South Coast residents familiar with Mike Keiser, the golf course developer, soon could become familiar with Mike Keiser, the conservationist.
The Chicago businessman and the owner of the Bandon Dunes Golf Resort has been buying property south of Bandon under the name Bandon Biota LLC. Coos County Assessor's Office records list Bandon Biota as owner of 15 properties south of Bandon totaling more than 500 acres.
Known as a genuine man who does not flash his wealth, Keiser greets employees and visitors alike at Bandon Dunes with a friendly smile and a firm handshake when he is in town.
Rumors have been circulating for months that Keiser plans to build one or more golf courses south of town.
Last week, he talked about his land purchases, saying he has no specific plans as of yet, except to preserve some of his new properties in their natural state.
Keiser said he picked the Bandon Biota name because “biota” refers to “flora and fauna,” natural terms referring to plants and animals.
“Conservation is a very strong desire of mine and of residents,” Keiser said.
So is golf, which means some of the property could be used for development of new courses.
“There are no current plans,” Keiser said. “Yet, in the next 15 years, plans will develop. There is so much land down there that is appropriate - quite appropriate to very appropriate - for golf. Just to get to know it is not an easy task, especially when you live in Chicago.”
Keiser vows some of the land will be used for conservation.
“Some of the properties Bandon Biota has bought have no potential for golf,” he said.
Those include three properties formerly used for grazing north of town. Keiser purchased those in 2005 and 2006 and they total more than 465 acres, including two that are part of Winter Lake in the Coquille Valley.
“I believe that using it (for grazing), especially because it is riparian, is a very bad economic use of the land,” Keiser said. “I think its higher value is to return it to estuary, which will take a long time to do.”
Keiser already has worked with the conservation group Oregon Trout to return one other property along the river, closer to Bandon, to estuary so that it is better fish habitat.
Keiser said part of his interest in preserving properties stems from the relationships he's developed with area landowners.
“I think of it as giving back to the area because I've grown to know a lot of the larger land owners,” Keiser said. “These people are not into selling it for development. The best way to do that is to keep it natural.”
At some point in the future, he sees some of his properties being controlled by a nonprofit conservation organization.
“There are other properties that it's unknown what the right use is,” Keiser said. “Some are proper for golf. Others aren't.”
According to records in the Coos County Assessor's Office, the largest grouping of properties Keiser has purchased south of town, about 235 acres, includes some beachfront property near where Fourmile Creek meets the New River. That land was purchased in July of 2004 from Theodore and Jody McNeely for $1.75 million, according to Assessor's Office records.
Keiser's first purchases came in 2003, the same year Bandon Biota was registered as a corporation with the Oregon Secretary of State. He bought two different groups of property totaling about 200 acres in the area of Twomile Creek and along Boak Lane. In 2006, Bandon Biota purchased three properties totaling about 40 acres along McTimmons Lane.
When he was buying the properties, Keiser said, he didn't worry about their specific use, knowing they could be sold as an investment if he wants to in the future.
“I figure that property south of Bandon won't go down in value,” he said.
Charlie Lowe, who lives close to some of the property purchased last year along McTimmons Lane, said he was led by a group of people visiting the site to expect a neighboring golf course in the not too distant future.
“I heard the land might be called Meandering Dunes,” Lowe said.
Lowe has an orchard with 22 apple trees, two pear trees, two fig trees and two peach trees and is not concerned about the possible development of a golf course in his neighborhood.
“I won't fight the golf course,” he said. “He's brought a lot of money into this country.”
Keiser, who founded Recycled Paper Greetings with his college roommate in 1971, quietly donates thousands of dollars to South Coast community organizations and nonprofit groups each year through the Mr. and Mrs. Mike L. Keiser Fund. The donations only become known publicly if the recipients announce them.
Through his Bandon Biota properties, Keiser paid Coos County more than $17,000 in property taxes in 2006.
Keiser's current golf focus is on the fourth course at Bandon Dunes, named Old Macdonald. That course is slated to open in 2010.
There will be a new course opening south of Bandon this summer, but it's not one of Keiser's. The 18-hole Bandon Crossings course will open at Dew Valley Lane, on the east side of U.S. Highway 101, across the highway from some of the property purchased by Bandon Biota.
A specific opening date for Bandon Crossings has not been determined, said Carla Smith, who is the primary owner of the new course with her husband, Rex.
Smith said Thursday that they are making good progress on the course and that grass at most of the holes now is growing in, with some work still to be done on a few holes.
Bandon Crossings is designed to be a complement to Bandon Dunes, not a competitor, she said. While more expensive than most South Coast courses, green fees at Bandon Crossings will be much less than at the resort. Local residents will pay a lower rate at Bandon Crossings, as well.
And in contrast to the resort, Bandon Crossings also will have carts, so players who don't want to walk their rounds at Bandon Dunes every day can take a break and use carts at the new course, Smith said.
And while Keiser is buying up property and the future plans for Bandon Biota land likely will include golf in some capacity, it's Bandon Crossings that is the start of an expanding golf boom south of town.