Court Orders Bankruptcy Sale of Westport (N.Y.) CC

By | September 15th, 2016

A bankruptcy court conveyed ownership of the club to Consolidated Mortgages LLC, a company owned by Robert Hall and Leslie Hall-Butzer, the brother and sister of club operator John Hall, for $60,000. The new owners will take on $160,000 owed in delinquent taxes, and plan to renovate the facility over the winter and reopen in spring 2017.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of New York moved ownership of the Westport (N.Y.) Country Club to Consolidated Mortgages LLC, a company owned by the brother and sister of golf course operator John Hall, the Elizabethtown, N.Y., Sun reported.

The bankruptcy court decision on September 9 conveyed the property “as is—where is” to Robert Hall and Leslie Hall-Butzer for $60,000, court documents say. Real Estate and “business assets” will be conveyed by quitclaim only, the decision says, but nearly $160,000 in delinquent taxes are to be paid by the new owners, the Sun reported.

Essex County Treasurer Mike Diskin said, as he understands it, delinquent taxes are not lost with the bankruptcy court sale. “The sale is subject to all liens, and then the mortgagor is going to be responsible for all the taxes,” Diskin said.

The county had set up a payment schedule with John Hall in 2013, the treasurer said, but that ended when John Hall filed for bankruptcy, the Sun reported.

“Because it is in Bankruptcy, Essex County can’t pursue any foreclosure. That bars us from doing anything against them,” Diskin said. “We can’t even send them a letter that could be construed as an attempt to collect the money. We have to wait for one of two things to happen: Either a decision from Bankruptcy Court saying what is going to happen, or if it were dismissed from Bankruptcy Court.”

Through the end of September, Diskin said, taxes owed on the large parcel total $149,798.20 with another $7,334.98 due on the smaller Westport Country Club property, for a total of $157,133.18 in unpaid taxes. The Bankruptcy Court decision moves ahead of pending action in state Supreme Court, where John Hall challenged his brother and sister’s 2013 takeover of the Westport Country Club mortgage, the Sun reported.

Robert and Leslie had pushed in May of 2013 to relieve John of his job as manager and then three months later purchased the mortgage—which was in forbearance—from First Niagara Funding LLC for $825,000. The Supreme Court action has not been decided, the Sun reported.

Consolidate Mortgage’s Bankruptcy Court attorney, Louis Maione, of New York City, told the Sun that the sale to Consolidated would be completed on or about September 15.

“The Golf Course will remain open, weather permitting, under the supervision of current General Manager, Ernie LaPine, until such time as, in the opinion of management, it is appropriate to winterize it for the upcoming winter season,” the attorney said via email.

Duration of the fall season at Westport Golf Course would depend, in large part, Maione said, on availability of qualified personnel and resources. Improvements to the clubhouse will take place over the winter, the Sun reported.

“At present, the course, and a refurbished, newly outfitted, full-service clubhouse, are expected to re-open in the spring (2017) under Consolidated’s management, again as soon as the weather and improvements allow, overseen by experienced golfing professionals and in dramatically improved playing shape so that the residents of Westport, and all the neighboring communities, can once again enjoy golf on the course as they did in the late 1990’s.”

News of the sale gained a community response muddled with uncertainty, as the new owners are part of a family battle that has waged over the 327-acre property for three years. Westport Supervisor Michael “Ike” Tyler said the course is a critical part of the town’s economy, and it languished this year with the clubhouse and restaurant closed, the Sun reported.

“I’m a little apprehensive, but if the (Robert and Leslie) Hall’s are going to take it over, I think they understand the community. It sounds to me like operating at full-capacity would be a good thing,” the supervisor said. “And if they are going to do the work on it, I think it’s a fantastic thing. The property is one of a kind.

“We have the Lake Champlain waterfront; we have the golf course; and we have agriculture and small farms. Other occupations and business springs from each of those major entities,” Tyler said. “To lose the golf course would be a major setback. We really can’t afford that as a community.”

At the Westport Marina and Galley Restaurant on Lake Champlain, owner Dee Carroll, who is also president of the Westport Chamber of Commerce, emphasized how vital that property is to local business, the Sun reported.

“The golf course is very important, not only for those who play golf, but also as a destination to people from other places. The golf course adds to the economic wellbeing of Westport. I hope it works,” Carroll said of the court decision.

Tyler said the golf course had gained a wide reputation as a beautiful place for events. “It’s a great spot for weddings and celebrations of every kind.”

Decisions about membership for next year are forthcoming, Maione said.

“Within the next few weeks, Consolidated’s management, headed by Robert Hall and Leslie Hall-Butzer, hopes to announce the early sale of individual, family, and group discounted memberships for the 2017 season,” Maione said, adding that the owners “are grateful to all Westport Golf Course golfers for their patience, good wishes, and above all, loyalty, during the last 18 months.”

Keeping membership reasonable for local patrons is important, the supervisor said. “If they are looking to keep it affordable, that is also a good decision,” Tyler said.

Attempts to reach John Hall were unsuccessful. But he had filed an opposition one day before the Bankruptcy Court decision, challenging the Chapter 7 trustee’s move to sell the property for $60,000, citing a $1.7 million deal he had set up with Westelcom two years ago. That deal had not been secured with bank funding, the Sun reported.

John also raised his primary Supreme Court argument with Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield Jr., charging that Consolidated “purchased the mortgage against the Debtor’s real property for pennies on the dollar, and then forced default by refusing to accept (forbearance) payments.”

The Judge upheld the sale to Consolidated Mortgage. Asked if they bought the property with an order pending from Westelcom, Consolidated Mortgage’s attorney Maione said: “John Hall has no such standing offer from anyone.

“Westelcom entered into a contract to purchase at $1.7 M but backed out after it could not secure any financing because, among other things, no bank would extend any financing based on the financials that John Hall provided to the prospective purchaser.”

If Westelcom wants to negotiate with Consolidated, Maione added, “I suppose we’d listen.”

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