County Council raises questions over Chamber resort lease

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The Ground Lease Agreement between Pierce County and developer Absher-Putnam for a planned resort at Chambers Bay is under review while the County Council has questions over some wording in the lease. absher-putnam rendering
The Ground Lease Agreement between Pierce County and developer Absher-Putnam for a planned resort at Chambers Bay is under review while the County Council has questions over some wording in the lease. absher-putnam rendering

The Pierce County Executive and Absher-Putnam spent about 18 months negotiating an agreement that would allow the company to build a resort at the 930-acre park and golf course overlooking Puget Sound.

The County Council reviewed a 70-page draft of the lease in December and has since submitted four pages of detailed questions it wants answered before it considers approving the deal.

The developer plans to build a 190 hotel or long-term rental golf villas on 13 acres of the park. That raised concerns because the proposed $450,000 minimum annual lease doesn’t require those villas to be converted to hotel rooms, which raises visions of permanent multi-family residential units in the park. The project would also include a restaurant, a spa, a golf clubhouse and event spaces.

Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, who represents the Council District 4 that includes Chambers Bay, is leading the charge for more answers.

“When it comes to legal documents, words matter,” she mentioned, noting that part of the lease of the land includes assumptions about the resort’s gross revenue, for example, of which the county would get a share. It also doesn’t mention what would happen if the developer wants to sell the resort during the 99-year lease, but it mentions that Absher-Putnam will have right of first refusal if the park or golf course is ever up for sale.

“There is no protective language to keep it a park,” Ladenburg said. “We want to do our due diligence to make sure this is right for the park and for the county.”

She outlined some of her concerns in her recent council newsletter, that included: a call for the guaranteed annual minimum rent to include progressive increases to keep up with inflation and that the rent contains no guarantee. It also limits rezoning oversight by the council.

“The county executive could authorize a casino or gaming operation, rezone the property and make substantial changes in use without council input,” she wrote. “A portion of the resort is proposed to become a public plaza/small amphitheater, requiring relocation of the ninth tee box and changing the original course design copyrighted by architect Robert Trent Jones. Any change to the course without Jones’ approval would result in no longer being able to market it as a Jones’ course or as a Champion course. This action would have an impact on tourism and the play of the course. The county executive could permit the developer to construct and use the public plaza/amphitheater at no cost to the developer.”

The park was developed from the former Lone Star gravel pit and turned into a signature golf course that rose to fame as the host course of the 2015 U.S. Open championship.

The council’s questions about the lease will likely come in the next few weeks and will include some executive session discussions before reaching a public agenda item for the council as early as later this month or in March.

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