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7/24/2017
DuPont Country Club sale worries neighbors. News Journal

Woodlawn is the company that sold the land to DuPont that became two of the country club's three courses. By removing the deed restrictions, the two golf courses could be transformed into single-family housing. Another course, across Del. 141, could become offices. 

However, since DuPont is the owner of country club's land, it can insert new deed restrictions barring development. And since Woodlawn lifted the restrictions, no one has proposed building on the country club land. 

"Our community will neither forgive nor forget the Woodlawn Trustees negotiating away its protection of the DuPont Country Club property," said New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner, whose district includes all of Brandywine Valley. 

DuPont Country Club sale worries neighbors

Jeff Mordock, The News Journal Published 1:06 p.m. ET July 24, 2017 | Updated 2:14 p.m. ET July 24, 2017

When Ann Keller and her family relocated to Wilmington from Houston more than three years ago, they scoured area neighborhoods looking for the best fit.

One afternoon, while driving through the Brandywine Hundred neighborhood, Keller and her husband passed the DuPont Country Club and knew they had found their home. 

"It was a big draw," Keller said. "The country club just looked so pretty as we drove through here."

Whether she's walking her two dogs or riding a bike, Keller always heads in the direction of the country club to marvel at its lush greenery and meticulous landscaping.

"I love it," she said. "I walk past it every single day."

DuPont insists the property will remain a golf club after the sale. Dan Turner, a company spokesman, said DuPont will require any buyer to keep the club's name and operate it as a golf course. A buyer must also agree to make investments upgrading the property, he said. 

"We recognize the importance of the DuPont Country Club to the community," Turner said. 

Residents say they trust DuPont, pointing to how the Wilmington-based company took great pains to protect Delaware traditions when they divested its other hospitality assets. 

The DuPont Theater and Hotel du Pont were sold to local buyers who have promised to enhance the facilities. Wilmington developer Buccini/Pollin acquired the hotel and has vowed to make only cosmetic changes to the iconic property. Meanwhile, the Grand Opera House purchased the theater and promised to bring more and higher quality entertainment offerings to downtown Wilmington. 

But the Country Club's potential buyer could be a different story, neighbors fear. Robert Valihura, president of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred, said his group will be vigilantly watching the sales process. 

"The prospect of a development is a specter which overhangs the entire process," he said. "If the world changes and no one wants to play golf anymore, I'm not sure how long the country club lasts." 

Declining interest in the sport and oversupply have forced other golf club owners to try to unload their properties. Some have sold courses to housing developers while others have donated the land to nature trusts or local parks to capitalize on preservation tax breaks. About 800 golf courses closed during the past decade, according to the National Golf Foundation, a Jupiter, Florida-based group that tracks industry trends. 

The economics of owning a golf club will be a factor in the sale of the DuPont Country Club. Delaware has been plagued with stagnant wages, foreclosures and layoffs. DuPont has laid off 1,700 Delaware workers in the last year, including high-salaried researchers and scientists who can afford membership at the tony club.

Membership in DuPont Country Club was more than 9,300 in the 1980s. It has about 2,000 members today, according to the most recently available statistics. 

"Every club in America has dropped membership over the past few years," said Laurence Hirsh, president of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based Golf Property Analytics. "The country club business is going to go through some market correcting. Some courses will go away and some private courses will become public." 

The vagueness surrounding the requirements DuPont wants to impose on potential buyers has done little to ease residents' concerns. DuPont has not disclosed how long a new owner must keep the property as a golf course or other limits that could be part of the deal.

Valihura, an attorney, said it is likely that DuPont wants to keep those deed restrictions ambiguous to increase the chances of reaching a deal. If a potential buyer faces onerous conditions from the start, it would make negotiating tougher.

"What happens if a new owner wants to keep it as a golf course, but add a pool or gymnasium?" he said. "The language DuPont uses may preclude the very thing that could save the course." 

The country club's neighbors have feared redevelopment in the past. Woodlawn Trustees Inc., a Wilmington company dedicated to preserving land along the Brandywine, in 2008 quietly released to DuPont the deed restrictions barring development on about half of the club property, an investigation by The News Journal uncovered. 

Woodlawn is the company that sold the land to DuPont that became two of the country club's three courses. By removing the deed restrictions, the two golf courses could be transformed into single-family housing. Another course, across Del. 141, could become offices. 

However, since DuPont is the owner of country club's land, it can insert new deed restrictions barring development. And since Woodlawn lifted the restrictions, no one has proposed building on the country club land. 

"Our community will neither forgive nor forget the Woodlawn Trustees negotiating away its protection of the DuPont Country Club property," said New Castle County Councilman Robert Weiner, whose district includes all of Brandywine Valley. 

DuPont Country Club remains an oasis for golf lovers while others courses in New Castle County become residential properties. A 563-unit development that includes single-family and multi-family homes is slated to replace the Brandywine County Club off U.S. 202. The Delaware National Country Club, which closed in 2010, could be replaced by 263 new homes. 

Mary Beth Adelman lives in the Carillon development with a home that backs up to the course's 13th hole. The daughter of a DuPont employee, she grew up attending corporate events at the club with her dad. Adelman worries the same fate will befall the DuPont Country Club as other courses in Delaware. 

"This concerns me tremendously," she said. "It is beautiful and some of the last green space left in the county." 

Keller agrees citing concerns such as increased traffic, construction noise and reduced home values if a housing development replaces the country club. She doesn't know if her family would move if that happens.

In the end, DuPont Country Club's destiny lies with the strength of deed restrictions imposed in the deal and the new owner.

Valihura said his group has meet with a number of parties interested in buying the course, putting the number of candidates at "under 10."  He described the potential bidders as a mix of golf course operators, corporations not normally associated with country clubs and groups of high net worth individuals. 

"I am optimistic because I've seen multiple interests that are coming forward with the goal of running it as a golf course," he said. 

But it's not clear how serious any of the potential bidders may be. Unlike real estate assets, golf courses have a small pool of buyers comprised of some national players and a few regional entities.

Golf courses are a much riskier asset class than traditional real estate because they are subject to unpredictable weather and economic conditions. However, buyers have materialized in unusual places. Club members have partnered to stop a course from being redeveloped and golf enthusiasts have purchased properties because they love the sport. 

"There are still people who want to buy golf courses," Hirsh said. "And the DuPont Country Club is a nice facility with a lot of members, a strong revenue stream and three courses. It's an attractive property that will attract serious national buyers." 

Brandywine Hundred residents can only wait and worry. They have put their faith in DuPont's promise to protect the land. 

"I have to trust DuPont and then sit back and wait and see what happens," Adelman said. "There are very prestigious residents here and they will fight it all the way." 

Valihura promised a fight to protect the country club even before a buyer as stepped up to the table. 

"The devil is in the details and we are going to watch very carefully what is imposed," he said. "We will be the first ones out there screaming if there is a hole you can drive a truck through. I don't believe DuPont would do that, but you don't know what give and take might bring. We will be looking closely." 

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Latest News:
7/24/2017
  DuPont Country Club sale worries neighbors. News Journal
7/11/2017
  Open Checkbook portal seeks to make New Castle Co. government more transparent
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  How New Castle County spends your tax dollars; Weiner has long supported openness and transparency
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"Iíd like to express my appreciation to Councilman Bob Weiner who exhibits strength, determination and fortitude and is always on the side of the people. I followed Bobís actions when he was head of CCOBH's zoning committee and made strong efforts to try to stop the Brandywine Town Center construction. He has continued with energy and zeal in many pivotal positions in spite of enduring a lot of negative professional and personal attacks. I appreciate that he is never deterred."

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