Council is given 2 options to resolve fate of Compass Pointe Golf Course


Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has given the County Council two choices on the fate of a financially troubled Pasadena golf course: take over the complex or let a quasi-state agency keep running it with the county providing a monetary safety net.

Owens' administration has submitted each solution in bill form, and both are slated to be discussed at the council's Dec. 20 meeting. Administration officials say an immediate takeover of the Compass Pointe Golf Course would be better financially for the county.

County leaders have debated what to do about the course since they gave a $1.1 million bailout loan to the Maryland Economic Development Corp. this year to make up for revenue shortfalls. Council members said they were frustrated that the county's contract with MEDCO made the $1.1 million loan a virtual obligation, though the county plays little role in supervising the course, which has just 27 holes open out of an eventual 36.

Under one of the bills, the contractual relationship would hardly change. MEDCO would issue $24 million in state-backed bonds to refinance the original $17.6 million construction cost and cover subsequent cost overruns. The county would not be directly responsible for the $24 million, but MEDCO could ask for financial bailouts similar to the loan last spring.

Under the other bill, the county would refinance the project with $26 million of its own bonds and take over operations. The bill would end MEDCO's involvement. Robert Brennan, executive director of MEDCO, has said he would welcome a county takeover of the course.

Such a move would be preferable because it would lower interest costs and reduce uncertainty, said county finance director John Hammond. But he said the county would need assurances that the course would not take money away from other building projects and would generate enough revenue to cover interest payments on the $26 million bond issue.

Still, Owens, a Democrat, has left the course's fate up to the County Council.

"I think the administration would prefer us to take it over, but I think they will go along with whatever we recommend," said Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican who has represented the council in talks with Owens about the course.

Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., whose Pasadena district includes the course, said he, too, favors a county takeover unless outside experts say the project would pull away bond money from other projects.

Council members say they are awaiting more information on the financial status of Compass Pointe and on how much work remains to be done and what it will cost. The council has hired an outside attorney to provide advice, and several members said they hope for input from a golf course expert as well.

"Until we get every piece of information we need, I don't know how we can make a decision," said Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat.

Though the council voted 6-0 this spring to approve the $1.1 million loan, members said the bailout was the best of several bad options. Several said they felt that the Owens administration had implied the county would never foot any of the bill for the golf course. The first phase of the course opened 14 months ago.

The county bought land for a golf course in the 1980s and later persuaded developers to donate additional property. But its decision to have MEDCO develop the course prompted legal threats from private developers, who said the nonprofit group was designed to promote projects in economically depressed areas, not in thriving markets. State legislators then expanded the corporation's charge and allowed it to move forward on Compass Pointe in 2001.

MEDCO officials have blamed revenue shortfalls and cost overruns on a delayed opening caused by persistent wet weather last year. The original budget called for the course to be self-sufficient by now.

In addition, Landscapes Unlimited LLC, the Nebraska company that built Compass Pointe, accused MEDCO of failing to pay more than $2 million in construction costs. MEDCO officials say they have reached a compromise with the contractor on how much is owed but said MEDCO does not have enough money to pay off the debt. That payment is part of the $3 million that Brennan said MEDCO needs to finish the course.

Under its existing agreement with MEDCO, the county is supposed to take over the golf course when MEDCO's bonds are paid off - in 25 to 30 years.

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