Provo, medical school still working on golf course sale

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Provo City is still negotiating the sale for part of East Bay Golf Course. (Photo courtesy of provomayor.com)

Six months ago, the Provo City Council cleared the way for the mayor to start negotiating the sale of part of East Bay Golf Course. But there still are some sticking points in the deal to sell the 21 acres known as the north wedge.

On Tuesday, the council discussed the real estate purchase contract with representatives from Wasatch Educational. The company wants the property to build the Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine. It already operates Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in the city. Over the next week, the city and Wasatch Educational will negotiate the remaining points. The contract will be back on the council’s agenda July 17.

Here’s what the parties are working on in the contract:

Remediation: The north wedge once was a landfill, so Wasatch Educational and Provo City know there could be environmental issues. In fact, they already know about methane gas in the area. When the two parties discussed the deal in January, the agreement was that the school would be responsible for making the land buildable. However, under the law, the city would be responsible for remediating the land to golf course standards. And that’s even if Wasatch Educational owns the property and digs something up, said assistant city attorney Camille Williams. Wasatch Educational would be responsible for remediating the land from golf course-level to office or residential standards. In January, Wasatch Educational estimated that cost will be $10.5 million. Appraisals done by the city and school estimate the land — when buildable — is worth between $4.5 and $6 million.

“It seems like remediation was already done because we’re using it as a golf course,” said Councilman Kay Van Buren. “It’s already at golf course level. I don’t know why we’d be responsible for more.”

Williams said Provo has been in a similar situation recently with property at 300 West and Center Street. It did an environmental study, but then construction crews discovered a gas tank underground. The city, which had previously owned the land, had to pay for remediation.

The city already has an obligations and risks on the property, and isn’t “offering to add any obligations and risks,” said Councilman David Sewell. Williams said the document needs to express that more clearly.

Intent: One of the deal points the council approved in January was that it would make a statement that it doesn’t intend to develop any other areas of the golf course. Wasatch Educational would take 21 acres of the course. But it would build three new holes before it removes the three on the portion it wants to buy. The council voted 6-1 to include the intent statement in the real estate purchase contract. It also agreed to vote on a future intent resolution as well as a possible general plan amendment. The intent statement says the city has no intent to expand development beyond the north wedge property and intends “to maintain the usage as a golf course.”

Right of First Refusal: Wasatch Educational wants right of first refusal, if the city decides to sell more of the golf course. Some council members aren’t sure that’s a good idea. John Nemelka, representing Wasatch Educational, said the right of first refusal has been part of the conversation all along. The company wants to invest more than $100 million in the property, and wants the surrounding area to remain a golf course. Or it wants the first option to buy it, so it has a chance to control who its neighbors are. The right of first refusal would last 50 years, under the agreement.

Councilman Gary Winterton, however, said that part of the agreement is tying the city’s hands. For example, what if Amazon came to Provo and asked to buy that land for a minimal amount, in exchange for creating a lot of jobs. The city would have to offer the property first to Wasatch Educational at the same price.

The clause is saying that the best use of the property forever is as a golf course or Wasatch Educational, Van Buren said.

Councilman George Handley said if the city had another hope for the property then it shouldn’t have entered into a deal with Wasatch Educational.

In the end, the council voted 5-2 to keep the right of first refusal in the contract.

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Amie Rose has more than 14 years of experience writing and editing at newspapers in Utah and New Mexico. She graduated from BYU with a degree in journalism. She lives in Utah Valley with her husband, toddler and crazy dog.

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