The Fort Payne City Council voted in a specially called meeting Tuesday to lease DeSoto Golf Course to Darrell Shankles for three years with an option for him to potentially buy it for $225,000.
The city bought DeSoto Country Club in 2008 for $311,000 while Bill Jordan was mayor. At the time, the country club was nearly $300,000 in debt and faced foreclosure after missing payments, according to press reports. It seemed like a bargain since this was about a quarter of its tax-assessed value of $1.2 million.
Council President Walter Watson, who was on that council, argued Tuesday in favor of the lease agreement, saying it was “time to say enough and cut our losses. We have one of our own who wants to see what he can do with it. We need to wipe our hands because we have other projects we’ve got to complete.”
Watson was also on the council in 2013 when they rejected a potential buyer who contacted then-Mayor Larry Chesser. Watson favored selling it then, but other council members wanted to give it more time to turn a profit.
On Tuesday, Council member John Smith made the motion to authorize current Mayor Brian Baine to execute the proposed lease with Shankles. He sees no downside to it since the city would get the property back at the end of three years if Shankles doesn’t want to buy it.
The 60-acre property includes a nine-hole course and a banquet hall that can be rented. The greens are 60 years old, minus one that the city replaced for $10,000. Shankles would have to get an alcohol license to sell on the premises.
Council members Lynn Brewer and Johnny Eberhart opposed selling it at an $86,000 loss and voted against the move. Brewer suggested the city and Shankles both have appraisers look at the golf course to come up with a figure, followed by a third neutral appraiser. Realtor Randy Wilson provided an informal appraisal.
“I’m not comfortable going into an agreement that I don’t know the value,” Brewer said.
City Attorney Rocky Watson said the agreement offers some protection for both parties. He said if Shankles works hard and makes it a huge success, he wouldn’t want the city to up the asking price. In April 2024, the city can negotiate a lease renewal for an additional five years, he explained, with Shankles able to exercise the option to purchase in year two. If he declines the purchase at the end of year three, the city stands to get the land and facilities in the shape they are currently in, minus ordinary wear and tear.
Nothing would stop Shankles from selling the golf course to a third party once he owns it outright, potentially transforming the land from a green space to residential properties, but Council members said they feel confident he wouldn’t do that since he is a lifelong resident, plus much of the property lies in the flood plain. It couldn’t be converted, for example, for manufacturing without the city agreeing to rezone it from residential, which would be highly unlikely given the anger this would provoke from existing homeowners.
Shankles, who works at GameTime managing safety, said he talked it over with his wife and got the okay to enter into the deal. A frequent business traveler, he said he’s typically booked a round of golf in the cities he visited. He said he’s “ready to step back from the corporate world and wear shorts.”
He gave a brief presentation to the Council in which he detailed his plans. To save on overhead, he plans to do greenskeeping himself while his wife manages the pro shop. He plans to do a better job of marketing DeSoto Golf, LLC as an affordable public venue for play and recreation, encouraging use for fundraisers, charity tournaments and as a corporate events venue. He also made a passionate case for why Fort Payne needs the green space to remain a golf course.
“People are aggravated that the city owns a golf course. I’ll help you out,” Shankles said. “Golf teaches us respect, honesty and self-control. We meet new people and learn essential life skills.”