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The sprawling suburb of Frisco is likely to be the next home of Professional Golfers Association of America’s national headquarters. But sources close to the deal say the price tag for taxpayers may be larger than reported, and that Frisco’s mayor will profit off the planned development.

The PGA of America is eying a move from Florida to Texas. According to Golf.com in March of 2018, the City of Frisco is one of the finalists.

In order to help seal the deal with city officials, PGA leadership “wined and dined” officials at the 2017 PGA Championship in North Carolina. According to Golf Digest, Frisco is offering a taxpayer-funded package of up to $50 million.

But sources close to the deal say officials are ready to offer more than $100 million in giveaways. The development will come before city council over the next several weeks.

Due to a conflict of interest, sources say Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney will recuse himself from the vote.

It’s unclear if Cheney’s conflict of interest is with a profit opportunity directly with the planned headquarters, related projects, or with real estate transactions nearby.

The Cheney Group, a real estate firm founded by the mayor in 2003, recently joined The Associates — a real-estate brokerage firm — in November of 2017. On their website, Cheney is listed as a “Broker Associate” and “CPA.”

Circumstantially, it appears the merger between Cheney’s group and The Associates was timed ahead of the PGA deal closing, of which Cheney had insider knowledge due to his elected position. He was elected mayor in May of 2017, and has served on city council since 2007.

As part of the merger, Cheney may have been offered an ownership interest in The Associates and/or Stillwater Capital, which were both founded by real-estate broker and luxury homebuilder Robert Elliott. Either organization could be involved with aspects of the PGA development itself, or with nearby properties.

Stillwater Capital is rumored to have raised private capital for the project.

Another corporate entity, Frisco Golf Club, LLC, may also be directly involved, serving as the middleman between the city and the PGA. According to documents filed with Texas’ Secretary of State, David Ovard — a partner at Strasburger & Price LLP — incorporated the LLC in 2014.

Very little is known about who will actually run the company, or profit from it.

Ovard’s spouse, Wren Ovard, currently serves as a board member of Frisco’s Community Development Corporation, which will put taxpayer money into the PGA deal. She was appointed to the CDC in 2014, the same year Frisco Golf Club LLC was incorporated.

It’s unclear whether or not the Ovards stand to benefit from the PGA development.

Unfortunately, specific details of the negotiations including proposals between elected officials and the PGA are kept secret, hidden from taxpayers behind closed doors. That’s because “economic development” negotiations were exempted from Texas’ transparency laws — both the Texas Open Meetings and Public Information Acts — in 1999.

In other words, Texas taxpayers are forced to pony up without any say in how their money is spent.

The PGA deal, known as the “Panther Creek” development, will be much more than the PGA’s new headquarters. The massive campus will include an office park, two new 18-hole courses, a nine-hole short course, and a clubhouse. Plans also include a hotel, convention center, and luxury resort with conference and meeting spaces, along with an instructional academy with its own practice facilities.

There’s a lot of money to be made in and around the development.

Taxpayer handouts may include subsidies from Frisco’s Economic Development (EDC) and Community Development Corporations (CDC), property tax abatements from the city, and millions in contributions from the Frisco Independent School District.

At this time, it’s unclear if any private capital has been secured to back the project. It’s also unclear who will be hired to build the various aspects of the development, what will be privately financed versus taxpayer-subsidized, and whether or not the city will retain ownership of any of the facilities.

But that doesn’t mean Frisco taxpayers should wait to inquire about which elected officials or appointed board members will profit from the proposed deal.

Editor’s Note: Texas Scorecard has submitted an open records request to the City of Frisco to obtain the conflict of interest disclosure forms submitted by elected officials and board members, as required by Ch. 171 of the Texas Local Government Code.

UPDATED 6/25/2018: City records obtained by Texas Scorecard on June 13 show Cheney disclosed an ambiguous conflict of interest regarding an issue before council and his employer, The Associates, as originally alleged by our sources in the above article. A copy of the mayor’s signed affidavit from December 5, 2017, can be found HERE.

A followup article to this story was published on 6/25/2018, and can be found HERE.

 

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