Potential bogey


Local developer Bill Walters wants to scrap his money-losing, 18-hole Bali Hai Golf Club near McCarran International Airport and build a 2 million-square-foot commercial complex on the county-owned land across from the "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.

The Walters Group's partners would pay a piece of their profits to Clark County under a deal that received preliminary County Commission approval in July.

That sounds familiar. Bali Hai, which opened in 2000, is $49 million in the hole because of operating losses, unpaid debt and construction costs that were never recouped, according to Mike Luce, president of the Walters Group. The county has never made a dime on the course, despite a deal under which the owners were to split net revenues 50-50 with the airport.

County Aviation Director Randall Walker said there's nothing in the current lease agreement that allowed the deal to be renegotiated if the golf course made no money.

Gosh, the stuff that gets left out of those final drafts! If only the airport were allowed to occasionally hire someone to look over these deals before they're signed. You know, like a lawyer or an accountant?

Mr. Walker expects to bring a final draft of the new lease to the commission by September.

But Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani cast a lone vote against amending the lease with the Walters Group. Ms. Giunchigliani says she has no problem with a golf course morphing into a commercial complex, but a 2005 state law that she, as an assemblywoman, helped draft calls for a public auction when certain land agreements are revamped.

If Walters has the best project, let him prove it by beating out competing developers, she urges -- and the county counsel happens to agree with her.

Mr. Walters has a history of pulling off land deals that leave local residents checking their elected officials' hair and clothing for evidence they just fell off the hay wagon.

In 2002, the County Commission agreed to rezone 64 acres Mr. Walters had been leasing at Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive to build a golf course so he could build a shopping center and medical offices instead. That decision stirred an outcry from neighbors as well as developers, who accused the county of giving Mr. Walters an unfair edge by supplying him with low-cost, government-owned land. The commission later scaled down the commercial site.

In 2004, Mr. Walters made a swap with the city of Henderson. Partnering with a Greenspun family-owned company, he traded the Wildhorse Golf Club for 126 acres of prime city-owned land worth $40.2 million. Mr. Walters said at the time that Wildhorse had been appraised at almost $34.4 million and tossed in $5.8 million to even the trade. But the county assessor had put the golf course's value closer to $9 million.

Mr. Walters has a right to cut the best deals he can. But if the Bali Hai is to go to a new use, let the County Commission invite bids, and see who has the best proposal.

 

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