The proposed land swap of two Amherst golf courses – and a major development project tied to the plan – could still happen.
But Amherst officials say the deal is now about as likely as a hole in one.
Town leaders Wednesday said they rejected the “final offer” of the Westwood Country Club, whose owners want to trade their course for the town’s Audubon facility and develop the Audubon site.
“The offer they just made shows no significant understanding of the town’s position these last six months,” Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein said.
Westwood owners Mensch Capital Partners earlier this week proposed that the town swap most of its Audubon course for the Westwood course, and the group was willing to kick in as much as $2 million in cash to sweeten the deal.
Town leaders, though, pointed to a number of conditions in the proposal that they found “simply unacceptable.”
Chief among them was the developers’ ability to walk away from the deal at any time and to have their expenses covered fully by the town if the deal fell through.
“No one in their right mind would agree to it,” Weinstein said of that condition.
Town leaders also were wary of taking on the expenses and upkeep of a country-club-level golf course, especially when Westwood leaders would not allow them a full inspection of the course.
And they said the town might be forced to hike public golf rates more than five times their current level to maintain the Westwood course and pay off a $1 million debt at Audubon.
“We would be competing with higher-end courses more than a municipal layout,” said Deputy Supervisor Guy R. Marlette.
But the largest obstacle to a deal appears to be the perceived value of the Audubon site. A third-party appraiser hired by the developers valued the Audubon land at $12.1 million, compared with $11 million for the Westwood land.
But Weinstein said town approval of the massive development project proposed for the Audubon site – a condition of the deal – would make the site’s value skyrocket to around $50 million. “Quite a difference,” he said. “We see no value in their appraisals.”
The developers, though, are still holding out hope that a deal can be done.
“It would be a great loss to the Town of Amherst, its residents and UB if the town’s leadership is unable to garner the long-term benefits associated with the exchange,” said Andrew J. Shaevel, managing partner of Mensch.
Shaevel proposes a mixed-use “village center” on the Audubon land that would include shops, restaurants and hotels, and would better integrate the nearby University at Buffalo North Campus with the surrounding community.
The developers say the project would attract baby boomers and young professionals who are seeking an alternative to an automobile-centric lifestyle – and also deliver up to $8 million in yearly tax revenues to the town.
Though negotiations with Weinstein appear to be finished, Shaevel said he would reach out to individual Town Board members to try to win their support. “I don’t think all the facts have been brought to the table,” he said. “All of the non-economic items are things that can be discussed or easily resolved.”
At least one board member believes there is still room for some sort of deal to happen. “There’s always room for each side to maneuver,” said Council Member Mark A. Manna. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and both sides need to be more realistic about what they expect.”
Weinstein said the next step is “up to them” and that the town would be willing to consider another offer with material changes.
“Unless any new proposal comes forward, I don’t see this going anywhere,” Marlette said. “The town is not in the business of publicly financing a private corporation to go forward with a development project. One development project, to me, is not a make-or-break situation for any town.”
Shaevel earlier this week said Mensch would look to develop the Westwood site if it could not get control of the town-owned site.
But it’s Audubon the developers really want. “It’s a shame if we can’t figure out a way to make this work,” Shaevel said.