A Chinese-owned herbal medicine company has again offered to buy the former Florence Golf and Country Club from the city of Florence, and form a partnership with the University of North Alabama.
AChinese business owner has returned to Florence with an offer to buy city property, an offer rebuffed a year ago. This time, the offer is likely to be accepted, and that's a good thing.
Zhang Zhiting, chairman of Shenqi Ethnic Medical College, has offered to buy the former Florence Golf and Country Club for $2.1 million, which would allow the city to recover its cost for buying the 155-acre site in November 2009.
His plan is to form a teaching partnership with the University of North Alabama and launch a center for integrative health that would grant a master's degree. Included in the plan is construction of a teaching facility and student housing, along with gardens of herbs and other plants that would be open to the public. The Alabama Commission on Higher Education approved the master's program in September.
Zhang made an identical offer in June 2011, but was rebuffed in a tie vote by the City Council. Two council members, Dick Jordan and Barry Morris, abstained from that vote. Morris was employed by UNA at the time and the state Ethics Commission ruled it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote on the matter. Jordan's wife, Libby, is a member of the UNA Board of Trustees. The Ethics Commission later said it would not be a conflict for him to vote on the matter.
The two council members who voted against negotiations, James Barnhart and Sam Pendleton, protested loudly that selling the land to the company would be tantamount to conducting business with an enemy government because China is governed by the communist party. Zhang withdrew the offer after their comments.
Barnhart and Pendleton did not seek re-election, so the timing for Zhang to make another offer to the city was right.
Florence bought the country club and golf course with an eye toward expanding the adjacent landfill, but that proved controversial, as well. The council finally voted to close the landfill to residential garbage.
The city borrowed the money to buy the property from one of its Sanitation Department funds, and it must be repaid. City officials said if the offer is accepted, the money will be used to repay the debt and close a deficit in the fund.
Arguments that the city is dealing with communists are laughable. This is business. Countless U.S. businesses have invested in China because it's profitable. The reverse appears to now be the case for the Chinese.
The city needs to get rid of this property, and the university has an opportunity to partner with an international company for a master degree program. What's not to like about that?
And, Florence and the entire Shoals area would benefit economically if Zhang delivers all he promises. The area would take on a more cosmopolitan feel that would make the area more attractive to international investors. What's not to like about that?
We can see nothing negative about what Zhang proposes to do in our community.