FLORENCE — The Florence City Council is expected to move quickly on an offer by a Chinese businessman to purchase the former Florence Golf and Country Club site just off Alabama 20.
Zhang Zhiting, chairman of Shenqi Ethnic Medical College in the Guizhou province of China, has offered to purchase the more than 155 acres from the city for $2.1 million. Zhang plans to use the property to develop a center for integrative health in partnership with the University of North Alabama.
Florence City Council president Dick Jordan said he has asked city attorney Billy Musgrove to draft a resolution giving Mayor Mickey Haddock the authority to pursue the deal. Jordan said the City Council will discuss the possible transaction during their Tuesday work session and meeting and could vote on the resolution at that time.
This is the second time Zhang has made an offer to buy the property adjacent to the city landfill. Zhang made a basically identical offer in June 2011, but the offer was rescinded after two former councilmen, James Barnhart and Sam Pendleton, expressed their discomfort in making a deal with Zhang.
UNA president William Cale said when Zhang visited Florence in July 2012, Zhang toured several possible sites to house the integrative health education program including the Florence Country Club site.
“Chairman Zhang absolutely adores that property,” Cale said, adding that the timing was right now for a second offer to buy the property.
Both Barnhart and Pendleton chose not to seek re-election in the August municipal elections.
Cale, would not divulge the locations of other sites visited but said during the July visit Zhang visited three other sites of comparable size located within fifteen minutes of UNA’s campus. All of the sites were in Lauderdale County, Cale said.
The master’s degree concentration was approved in September by the Alabama Commission on Higher
The program will admit its first class in the fall 2013 semester.
Integrative health is a focus on training professionals in wellness and preventative health tactics such as stress management, nutrition, exercise science and mental health.
Tom Coats, chairman of the department of health, physical education and recreation at UNA, said initial interest in the program has come from health and physical education students, social work majors and others.
“The common denominator in all of those (that have shown interest in the program) is an interest in health and wellness,” Coats said.
A small number of students are expected to enroll in fall 2013 and by the fall 2014 semester, the program is expected to begin accepting international students.
The City Council voted to buy the property in November 2009 for just more than $2 million. Initially, about 20 acres of the property, which adjoins the landfill, was to be used to open a new cell in the
A debate developed, however, over whether to sell some of the property to the University of North Alabama or develop it for city use. The landfill itself then became a contentious issue.
A citizens group pointed out that the landfill appeared to be leaking into nearby streams and into adjacent Cypress Creek, from which the city draws much of its drinking water.
Eventually, after an 18-month stalemate, the council was forced to close the landfill and hire a company to haul away household and commercial garbage to a Mississippi landfill.
The sanitary portion of the landfill is now closed and will be monitored during the next 30 years.
If the city accepts Zhang’s offer, the money will be used for the closure and monitoring, city officials said.
Haddock said during the city’s ownership a few improvements have been made to the club house building but said those renovations were done mostly by city employees and totaled “far less than $100,000.”
Haddock said he does not anticipate any request for incentives from the company seeking to purchase the property. In fact, he said, he expects the opposite to happen.
“I feel if we chose to pursue this offer, the city will be the one receiving incentives,” Haddock said noting additional educational and health offerings, tax income from the property tax and possible industrial recruitment advantages.
Zhang has a large-scale plan to create a campus large enough to house and educate 1,000 or more graduate students and would feature gardens of plants and herbs from around the world that would act as a tourist attraction and visitor’s center.
Cale said the first phase of the project, if the city elects to sell the property, would include building an academic building and a residence hall.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@Times Daily.com.
Staff writer Robert Palmer contributed to this report.