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updated: 4/24/2011 9:24 AM

Gurnee, Bittersweet Golf Course not a done deal

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  • PAUL VALADE/pvalade@dailyherald.comVillage of Gurnee took possession of financially struggling Bittersweet Golf Club on April 15.

      PAUL VALADE/pvalade@dailyherald.comVillage of Gurnee took possession of financially struggling Bittersweet Golf Club on April 15.

  • PAUL VALADE/pvalade@dailyherald.com Bittersweet Golf Club in Gurnee remained open even after a bank foreclosed on the operation in 2009. Village government now owns the 18-hole links.

      PAUL VALADE/pvalade@dailyherald.com Bittersweet Golf Club in Gurnee remained open even after a bank foreclosed on the operation in 2009. Village government now owns the 18-hole links.

 
 

Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik says the village isn't necessarily committed to the golf business despite the recent purchase of an 18-hole course.

Trustees voted 5-0 this week in favor of amending the 2011-12 budget so $710,000 in reserves could be transferred into an account dedicated to Bittersweet Golf Club, on the village's west side near Almond Road and Grand Avenue.

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Gurnee formally took possession of the long-struggling links April 15. Earlier this month, the village board voted to buy out the remaining 21 years on a Bittersweet lease held by First Merit Bank, which foreclosed on the course in 2009.

Bittersweet opened as a public-private venture in June 1996. Bittersweet was supposed to share leftover profits with Gurnee, but officials said that never occurred.

Responding to concerns from Trustee Greg Garner at a meeting Monday, Kovarik said the village's Bittersweet purchase doesn't mean it's committed to the golf business. She said it was more important to gain control of what should be an asset for Gurnee.

Kovarik said village officials will hold public discussions at some point on what ultimately should be done with Bittersweet.

Garner said he wants residents to benefit from reduced rates if the village keeps Bittersweet, because public money was used for the transaction. He also questioned the merits of taking over the course.

"We've got to be concerned with that (purchase) and I just see us spending money, spending money, spending money," Garner said. "I don't hear anybody saying, 'Cut the budget, cut the budget, cut the budget.'"

Including the lease buyout, back taxes and other expenses, Gurnee paid $525,058 to take over Bittersweet. Such a move would have cost more than $2.8 million before the golf course fell into foreclosure in 2009, officials said.

While Gurnee has owned the 240 acres the course sits on near Almond Road and Grand Avenue, a private company was supposed to control the actual operation that includes a clubhouse, pro shop and other amenities through a lease with the village. The course remained open throughout the foreclosure process.

Village Administrator James Hayner reiterated that the golf course deal was a good one when Garner issued his spending concerns. He noted the village received the 240 acres for free from a developer.

"To let that investment go out the window wouldn't make any sense," Hayner said.

Bittersweet wound up in foreclosure lawsuits in 2000 and 2009. Village officials agreed to at least two amendments to the original lease agreement in an unsuccessful effort to allow the private operator to become profitable.

Gurnee will pay a fixed fee of $40,000 to Starbird Links Golf Management to run Bittersweet this year. Under the contract, Starbird could earn a 10 percent incentive management fee if Bittersweet revenue tops expenses.

Starbird would kick to Gurnee 20 percent of the course's pro shop profits -- if there are any.

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