Bankruptcy may sink golf course operator

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WALLA WALLA — The city is on a path to parting ways with its municipal golf course operator after months of delinquent rent, utility and other payments, officials say.

After a more-than-15-year partnership at Veterans Memorial Golf Course, city officials say they are on course for a split with operator We-Man Vets Golf Inc., which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization Feb. 21.

City Attorney Tim Donaldson said the golf course continues to operate through the turmoil and won’t be in danger of closing.

“We’ve had a lot of concern from golfers,” he said. “We have to basically proceed through the bankruptcy.”

In the meantime, he said, season passes will be honored by the operator, as well as the city.

We-Man President and golf pro Nick Manolopoulos did not return a telephone call for comment.

According to Donaldson, the city’s lease with We-Man at the 18-hole course, 201 E. Rees Ave., expires at the end of 2013.

However, by the end of 2012, Manolopoulos had failed to make quarterly lease payments for the third and fourth quarter. The city gave notice that it planned to terminate the lease early — Feb. 21 — unless the lease payments were made. That day We-Man filed for bankruptcy protection.

The filing essentially stops the early termination while the financial proceedings take place through bankruptcy court. Should that, for any reason, run beyond the term of the contract, the filing will not extend the lease beyond its existing term.

Donaldson estimates We-Man owes the city a little more than $80,000. Rent is calculated based on a percentage of gross receipts. To determine what is owed, the city has to be provided the figures. Those were received for the third quarter, and the city says it is owed $22,265.32 for that period. For the fourth quarter, which generally has significantly less play because of winter weather, the city estimates it is owed $7,500 to $8,000. For “other” obligations, including utilities, the estimate is $28,000. Miscellaneous charges include expenses for a vehicle replacement plan, penalties and finance charges totaling $22,342.

We-Man has operated the municipal course since 1996, when it originally had a 12-year lease plus renewal options.

Donaldson said the city will find a new operator. In the event the existing lease is terminated early, there should be no hiccup in the operation, he said.

“We were prepared when we were going to terminate,” he said. “We didn’t look forward to taking back over the course for an interim period, but we were prepared to.”

He said the bankruptcy filing protects the city, to a certain extent. “It’s made sure that whatever money is going in is going to have to be accounted for through the bankruptcy.”

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