Watertown paid more for golf club than its appraised worth

Mar. 14—WATERTOWN — An appraisal of the former Watertown Golf Club came back showing that the city paid more than three times its worth.

The city purchased nine holes on nearly 64 acres of the golf course in Thompson Park for $3.4 million on Jan. 27 from Michael E. Lundy,

But an appraisal determined that the 18-hole golf course has a value of $1.123 million.

Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith, who was adamantly opposed to the deal, said Tuesday that the appraisal shows that three council members failed to do their due diligence before agreeing to purchase it.

"It's horrible for taxpayers," he said.

The Watertown Daily Times obtained the 181-page document after filing a Freedom of Information Law request.

The Syracuse firm of Thurston, Casale & Ryan LLC prepared the appraisal after City Council members voted, 3-2 in December that the document was needed, even though the purchase was going forward and the document wouldn't be finished until the deal was finalized.

According to the firm, the golf club was appraised at $1.35 million, but its value decreases by $227,000 because the city is losing that much in revenues from a lease with Mr. Lundy for the nine holes that the city owned.

The 63.84 acres of land were appraised at $319,000, or $5,000 an acre, according to the Syracuse firm.

Council members were given a copy of the appraisal last week.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix wasn't surprised by the appraisal's findings, although he said it doesn't take into account the buildings, greens, tees and fairways but "just the raw land."

Councilman Cliff G. Olney III said Tuesday that he thought that the appraisal came back "higher" than he expected, adding he surmised it would be about $800,000.

He also thinks that the appraisal "is irrelevant because it was a take it or leave deal."

Councilman Olney said he tried to get the price down to $2.8 million, but Mr. Lundy wouldn't accept anything lower than the $3.4 million price.

Now that the city owns the nine holes, they will always remain undeveloped and under the city's control, the councilman said.

The Syracuse firm also completed an appraisal of the golf club in 2017 when the city was considering to purchase it back then. That appraisal came in at $591,000.

In 2018, Mr. Lundy and his sister, Colleen, purchased the golf club for what is believed to be in the $550,000 range.

To determine the appraisal this time, the firm considered the recent sale of four other golf courses, three in Central New York and one in the Finger Lakes, that ranged from $900,000 to $1.8 million.

The appraiser also looked at Mr. Lundy's evaluation of the golf club's assets. Mr. Lundy put a $2.1 million value on the land, $450,000 for buildings and $850,000 for golf, bar, kitchen and dining-room equipment.

According to the appraisal, the $2.1 million for the land would be "well above the site's market value" at $32,895 per acre and far more than the $5,000 by the appraiser.

Mr. Lundy's evaluation on the inventory for the clubhouse, golf carts and other equipment also "was well above" the appraisal's findings, according to the firm.

The appraiser also acknowledged that Mr. Lundy completed a series of improvements to the clubhouse, the golf course itself and added a 49-space parking lots since he bought it four years ago.

According to the appraisal, the firm determined that the highest and best use of the property is a golf course, citing the lack of water and sanitary sewers to the site and other physical attributes that would impede any other development.

The deal also includes a deed restriction that Ives Hill Country Club owner P.J. Simao will reduce his 18-hole course on Flower Avenue West from 18 holes to nine. In exchange, Mr. Lundy is paying Mr. Simao $850,000.

As part of the deal, Mr. Lundy will no longer seek any legal action against the city involving the golf club.

While the controversy over its purchase continues, the city is working on several fronts to get Thompson Park Golf Course ready to open in May.

Fred Hicks, who was at the golf club for 30 years, will be the head greens keeper, Mr. Mix said. Interviews continue for a full-time golf course manager to oversee the facility and other employees to work there.

The city also met with the owner of Spokes Craft Beer and Tapas to work out a deal for the local nightspot to run the food and beverages at the clubhouse, Mr. Mix said.

The city also is looking for an electrician to redo the electrical system on the clubhouse's interior, while the city's electric department will handle some repairs to the exterior of the building, Mr. Mix said.

The electrical issues were unexpectedly found on Dec. 28 in the building's basement after the deal closed with Mr. Lundy.