EAST PROVIDENCE — A compromise deal proposed by the new owners of Agawam Hunt to remediate the debts of the financially strapped golf and tennis club in Rumford owes the city, in golf parlance, never made it off the first tee as the Council at its Tuesday night, Aug. 5, meeting dismissed the submission at the recommendation of City Manager Tim Chapman.
The historic private country club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Providence in early January of this year. As of last week, Agawam Hunt was in arrears to the city to the sum of $467,000 in back property taxes, water/sewer charges and accrued interest. The operators of the club were seeking to shave tens of thousands of dollars off their tab.
Lawrence Pryor, representing New Agawam, LLC, made his pitch to the body during the Communications portion of the meeting. New Agawam LLC took over operations of the club in May, assuming its debts while trying to extract it from Chapter 11.
Mr. Prior told the Council the company now running the club was willing to pay the city $400,000 by September 30. In addition, the offer included a continued agreement by the club to maintain “Freedom Green,” the city-owned green space at the intersection of North Broadway and Centre Street, for five more years. Mr. Pryor said club maintenance staff estimated the value of which to be $12,000 annually or $60,000 total.
“We believe this a very reasonable offer to the city,” Mr. Prior said at one point during his presentation.
He added, “Our hope and our expectation is to operate as a viable club and to keep open space that is so valuable to the city.”
Part of the New Agawam LLC pitch was noting if the club were sold, it would likely be to a property developer who would turn it into multiple housing units and cost the city more money in infrastructure than it would by trimming the debt the company owed.
Of note as well, the new operators questioned the validity of the most recent property assessment done by the city last year, which valued the club at $5.9 million adjusted down to $5.1 through an agreement between the city and the previous owners.
Mr. Pryor said the private assessment done on the club by Scotti & Associates at the behest of the bank holding the note on the property valued in $2.9 million. Since entering receivership and before his company took over Agawam Hunt, he said the highest offer received for the club was $2.5 million.
Mr. Pryor also claimed six other similar area country clubs, including nearby Pawtucket and Ledgemont, sold for $3.3 million or less. The contention of New Agawam LLC, as expressed by Mr. Pryor, is that the club has been overvalued and overtaxed over the last year.
“We want to keep the course open, keep the club alive and maintain the many benefits it offers to the City of East Providence,” Mr. Pryor said.
He explained some of the added benefits to the city, besides the agreement to maintain Freedom Green, was the club hosting the Recreation Department’s annual Dollie Serle golf outing on a rotating basis with Metacomet and Wannamoisett Country Clubs and Agawam’s proximity to the environmentally sensitive fish ladders on the Ten Mile River.
Ward 1 Councilor Bobby Britto, in whose district the club is situated, expressed opposition to the proposal. He questioned why the city should cut a deal with the private club when residents are struggling to pay their property and water bills.
Mr. Chapman said after consulting with legal counsel and City Assessor Steve Hazard it would not behoove the Council to agree to the New Agawam LLC proposal. He also disagreed with New Agawam’s contention it was overassessed and its estimated annual cost of maintaining Freedom Green. He said the city’s estimate is about $8,000 to do so annually.
“I don’t think it benefits the city,” Mr. Chapman said of the proposal.
Though the matter went unresolved at last week’s meeting, both sides said they wanted to keep open dialogue. Mr. Pryor stressed his company was seeking a resolution so it could bring Agawam Hunt out of bankruptcy, which could happen as soon as 60 days following an agreement over the debt issue with East Providence is reached.
The Agawam Hunt portfolio includes the main clubhouse on Roger Williams Avenue, which also includes a pool, 14 outdoor tennis courts, 10 with grass surfaces and four clay, as well as two indoor tennis courts and a pair of squash courts. The Donald Ross-designed 18-hole golf course split over two pieces of the property on North Broadway, Centre Street and Pawtucket Avenue. The club has approximately 400 members, with either seasonal or year-long plans.