held Tuesday at City Hall to consider the Northwood Golf Course’s future.
District 6 council member Alex Young, who sits on both committees, has called on the city to “face the music” that the golf course debt will likely never be paid off and continue to increase if something isn’t done.
“There’s all kinds of rumor and innuendo in the community about what we should do, what we shouldn’t do – this, that or the other thing,” Young said. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot of facts out there, at least folks in the public that I talk to about it don’t have the information, don’t have the facts – a lot of them aren’t even aware of the deed restrictions or what those deed restrictions entail and that sort of thing.”
City attorney Carrie Miljevich said Wausau Paper, on May 20, 1987, deeded 240 acres to the city of Rhinelander for the sole purpose of using the land as a golf course.
She said one of the two deed restrictions directed the property to be used as a public golf course as well as for other public recreational activities and uses that don’t interfere with the use as a public golf course.
Miljevich noted the other deed restriction prohibited the property from being sold, leased or transferred by the city, though the city could enter into management contracts with third parties that wouldn’t exceed 24 months.
“If the city is to go into management contracts for longer than 24 months, i.e. restaurant, then they have to get permission from Wausau Paper,” she said.
In the event the city wouldn’t comply with the two deed restrictions, Miljevich said the deed states the property would be forfeited by the city and revert back to Wausau Paper.
Miljevich noted the last communication between the city and Wausau Paper was in 2014 in correspondence with then-city administrator Blaine Oborn, who asked what it would take for the company to either get rid of the reversionary clause or strike the current deed restrictions.
“(Wausau Paper) answered back and said, ‘Yes, we would consider it for appropriate value,’ i.e. money,” she said. “That’s been the last communication, so I think this is going to cost the city of Rhinelander a little bit of money. I think perhaps you may want to think about a professional appraiser to look at this property and determine what it is worth in the open market.”
Miljevich said Wausau Paper still exists as a “shell corporation.”
“They’re still registered with the Department of Financial Institutions with the state of Wisconsin,’ she said. “They still have a website that indicates that their administrative and human resources office is in Mosinee, but a part of it has definitely been bought out by an international firm.
“So the next question is if we’re going to have this conversation (about the deed restrictions) with them, is it the Wausau Paper that still exists in Mosinee or it is with a Swedish company that would undoubtedly make things more difficult.”
Young introduced a motion committee members backed to have the chairpersons of both committees, Miljevich and finance director Julie Ostrander research the possible legal and financial effects of putting a lien on the golf course property, closing the golf course, negotiating with Wausau Paper or its successor over getting rid of the property’s reversionary rights and the potential of a management contract at the course longer than 24 months, as well as other possible options before the two committees would next meet together in early April.
Upon making the motion, Young noted what the committees are looking into wouldn’t affect this year’s upcoming golf season at the city-owned course, but could have an impact on what is done with the property in future years.
Committee members also decided to table action on a proposal to change the golf course from an enterprise fund to a special revenue fund while the research is ongoing related to the property’s future.