Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gas-drilling deal should end the Rolling Hills rumors

By putting the ink on what is expected to be a lucrative deal this Sunday, the members of Rolling Hills Country Club -- 97 primo mid-Metroplex acres at Interstate 30 and Cooper Street -- hope to finally dispel the rumors that the club will be sold.
The deal? There's gold under those fairways, or at least something that can be bartered for gold. Drill down roughly 7,000 feet and behold, there'll be natural-gas-rich shale.
This Sunday at 2 p.m., club President Richard Smith and Marsh Operating Co. Vice President W.B. Phillips will sign an agreement for Marsh to explore and drill for gas on the property this year. Given the realities of the natural gas presence in the Barnett Shale, it's as close to a sure thing as this business gets.
How many dollars are we talking here? Smith isn't saying, though no doubt the numbers will leak out sooner rather than later. But the combination of substantial upfront money and follow-up royalties will certainly alter the financial dynamics and long-time stability of the club; so much focus on the possible sale had affected new-member recruitment.
"Widespread reports that Rolling Hills would eventually become anything but a country club put the club in a holding position to solicit new members for almost two years," said Ralph Gilmore, a 32-year member and club spokesman. "The board is anxious to put to bed all the rumors, speculation and newspaper reports of the past year and focus on attracting new members."
Background: Built in 1954 on a former dairy farm in a rural area not then in the Arlington city limits, the club basically fronts on I-30, which did not exist in 1954. As Arlington's population exploded, the appeal of the property to developers grew. Inquiries for possible purchase became virtually an annual event.
The dollars involved also grew -- a reported $24 million offer in January of last year was followed by a midyear $34 million offer, club leadership confirmed.
There was another wrinkle as well. When the city was pursuing the possibility of Arlington's becoming the home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library it became obvious that Rolling Hills was the city's preferred site. The city did not prevail in that endeavor.
Though it's quite likely that the club could have been bought for the kind of money being waved about, the problem was that potential investors basically wanted to make the sale contingent on the getting the proper commercial zoning, which would have also required City Council approval.
That could take many months and was by no means certain. Indeed, it appeared that a majority on the council disapproved of the kind of big-box shopping center proposed. A lingering limbo with an unguaranteed payday would probably be disastrous to club membership.
Though some of the club members were inclined to approve the $34 million sale, the required two-thirds majority did not materialize, and the decision was made to proceed with the gas exploration.
So while golf members may be playing 3-irons around drilling rigs for a while, the era of to-sell-or-not appears over.
And revenues from gas proceeds will likely make the course one of the more appealing and accessible such venues in the region.
Indeed, if an expected explosion of mixed commercial and residential uses occurs in the area as expected -- the club adjoins the Lamar-Collins Overlay District -- then Rolling Hills in the next few years could easily become one of the hottest private club memberships in the region.

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