After four years of research, proposals and negotiations, the Franklin Board of Mayor and Alderman stopped the Cheekwood Golf Course expansion project with a vote of 4-3 to rescind the lease agreement. While community members spoke both in favor and against the development at the Work Session that took place previous to the Board meeting, ultimately the Board members voted the project down due to issues with lighting, netting and a perceived change in the scope of the project.
“We are very disappointed by the decision, especially since it was based on inaccurate information,” said representatives for Cheekwood Golf Club. “The vote ended Cheekwood’s good-faith negotiations with the City of Franklin, even though both sides acknowledged that progress was being made.”
There were eight items that were a bone of contention in the negotiations:
1. There was still no lease to be voted on at the meeting as the two parties were still negotiating.
2. The City of Franklin had added 5% of the gross revenue to the initially agreed upon rental fee of $70,000 for use of the land, which the leasee wished to study in relation to their forecast potential revenues.
3. Ball containment had become an issue. There was discussion of the need for a very tall, ugly net to keep balls from leaving the driving range property. Studies presented were conflicting as to whether a net was needed or not.
4. Exterior lighting until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday became a worry for some local residents and some Board members, although it was explained that the new facility would use dark sky guidelines. This means the lighting would be much like that used by nearby high school fields. And the lighting would only be on the driving range.
5. Representatives from the Golf Club had questions about unilateral easements with repair to any part of the course due to the easements having to be made by the Golf Course, not the City of Franklin.
6. Matters pertaining to the environment and historical areas came up as the golf course is near Harlinsdale Farm.
7. Termination rights by the city had a significant difference between the two parties. The city wanted a two-year termination right with a six-month notification, and the leasee wanted a 25-year termination right with a five-year notification as they were going to invest between $18 and $21 million into the project.
8. The name of the actual entity that would be responsible for the lease, which Doug Hale, a representative for the leasee, said would be a LLC with Todd Jester as principal.
During the Board Meeting, Alderman John Schorer spoke in opposition to the project. He kept referring to the project as a version of Top Golf. “I don’t think it is right for the location. I don’t believe the outcome would benefit Franklin in any form or fashion,” he said. Shorer went on to call it “a party facility with golf around it.”
Alderman Clyde Barnhill took a different stance. “I think this resolution [to rescind the lease] is premature,” he said. “I have no problem with the resolution if we have exhausted all compromise and all discussion…I am not going to support it now.”
Fellow Alderman Scott Speedy agreed. He said that rescinding that lease agreement was like “pulling the rug out from under the applicant.”
Dana McLendon stated that his voting to rescind had more to do with his term running out and not wanting to pass the issue ‘as is’ to the next Board of Aldermen.
Questions about the current proposal being significantly altered from the original discussions in 2017 were brought up by Alderman Margaret Martin. She and others felt the scope of the project had gotten too big.
Previous to the Board meeting, members of the community spoke to the Aldermen during a work session. During this meeting, there were views from both sides of the fence.
Debbie Roady saw having the Tennessee Golf Foundation on-site as a big plus, and she didn’t see the current proposal as being any different in scope from the original. “I want the city to honor Cheekwood and work with [them] not against it.”
Another member of the community spoke to his history with golf and seeing for himself the quality of the projects by Jack Nicklaus’ Golden Bear Designs, which was designing the course using the latest research in golf course design and technology. His final comment was that what Cheekwood was proposing was definitely not Top Golf.
Many were concerned that the facility would detract from the current nature of the area, and it would bring commercial concerns to what is mainly residential land.
When it came to a vote, it was a three to three tie with Mayor Ken Moore, who originally proposed rescinding the lease, breaking the tie with a final vote to rescind.
Said a representative from Cheekwood Golf, “We agree with Alderman Speedy that ‘this is a dangerous, slippery slope’. We are grateful for the votes of Aldermen Barnhill, Petersen and Speedy to continue with lease negotiations. At this point we are evaluating our options for the future.”