FLORENCE — After three years of sometimes heated debate about what to do with the former Florence Golf and Country Club, the City Council voted Tuesday to declare it surplus property and offer it for sale.
The city has received an offer for the 155-acre site from a Chinese company that wants to open a center for integrative health management in partnership with the University of North Alabama.
Guizhou Shenqi Group has offered $2.1 million, slightly more than what the city paid for the country club in November 2009.
During the work session before the council meeting, Council President Dick Jordan introduced a resolution that authorizes Mayor Mickey Haddock to negotiate with the company to sell the property. During the regular meeting, the resolution was approved unanimously.
“This shows we are interested in selling the country club to an interested party,” Jordan said.
“This is an important step.”
In a letter to Haddock from Zhang Zhiting, chairman of Guizhou Shenqi Group, he stated he wants to build a teaching and residential facility on the property for 1,000 graduate students. He also stated he wants to plant gardens of herbs and other plants that would be open to the public.
Councilman Barry Morris, a retired UNA professor, said the economic impact on the community would be enhanced with 1,000 new students, as would the ability to attract new businesses.
“I was involved some 10 years ago in bringing the (Retirement Systems of Alabama) here,” Jordan said, referring to an economic development partnership with Colbert and Lauderdale counties that resulted in the construction of a Marriott hotel and spa, and two Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses. “I believe this project will have as great an impact on our area as the RSA project did to open new windows of opportunity for us.”
Guizhou Shenqi offered to buy the property in summer 2011, but the council at that time failed to muster enough votes to proceed with the due diligence that could have led to a sale.
The property also was controversial because some council members wanted to use a portion of it to expand the adjacent landfill. The landfill itself was controversial for almost two years. The council voted a year ago to close it and have household and commercial garbage hauled out of state.
A cemetery adjacent to the former country club is not included in the sale proposal. It is privately owned, though no one has been able to determine who owns it. City attorney Billy Musgrove said it is a separate parcel that was never owned by the country club or the city.
Known as the Cypress Cotton Mill Cemetery or the Martin Cemetery, it contains up to 140 graves spread over approximately two acres. It was deeded as a burial ground by James Martin, who built several mills on nearby Cypress Creek.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.