Golf course can be converted into commercial development, commission says

Golfers wanting to play a round at the Bali Hai Golf Club near the south end of the Strip better make a tee time soon.

The Clark County Commission on Tuesday decided to let developer Bill Walters convert the long-troubled 18-hole course, which was built next to McCarran International Airport on airport-controlled land, into a commercial development.

Walters declined after the meeting to name the tenants he is negotiating with to build on the site but said they are “big- time, national companies” that will do well in Las Vegas. “This project is going to move faster than anyone realizes.”

After hours of debate between attorneys for Walters and Airport Director Randy Walker, which followed months of fighting between the sides, commissioners voted 5-2 to approve the conversion. Walters won every point of contention:

■ He is free to negotiate with any potential tenants despite fears raised by Walker that he will undercut other people with airport leases.

■ The original 99-year lease will remain in effect for the remaining 87 years rather than the 50 sought by Walker.

■ The airport can raise his rent every three years, but only nominally to stay abreast of the Consumer Price Index.

The commissioners had several concerns regarding the plan, but in the end Commissioner Larry Brown succinctly stated why granting the land use change would benefit the public.

He said hundreds if not thousands of jobs will be created, depending on what is developed; property taxes will increase about $3 million over what a golf course generates each year; and millions of gallons of potable water no longer will be used to water the course.

Not mentioned by Brown is that the county might finally collect rent from a tenant that has paid nothing in 11 years.

Walters told commissioners Tuesday that he has lost $50 million in the golf club over that time frame.

Walters leased the land from the airport in 2000 to build Bali Hai. The agreement called for McCarran to receive
40 percent of Walter’s net profit — revenue left after debt payments and operation costs were deducted. But the course never earned a profit, although Walters’ company, The Walters Group, collected $6 million in management fees over the first 10 years from Nevada Links, another Walters’ owned company.

This time Walters will pay a flat $100,000 a year, but the county won’t collect near that amount. Because the airport property is on federal land, the Bureau of Land Management will get
85 percent of whatever leases are paid to the airport. The state will get another 5 percent, leaving 10 percent — $10,000 a year — for the county.

Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Mary Beth Scow both suggested the public was the forgotten party in the dust-up. While they supported Walters’ plan to get rid of the course, neither was comfortable with terms of the amended lease and voted against the proposal.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak, who has sought changes so the county could get more money from the land, made the motion to approve the lease adjustment.

About Walters he said, “He’s been a good partner.”

Walters said the county was the entity that failed to live up to its obligations. For instance, a water reclamation facility was supposed to be built on airport land. He said he had planned to use the treated wastewater to irrigate the golf course at a cost of 60 cents for every 1,000 gallons. But the plant was never built, and the golf course had to pay about $3.50 per 1,000 gallons.

“I never would have built the golf course without reclaimed water,” Walters said after the meeting. “The numbers just weren’t there.”

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