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City of Red Wing to move forward with sale of Mississippi National golf course

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news Red Wing, 55066

Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

Despite recent objections voiced by fans of Mississippi National Golf Links, Red Wing City Council said Monday it will continue negotiating the sale of the public course with its lessee.

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A group of about 10 residents attended Monday's council meeting. Two of them spoke and said they would like to see the course remain public.

"One of the reasons I moved here was Mississippi National," resident Jim Eng told the council.

City officials have said they'd like to sell Mississippi National to Wendell Pittenger - who has leased and managed the course for a few decades -- as a way to reduce the city's budget.

Erik Fridell -- whose father, Gary Fridell, has spearheaded a recent campaign to keep Mississippi National a public course - told council members Monday they were wrong minded to sell the course.

He criticized city officials for not making a recent appraisal of the golf course public, for negotiating exclusively with Pittenger and for inking a lease in 2008 that he said is overly beneficial to Pittenger .

The council reacted to these claims with a mixture of empathy and annoyance.

City Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said the city isn't required to make the appraisal public. But Council member Lisa Bayley said the information should be available to residents.

Meanwhile, Council member Peggy Rehder said Pittenger is likely the only person who would be interested in buying the course because his lease on the course lasts until 2038.

And in the fieriest exchange of the evening, Fridell and Council member Mike Schultz butted heads over the current lease between the city and Pittenger .

Fridell said it was that lease, restructured in 2008, that has put the city in a position where it needs to look at selling the course.

"I take great umbrage at what you said about the lease," Schultz said. He argued restructuring the lease was necessary to help keep the course afloat during tough financial times.

Bayley, however, said she agreed the lease is not favorable to the city.

Kuhlmann said while some residents have recently said they would like to see the course stay public, she's also heard other residents say the city has no business owning a golf course.

"I think there are strong opinions on both sides," Kuhlmann said.

That was reflected amongst the council members. While some, like Schultz, said they would prefer Mississippi National remain a public course, others, like Rehder, said the council shouldn't be in the golf business.

"Having the golf course is a great asset," Council member Dan Bender said. "I just don't think the city needs to own it and put money into it."

Kuhlmann said the city could save an average of $200,000 a year by selling the course. According to a city memorandum Red Wing spent $162,579 on maintenance and equipment for Mississippi National in 2010.

In addition to questioning the wisdom behind the proposed sale, attorney Gary Fridell questioned its legality in e-mails sent to city officials.

In the 1970s, the state gave Red Wing land on which a portion of Mississippi National was built. The land was once part of the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing campus.

Fridell argues the 1976 law that conveyed that land to Red Wing also restricts the city from selling the property to a private party.

Monday, Red Wing's attorney Jay Quires said the city could sell the course without a public referendum but may indeed need to seek state approval to sell a portion of the course that was deeded to the city in 1976.

Kuhlmann said she believes the city could have a sale negotiated in the next two to three months. At that time she said the council will hold a forum to gauge public opinion before the council votes on the sale.

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