Trump, Evans 'very close' to a deal

Billionaire developer Donald Trump and Running Horse owner Mick Evans are on the verge of signing a purchase agreement for the financially troubled golf and residential project in southwest Fresno.

Running Horse bankruptcy lawyer Riley Walter said that Running Horse and the Trump side have agreed in principle on a sale price in the $30 million range, with no money coming from profits once Trump begins developing the site.

Walter, who said he participated in talks with the Trump team until about 8 p.m. Friday, said the deal calls for Trump to make a $2 million deposit by the end of Monday.

"It's very close," Walter said.

The elimination of so-called "backside" profits from the sale price is a major shift in the on-again, off-again talks. Trump's last offer had been $25 million cash and $15 million from profits, but he pulled it when negotiations broke down about two weeks ago.

Albert Berryman, a Fresno lawyer who has represented Trump on previous Running Horse issues, declined to comment Saturday evening. The Bee was unable to contact Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer in New York City.

Any deal must be approved by bankruptcy judge W. Richard Lee. Other potential buyers also will get a chance to beat a Trump offer.

"These discussions have been much more productive," Walter said.

Evans and his real estate lawyer, Harry Pascuzzi, declined to comment Friday night. Both said a major announcement could be made Monday.

If a deal is going to happen, Walter said, "it's going to happen fast."

The Evans-Trump talks appeared all but dead in early July. The Evans team said at that time that it was beginning negotiations with a half-dozen or so other interested buyers. Trump had vowed to come back later and bid on the project in bankruptcy court.

Walter gave Fresno Mayor Alan Autry much of the credit for getting the two sides talking again, saying the spark was the mayor's midweek call to Trump.

Autry "brokered some of the major points," Walter said. "He got us past the impasse."

Autry declined to comment Saturday evening, saying he expects to speak publicly on Running Horse early this week.

Walter cautioned that the deal isn't signed yet. He said the proposed contract is being reviewed by key players in California and on the East Coast.

Running Horse was to have 780 expensive homes and a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course on about 420 acres. But original developer Tom O'Meara ran into money problems last year and construction stopped. Only two holes are finished, and no homes on the course have been built.

In March, O'Meara sold Running Horse to Evans, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection about a month later. There is an estimated $70 million debt on the project and about 300 creditors, including Evans' Manteca-based golf course construction company with a claim of about $9 million.

A PGA Tour event had been scheduled for October at Running Horse, but the project's troubles forced the Tour to move the tournament to Florida.

Tour officials have said they want to try again in Fresno, but first a qualified course must be secured.

Evans has often said a PGA Tour event is vital to Running Horse's success.

Walter was pleased that the proposed price contains no backside profits.

A major sticking point in previous negotiations was finding common ground on the definition.

The Evans team feared a definition too vague could mean profits would never materialize, putting creditors at risk. The Trump team disputed any implication the world famous developer wouldn't keep his word.

Walter said a sale with no backside profits is "cleaner."