Offer may be on the table for Seaford Golf and Country Club

By Lynn R. Parks

Members of the struggling Seaford Golf and Country Club will vote this month on a plan to sell the club property, including the clubhouse and the 18-hole golf course. The buyer would be the city of Seaford. City manager Dolores Slatcher said that that club membership vote would be just the first step in the process. The second step would be a vote by the members of the Nanticoke Senior Center on whether they want the clubhouse for a senior center. The senior center is currently leasing space from the Western Sussex Boys and Girls Club and that lease runs out in March. If the club membership OKs the sale and the senior center membership approves using the clubhouse for a center, the city council would then consider whether to pursue the purchase. "No offer has been made yet," Slatcher said. "A lot of dominoes all have to fall into place and many questions have to be answered." Those questions include the purchase price, Slatcher said. "We have no idea of the property's value," she said. The questions also include how the club property would be used. It is possible that the city would operate the course as a public golf course, Slatcher said. If the city decides to pursue the purchase, it would commission a board to do a feasibility study on best uses for the club's property, including the golf course, tennis courts and Olympic-sized swimming pool, Slatcher said. In April, the city voted to close its public swimming pool due to lack of funds. Public hearings open to members of the community would also be part of the process, Slatcher said. "The city can't do anything without making it public," she said. Charles Butler, president of the country club board, said that declining membership is forcing the club to consider the sale. If the sale goes through, the Seaford Golf and Country Club, a Delaware corporation, would be dissolved. All memberships would be terminated. Current membership is 250; Butler said that the club needs between 350 and 400 members to be healthy. "Our economic situation dictates that we have to do something," Butler said. "We've lost a lot of people in the last one and a half years."

In May 2008, when the country club embarked on a $500,000 renovation, it had about 420 members. Butler blames the declining membership on the overall economy. "All country clubs are in difficult times," he said. "We are not alone. People feel that they can no longer justify their memberships." He added that the sale to the city is just one alternative for the country club. "We are not ruling anything out, including not selling at all," he added. On the other hand, "we are not in negotiations with anyone else." Butler said that the country club currently has a debt of $1.8 million. Proceeds from the sale would go to pay that debt and any additional debt incurred between now and the sale, and then would go to pay back capital construction certificates that members bought. How much members are reimbursed would depend on the amount of the sale price, he said. Slatcher said that the talks were prompted by the economic struggles of the country club and by the senior center's struggles to raise money for a new center. The senior center has raised about $600,000 toward the estimated $2.37 million cost of building a new center in the city's Ross Business Park. Last month, Christy Pennington, who is leading the center's fundraising effort, estimated that construction could start in November and take 12 to 15 months. "The senior center members have to decide if they want to build new, or if they want to move in sooner into an already-constructed building," Slatcher said. If the country club and senior center memberships vote to approve the plan, "then the city council and the public will have to decide whether the club is worth saving, as part of Seaford's history and as open space," Slatcher said. Both Butler and Slatcher said that the whole process could take months. If everything falls into place, Slatcher added, it is the city's goal to have the clubhouse opened as a senior center by March, when the center's current lease expires.

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