Unexpected Bombshell Drops On Park Hill Golf Course Land
By Woody Garnsey
Special to the GPHN
Denver administrators and representatives from the Clayton Trust dropped a bombshell Nov. 16 when they announced that they are taking their controversial proposed agreement regarding the future of the Park Hill Golf Course land off the table.
The Clayton Trust Board had approved the agreement, and the administration had submitted it to the City Council Finance Committee on Oct. 3. In a nutshell, the complex proposed agreement would have, among other things:
1. Permitted the city to install an approximately 25-acre stormwater detention facility in the golf course’s northeast corner as part of its Platte-to-Park Hill project;
2. Nullified the 155-acre golf course open space conservation easement purchased by Denver citizens for $2 million in 1997;
3. Paid the Clayton Trust at least $20.5 million; and
4. Permitted potential development of up to 100 percent of the land.
The golf course, which is at Colorado Boulevard and 35th Avenue, and stretches northeast, is currently leased to a subsidiary of Arcis Equity Partners, LLC, a large “real estate and leisure sector” Texas private equity firm. The term of its current lease expires Dec. 31, 2018, but a copy of the full lease is presently unavailable to the public.
Starting early this year, the Clayton Trust formed the Park Hill Golf Course Citizen’s Advisory Committee, whose purpose was for community and city government representatives to be involved in a “visioning” process regarding desired uses of the land after Dec. 31, 2018.
To date, the committee has had 10 formal meetings. From the outset, Clayton told the group that it needed to generate at least $700,000 per year from the land following the Arcis lease termination. No one from Clayton or the City suggested that there were any legal issues regarding termination of the golf course lease. And, the City administration and Clayton went so far as to approve the agreement submitted on Oct. 3 to the City Council Finance Committee predicated on Arcis’s lease termination.
Not a sure thing
And, now the bombshell: The lease termination is not a sure thing. In fact, Arcis apparently not only has two legally enforceable five-year lease extension rights beyond Dec. 31, 2018, but also has some sort of “right of first refusal” regarding sales of the land. If there were no other issues, Arcis could merely exercise its lease extension rights and continue operating the golf course.
The city administration, however, has created a critical problem. For at least 2 ½ years, as part of its controversial Platte-to-Park Hill program, it has planned to install an approximately 25-acre stormwater detention facility in the northeast corner of the property. And, based on commitments related to I-70, the city wants to begin construction in January, 2019 on these 25 acres, while also using up to another adjacent 65 acres at least as a staging area for the construction project.
We now know that the City administration cannot install this stormwater detention facility on the land without either securing an agreement with Arcis and Clayton, or using its condemnation powers over the land.
There is an ominous compounding problem for Denver citizens fighting to maintain the golf course land as open space: The possibility that the city’s filing of a condemnation action might permit Clayton to terminate the golf course open space conservation easement based on the complex 2000 “Agency Agreement” between the city and Clayton.
On Nov. 16, city administrators advised city council that it needs “to obtain rights to a maximum of 90 acres of the property now in order to allow our construction company (Sema) time to proceed with design of the drainage project and to begin construction in January, 2019.” Administrators also advised the city council “we are taking our proposed agreement with Clayton off the table and are planning to bring to council committee in December a Land Acquisition Ordinance and the Sema construction contract.”
Call the mayor
The bottom line is that there are now three essential institutional players actively involved in the future of the Park Hill Golf Course land, each with conflicting interests:
1. The City administration wants to install its stormwater detention facility in the golf course land beginning in January 2019;
2. The Clayton Trust wants to generate significant amounts of money from development of the golf course land; and
3. Arcis apparently continues to have important contractual rights regarding the land beyond December 31, 2018.
Undoubtedly working behind the scenes are real estate developers salivating at the prospect of developing the land. And, what about the interests of the neighbors living near the course, and other Denver citizens who passionately want to preserve this 155-acres of precious open space consistent with the 1997 open space conservation easement?
What a colossal mess! If the city administration wants to install a stormwater detention facility in the golf course, it should have been and now should be doing everything in its power to preserve the open space in a manner consistent with the conservation easement for which Denver taxpayers paid $2 million in 1997. The city administration created this problem when it decided to put stormwater detention in the golf course.
Now it needs to solve the problem in a manner that protects the open space conservation easement and does not squander the taxpayers’ $2 million investment.
Where all of this goes from here is an open question. Individuals and organizations in and around the golf course need to get actively involved in these crucial issues. Engage with your Registered Neighborhood Organizations and other groups and communicate your views forcefully by phone and/or email to the mayor and city council.
Woody Garnsey is a retired attorney and longtime Park Hill resident. Mayor Michael B. Hancock can be reached at 720-865-9090, and Councilman Chris Herndon (who represents Park Hill) can be reached at 720-337-8888. At-Large Councilwoman Robin Kniech can be reached at 720-337-7712 and At-Large Councilwoman Deborah Ortega can be reached at 720-337-7713.