By Brynn Grimley
Port Madison Enterprises, the business arm of the Suquamish Tribe, has purchased White Horse Golf Course near Kingston along with 159 undeveloped lots surrounding the par 72-course.
The sale was finalized late Thursday. PME officials would not disclose the purchase price.
“Our long-range business plans have always called for us to own or develop a golf course, so this is perfect for us,” said PME CEO Russell Steele. “It fits our resort, it fits our gamers. It complements everything we do.”
The course and larger housing development have been at the center of bankruptcy filings and foreclosures.
The 18-hole course opened in 2007 to critical praise, but the surrounding 159 housing lots remained empty, waiting for later phases of development. About 40 of 65 planned homes were built in the first phase, but the housing market crashed shortly after, leaving the project at a standstill.
But White Horse’s troubles began well before the housing market decline. Environmental and community groups fought the project in court and through the permitting process from when it was first proposed in the mid-’90s. The Suquamish Tribe was one of the most vocal opponents.
The tribe opposed what it felt was overdevelopment of the area and expressed concern about the impact that the development might have on the environment and on the tribal way of life. The development is north of Indianola, with parts of the property jutting on to the tribe’s Port Madison Indian Reservation.
In a Kitsap Sun article from Oct. 15, 1996, then-tribal Secretary Leonard Forsman said the development clashed with the traditions of the tribe. If built, he said then, it would result in the Suquamish people feeling like “second-class citizens on their own land.”
Fifteen years later a lot has changed, said Forsman, now the tribal chairman. At the time White Horse was proposed, the tribe was battling a number of developments that it felt would negatively impact the surrounding environment and related water resources.
Some of the concerns surrounding White Horse were addressed through the permitting process and some weren’t, he said.
Reflecting on the tribe’s history with the project, Forsman said that the recent purchase was an “interesting turn of events.”
“I probably wouldn’t have been able to predict it then that it would happen,” he said of the sale. But buying land that once belonged to tribal ancestors and returning it to the tribe has always been a priority, Forsman said.
“For us to acquire a piece of property this large and to be able to add a golf course to our business enterprise unit is exciting,” he said. “We are really looking forward to investing in that property out there and diversifying our economy like we’ve been doing for the last 15 years.”
PME has watched events involving the golf course and development closely over the past year.
In August 2009, original White Horse developer Robert Screen of Bainbridge Island filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to avoid foreclosure on the development. According to bankruptcy documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Seattle, White Horse was in arrears to Bainbridge Island-based American Marine Bank for more than $5.7 million for unpaid loan principal, interest and unpaid taxes.
Screen had hoped to find private investors to keep the development off the auction block. His attempts failed and he withdrew the bankruptcy filing. The course and undeveloped lots went to auction in December, but no offers were made.
Ownership was transferred to American Marine, which immediately sought a buyer. Around that same time, PME began private talks with the bank to purchase the property. A golf course management company was hired to run the course in the meantime.
American Marine was seized by regulators and turned over to Columbia State Bank of Tacoma earlier this year.
With the course in its possession, the tribe will shift focus to building it into the type of facility “everybody expects it to be,” Steele said. It will remain open and Touchstone Golf Management, the company hired by the bank, will continue to operate the course as it works with PME. In the coming months, the tribe plans to announce marketing packages that link its Clearwater Casino with the course.
The tribe has no plans yet for the undeveloped lots but whatever is decided will “address our needs and also respect our value system,” Forsman said.
By Brynn Grimley