Major problem for Denver buying Park Hill Golf Club: golf may not go quietly

Denver officials thought they had a deal, but now it’s hit a major snag. The city may turn to eminent domain to seize part of the course for flood control.
3 min. read
Homes sit behind a screen protecting them from stray balls hit at the Park Hill Golf Course. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homes sit behind a screen protecting them from stray balls from the Park Hill Golf Club. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver officials thought they had a deal: They would pay about $20.5 million to acquire Park Hill Golf Club. They wanted to use the land for a flood-control project and potentially for parkland and mixed-use development.

However, they've hit a snag that could derail the deal. Now, Denver may try to forcibly purchase part of the land through eminent domain.

Here's the problem.

Arcis leases the 155-acre course from the nonprofit Clayton Early Learning. That lease expires at the end of 2018, and Clayton's leadership believed that Arcis would not renew.

Arcis currently pays $700,000 a year. Clayton wants to make about $1 million in order to further its nonprofit mission, as executive Charlotte Brantley earlier explained.

However, Arcis has an ace up its sleeve: It has the legal right to extend its lease under the exact same terms for up to a decade. In other words, it can keep running the course in exactly the same way.

"We had launched our community engagement process with an understanding that Arcis did not plan to renew," Brantley told Denverite today. But Arcis recently informed her that it hadn't made up its mind, throwing the deal with the city government into disarray.

Arcis has until July 2018 to decide whether it will renew. The city doesn't have that long to wait, so it's suspending the current purchase plan.

"Unfortunately, we are now setting that proposal aside because of an unresolved lease issue between Clayton and its golf course operator, Arcis," public works spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn wrote in an email.

An attorney for Arcis had no comment.

Here's Denver's temporary solution.

Denver really needs at least the northeastern corner of the land as part of Platte to Park Hill, a $300 million flood-control project that will protect Interstate 70 and northern Denver neighborhoods. It plans to start construction in January 2019.

To get the land, city officials plan to pursue a "land acquisition ordinance," which would allow Denver to use the power of eminent domain, according to Kuhn. Basically, if the city can't negotiate a deal to buy the land, it can ask a judge to set a market price and force the sale.

Denver will pursue rights to up to 90 acres, or more than half the course, for use in the flood-control project, Kuhn wrote. The rest would be left for later discussions.

It's theoretically possible that flood control and golf could coexist on the course -- the city has found a way to do that at City Park Golf Course -- but construction of the detention area would obviously disrupt golf operations.

It's unclear whether Arcis might pose some legal challenge, or whether the city and Clayton might be able to buy out their interest.

"They have not come to us with a formal proposal of any kind," Brantley said.

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