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Approval likely for skipping bill on course's lease


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 9, 2001

ZEPHYRHILLS -- When city officials said Nancy Lester didn't pay the lease on Zephyrhills City Golf Course, they sued and she left the course.

At tonight's City Council meeting, the course's new manager, Maynard Evenson, will ask the council for permission to not pay the lease this year.

But this is very different, officials say.

"The problem in the past was no improvement, no payments, no nothing," City Manager Steve Spina said.

This time, it's improvement instead of payment, Spina and Evenson said.

"I think it's something we can live with," Spina said.

The Airport Authority, which helps oversee the course, has approved the plan. It calls for this winter's lease money to be paid during the next five years. Lease money is only paid in the winter.

The course, which closed May 15 and reopened Nov. 1 under lease to Bill Krusen, the owner of Valley Oaks Golf Club, has proved to be more of a fixer-upper than expected, Evenson said.

"All the money we took in this year, we put in the golf course. If we pay them, we can't put it into the golf course," Evenson said. "That's where it needs to go."

The new managers want to change just about everything from the irrigation system to the tee boxes.

They have spent more than $100,000, improved the pro shop and opened a full-service restaurant.

The course has yet to turn a profit, Evenson said. Aside from the poor conditions, it has been hindered by cold winter weather and a lack of play from golf leagues, a steady source of revenue. When the leagues were choosing where to play, the course was closed.

Only one league played the city course this winter, Evenson said. Already at least seven are slated for next year, he said.

Spina said he did not know if the council would vote on the proposal tonight, but it will be on the agenda.

The new management has paid about $4,400 in taxes for the property this year but is asking to have the $40,000 rent payments rolled over the next five years of the 20-year lease.

The new managers were supposed to start making lease payments in December, but instead contacted city officials to seek relief.

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