South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

‘There’s no saving Tower Tee,’ owner says; golf course set to close in July


By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor

Despite the wishes of many Affton residents for Tower Tee to stay open and not become a 158-home subdivision, the owner confirmed this month that the golf course will be gone for good in July.

Dozens of residents have gone week after week to the County Council to ask that the treasured green space of the Tower Tee golf course and driving range stay the same as they’ve always known it.

But Tower Tee owner Steve Lotz followed suit May 8 to say that Tower Tee is closing July 7 whether or not residents continue to protest.

He and his wife, Janice, are retiring to Florida, or as he told the Call, “I’m finished, my lovely bride and I will be moving south and we’re just ready to pack it in. I’m a business man, and I get the fact that (owner) Tegna is entitled to sell the property, that’s just the way the world goes around. I’ve had a good run, I’ve always respected my dad’s founding of Tower Tee and I think he had a good vision.”

He told the council, “I want to be clear, there’s no saving Tower Tee. Tower Tee is closing its doors. I have no desire to keep it going. I will miss Tower Tee. I will miss the guests, but I’m moving on. For me and Janice, Tower Tee is over.”

Through June 30, children can practice free at the course during certain hours. After the golf course sees its last tee-off July 7, a concert featuring the Joe Dirt Band and That ’80s Band will take place from 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday, July 8.

After an auction the next day, most of the equipment will be packed up and gone by July 15.

The new subdivision, potentially called “Arbors at Tower Tee,” is proposed by McBride Berra Land Co., a collaboration of homebuilder McBride & Son and Oakville-based developer J.H. Berra. The two companies previously built the Grant’s View subdivision across from Grant’s Farm, also in Affton.

The developer had applied for rezoning at the county Planning Commission last fall, but yanked the project after an outcry. McBride later announced it would delay the rezoning until after Tower Tee closes.

The 27-acre Tower Tee property, 6727 Heege Road, is owned by Tegna, the parent company of the KSDK Channel 5 television station, but is under contract to McBride Berra pending rezoning. The property was listed for sale at more than $4 million, which Tegna promises to donate to charities nationwide.

Tower Tee, a beloved south county institution that Lotz said seems to hold as fond a place in some St. Louisans’ minds as the St. Louis Zoo or Ted Drewes, has been operated by Lotz’s family since the 1960s as a driving range, golf course and batting cages. The Lotz family always leased the property from KSDK. Tegna terminated the lease last fall and told Lotz it would not be renewed.

But despite KSDK’s announcement it would not renew Tower Tee’s lease, Affton residents have been attending nearly every council meeting to ask that the council not approve a subdivision at the site.

“I’ve been touched, even tonight, by the outpouring of affection and nostalgia for Tower Tee,” Lotz told them.

But he would never be able to purchase the land at fair market value, despite attempts last fall to potentially compete with McBride’s offer.

Without his own business operating there, Lotz said he supports houses at Tower Tee.

“I saw a sign that says, ‘Keep Affton Family Friendly,’” Lotz said. “Affton needs young families. The aging population of Affton is not bringing in new families, and I strongly believe to keep Affton family friendly, we need to bring in young families to purchase these new homes. I think of the 150 or so families who will be moving into the Arbors at Tower Tee. I hope they will receive the same friendly welcome my dad and grandpa got when they built Tower Tee in Affton 55 years ago. To those who live in Affton I would say, be thankful that you live in a community where others want to live.”

Except for in the morning when everyone goes to work, Lotz said traffic will not be as heavy from the houses as it is from Tower Tee on a daily basis. And while he paid Tegna $15,000 a year for Tower Tee’s share of real-estate taxes, McBride estimated that $500,000 a year would go to the school district with the new houses.

But even if the end of Tower Tee is near, the McBride Berra subdivision would still need to gain zoning approval from the county. The developer has donated money to many members of the council.

For months, a parade of different Affton citizens nearly every week has asked the council to stand against the subdivision due to traffic, drainage, potential overcrowding in the Affton School District and a desire to keep green space and Tower Tee.

Affton resident Michael Burton has even launched a council campaign against the legislator who represents Tower Tee, 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights. The political newcomer has made Tower Tee the cornerstone of his campaign.

He has alleged that Dolan’s assistant once said that the office’s feedback on any subdivision at Tower Tee was 50-50 for and against, which seems unlikely given the consistent opposition Affton residents have shown at public meetings.

But Dolan said that his assistant just meant to convey that they get calls for and against issues all the time.

“He wasn’t judging so much this issue,” Dolan said. “Just in general we get a lot of calls, we get ‘em on both sides…. So you do have more people against it than people for it. I acknowledge that.”

Since last year, Dolan has repeatedly told citizens who come to the council asking for answers on Tower Tee that McBride does not have any proposal pending at the county, and no decision could be made until the company files its zoning application.

“When the process goes through the process, we’ll deal with it at the time,” Dolan said.

Even children have gone to the council to address Dolan.

“Please don’t close Tower Tee,” said Jacob Guth. “I don’t want houses there, and I use batting cages. Please don’t close, Mr. Dolan.”

His sister Gweneth Guth said, “I go to Mesnier Primary School. Please don’t close Tower Tee.”

“They attend the public school that McBride wants to overcrowd,” their mother Stephanie Guth said. “Just imagine the number of supporters that don’t want to drive to Clayton after work every day, every week…. The citizens agree. There is no division.”

Trakas commended Guth for coming to the council and referenced one of his favorite quotes, Benjamin Franklin’s admonition that the county is “A republic — if you can keep it.”

He said, “You are keeping the republic exactly the way Ben Franklin cautioned Elizabeth Powell to do so. So make no mistake, your presence here tonight, your children’s presence here in the past and the rest of you folks, you’re doing exactly what you have to do to keep the republic, and I commend you all for it. Don’t give up.”

Teri Pelech suggested that as upsetting as Lotz’s announcement that he would not continue with Tower Tee was, “this is a beautiful property and can be created to make family and stories for a lifetime, not just the 50 years that Mr. Lotz had it.”

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