Conservation Agreement Pulls Agawam Hunt Club Out of Bankruptcy

By | April 16th, 2018

The Rumford, R.I., club filed for bankruptcy in January 2017, but The Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island’s recent $2 million purchase of development rights for two-thirds of the property has helped the club repay about $4.5 million in debt. Under the agreement, the land will be preserved from development, and the club will incorporate environmentally friendly principles.

The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island has paid $2 million for the development rights to about two-thirds of the historic Agawam Hunt Club’s grounds in the heart of Rumford, R.I., 82 acres that include the majority of its 18-hole golf course and a half-mile corridor of woods and wetlands along the Ten Mile River, the Providence (R.I.) Journal reported.

Under the agreement, the Conservancy has the option to purchase a second easement for $980,000 on the remaining 40 or so acres, contingent on fundraising. Together, the two easements will preserve the land in perpetuity from development. As many as 101 homes could have been built there, the Journal reported.

The money from the sale played a major role in pulling Agawam Hunt out of bankruptcy last month, helping to repay about $4.5 million in debt and putting it on firm footing under a new ownership group made up of 17 families that are all longtime members of the private nonprofit club, the Journal reported.

C&RB reported on the club filing for bankruptcy in January 2017.

But for those families the deal was just as important to ensure that no matter what happens in the future, the property will never be developed. If the club ever closes, the land will become a public park, the Journal reported.

“We feel like we’re the caretakers of something special,” said Lance Pryor, a member of the new ownership group who is also part of the club’s five-person management team. “This will always be open space. To us, that is an accomplishment we take great pride in.”

The club’s financial situation hit rocky ground after taking out a bank loan to invest in new sprinklers and other safety improvements required by the state after a fire in 2003. With the financial crisis in 2008, membership plummeted from more than 800 to about 300, and as less revenue came in from dues, the club struggled to repay the loan, said Pryor.

The club filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in federal court in Providence in January 2017, seeking protection from creditors while it reorganized its finances. The debts included more than $460,000 owed to the City of East Providence for property taxes and water and sewer fees, the Journal reported.

After Pryor and the other families got together last year to buy the club, they approached the Conservancy with the idea of selling off the development rights to the land. The Conservancy has protected more than 33,000 acres in Rhode Island but it had never bought the rights to a golf course. Scott Comings, associate state director of The Nature Conservancy, was intrigued by the idea, the Journal reported.

Comings and others from the Conservancy recognized that because of its location near Providence it could easily be developed for housing. Upon visiting the site, they also immediately saw the value in protecting so much land along the Ten Mile River, a narrow waterway that empties into the Seekonk River, which in turn flows into Narragansett Bay, the Journal reported.

Preserving the club’s grounds should help protect the river’s habitat while also protecting the health of the larger Bay watershed, the Journal reported.

The purchase was funded entirely through private donations from members of Agawam Hunt and others with a connection to the club. It is the first large property protected through the Conservancy’s Providence Metro program, which was launched two years ago to expand the organization’s work from more rural parts of Rhode Island to the urban core, the Journal reported.

Under the agreement, the club will incorporate environmentally friendly principles to care for the course, restricting the types of fertilizers and herbicides it uses and the times they’re applied. The aim is to cut down on any nutrients and chemicals that can be washed off the course into the river. The Conservancy will also shore up portions of the river banks and plant more vegetation to help capture runoff, the Journal reported.

Comings hopes the project can be a model for putting in place conservation easements on other golf courses in Rhode Island and the region. “The goal of the plan is to have a viable golf course, but in a way that benefits the environment,” Comings said.

That philosophy has been embraced by the club’s new owners. “We want to translate the idea of being environmentally responsible to the club in its entirety,” said Heather Fowler, a member of the management team.

The pact stipulates that a public walking trail will be cleared along the river bank from North Broadway. The club will also provide access to its golf course to East Providence residents on four dates a year. And the property will be open to up to five guided nature walks led by the Conservancy every year, the Journal reported.

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