A Long Shot

In 1989, Denver voters approved a $2.5 million bond for what would have been the city's eighth golf course on an empty chunk of land close to the area where Denver International Airport would be built.

Throughout the 1990s, the city talked a good game about building the course at Green Valley Ranch, but plans kept getting held up, and golfers, in the meantime, were flocking to new courses in Aurora and other suburbs. By 1995, the city's courses were running a $429,000 deficit.

In 1998, the plans were moving ahead again; Green Valley would put the city back on -- and in -- the green.

And John Trahan wanted in.

Though his company, Power Construction, was only a few months old and his prior construction experience was mostly minor landscape work and home remodeling, Trahan wanted a shot at the new golf course. To that end, he snared an experienced firm, Nebraska's Golf Services, as a partner, and since Power is black-owned, he was sure his bid would meet the city's minority set-aside requirements.

After posting the lowest bid among seven competitors this summer, Trahan says the job should have been his. He says he spent $19,000 preparing revised bids for Family Golf, the company the city had chosen to manage the new course and select its builder. But when Family Golf backed out of the deal in the fall, citing financial problems, Trahan found himself out a lot of money and without a contract.

"From the very beginning, there was lots of misinformation between [the city's Department of Parks and Recreation] and [Denver golf program director] Tom Woodard's office," says Trahan. "It went so far as people saying it wasn't a city project."

Construction should have begun in September, Woodard acknowledges, but now the city is waiting, yet again, to start a course that has been on the books for ten years.

"Welcome to the world of trying to build a golf course in 1999," says Warren Simmons, executive director of the Colorado Golf Association. "It just seems that it takes a lot longer to get projects done than anyone thought."

He's not kidding. As early as January 11, 1996, the city had entered into a development agreement with the owners of the land at Green Valley -- the Alpert Corporation, Ernest S. Madison and Borg-Warner Equities Corporation -- to "cooperate in the dedication of land and the design and construction of a new public golf course."

Once the landowners promised to deed the land to the city, recalls Andrew Wallach, the city's former director of bond projects, "I thought we were basically home free, and it became basically a routine parks project." That year, the course design firm of Dye Design started to draw up plans, and in March 1996, the city hired a consultant to develop requests for proposals to build the course. Unfortunately, the first two requests failed to draw a single offer.

"It was like they threw a party and no one came," says John Edwards, publisher of Colorado Golfer. "It was not logical. Not until they got Tom Woodard in there did logic come into the City of Denver golf courses."

(Woodard, who was hired in January 1997, says that the city's golf enterprise fund will have $4.5 million at the end of this year. The first capital improvements in four years are scheduled to begin next September when a new clubhouse is built at City Park. After that, new irrigation systems are planned to replace systems that, in some cases, have been used for twice as long as their recommended lifespans.)

By 1998, things were moving again. Oakwood Homes now owned the land, and by the end of the year, the city had made a deal with Family Golf -- a national golf management company that operates more than a hundred courses nationwide and also ran the concessions at three Denver courses (Kennedy, Overland and Evergreen). Family Golf would invest roughly $6 million -- on top of the city's $2 million bond -- to build Green Valley and run the course's lucrative restaurant and pro-shop concessions for the next 25 years.

All the city and Family Golf needed was a contractor to build the course. On May 4, Trahan went to a pre-bid meeting at the southeast Denver offices of Dye Design to see if he had a "legitimate shot," and soon after, Power submitted its bid. When the bids were opened on May 28, Trahan was surprised to find that his -- at $6.1 million -- was the lowest of the seven. So were his competitors, who he says were angry that his upstart company had underbid them. (The average bid was $6.9 million, and the highest bid was just over $8 million.)

Trahan says the four lowest bidders were then asked to show proof of their women- and minority-owned business certifications. "We were very comfortable knowing we had the contract," he says, adding that he figured the lowest bid and adequate minority representation would settle the matter. "It was just a matter of time."

Woodard says Trahan should not have been so presumptuous. "My comments to him were, I don't think it's that simple. There's a lot more involved. Experience plays a large part in this."

In early June, Trahan says, he met with Margie George-Scott of the Mayor's Office of Contract Compliance, the city agency charged with ensuring that bidders meet minority- and women-owned business guidelines. He says she told him that his company's bid was the only one that met those guidelines and that she was recommending that his firm receive the contract. (George-Scott had no comment for Westword regarding whether such an exchange took place, and Dante James, head of Contract Compliance, says his office never received any of the bids.)

Woodard doubts that Power was the only company to meet minority set-aside requirements. He says one of the bidders, RBI, had done plenty of work with the city in the past. "I can't imagine them submitting a bid that would not be in contract compliance."

What Trahan presumed would be a hole-in-one began to roll toward the water, and when Family Golf withdrew in September, the ball fell right in. "[Family Golf] knew all along they were having financial problems," says Woodard. "I don't know how close they were to making a deal with anybody." (A Family Golf spokesman refused to answer any questions about its withdrawal from the Green Valley deal.)

Three months later, it's unclear how close the city is to getting the project going again. A meeting was scheduled to take place this week between city officials and Oakwood Homes to plan the next move. But Pat Hamill, the owner of Oakwood Homes, says a few permits to allow construction are still being finalized, a process that could take between 30 and 45 more days. "At this point, we do not have a golf-course developer on board," he says.

And time is money. "The longer we wait, the construction costs are going up," says Woodard. "I wouldn't be surprised if we had to restructure the deal." Recent high-end courses around town have cost north of $8 million to build, and as costs continue to climb, it will be harder for Denver to attract a company to invest the money, unless the city turns over the course concessions for even longer than the 25 years agreed upon for Family Golf.

In addition, although course designer Erick Irwin of Dye Design promises that Green Valley will be "fantastic," competing courses in the area are under construction or already open. Green Valley is designed to be a top-notch destination course, Woodard says, one that people would be willing to drive to. But will they come when they can drive to other courses nearby?

Woodard thinks the course will finally break ground in late January or early February. But with an eighteen-month timeline for completion, Green Valley wouldn't be ready until the fall of 2001, instead of in the spring of that year. "We've lost a season, really," he says.

Trahan says he tried to approach the city about Power and Golf Services taking over for Family Golf as course manager: "We want to construct the darn thing, but we would love to take it over as well." But Woodard says Power Construction is not being considered because the city wants to find an experienced company to both build and run the course. Trahan's attorney, Wayne Vaden, says talk about a lawsuit against the city is premature, and he admits that "I don't remember anyone saying, 'You've been awarded the contract.'"

Still, he adds, "I don't know if we would have been given the contract if Family Golf had the money, but I know that Green Valley is suffering. Somebody needs to get their shit together."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
T.R. Witcher

Latest Stories