The city can “no longer subsidize golf,” says its Council President, and a request for proposals seeking applications from the private sector to take over management of at least two of its four publicly owned courses is likely to appear on the council’s next agenda. Rounds have decreased 27 percent since 2005, even with “performance plans” implemented at the start of the current decade.
St. Paul’s four publicly-owned golf courses are “dragging bottom,” and it may be time to hand two of them over to private partners, reported the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
That’s the view, at least, from Mayor Chris Coleman’s office and the leadership of the city council, the Pioneer-Press reported. A request for proposals seeking applications from the private sector to take over management of the city’s Como and Phalen golf courses will likely appear on the council’s October 23 agenda.
“The city can no longer subsidize golf,” said Council President Kathy Lantry. “It’s on our agenda to explore options.”
Jon Knox, Chair of the District 10 Como Community Council, said his board had learned of the decision to explore privatization on October 15 from Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman, but had yet to receive official word from the city, the Pioneer-Press reported.
Knox said he had no personal objection to privatizing the Como Golf Course, as long as it remained used for golf.
“Our main concern is that it not be repurposed for additional parking or anything like that,” he said. “The overall feeling is that the golf course is good for the neighborhood. Other than that, it’s kind of wait-and-see as far as what kind of information we can get from the city.”
Leslie McMurray, an organizer with the Payne-Phalen District 5 Planning Council, said the Board will likely examine the proposal at its next meeting on Tuesday, the Pioneer Press reported.
Joe Campbell, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said “the mayor does not take this decision lightly—but at the end of the day, we have to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar and balance the services we provide with the financial reality that we face.”
Brad Meyer, a spokesman for the St. Paul Parks and Recreation office, said expenses are expected to exceed revenue at the four St. Paul golf courses by more than $1 million this year, the Pioneer Press reported. The late spring and long winter were tough on the courses, but city officials have said they have based their decisions on a decade of declining use.
“Running golf courses in St. Paul has been a big loser since 2005, to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars a year,” Meyer said. “We’ve been looking at ways to make it successful, and it just hasn’t been.”
In St. Paul, the number of rounds played has decreased 27 percent since 2005, Meyer said. Performance plans designed to make the courses profitable were implemented at each of the courses after the 2010 season, the Pioneer Press noted.
The city will continue to operate two courses in Highland Park—the Highland 9 and Highland National—that are on slightly better financial footing, though neither remains profitable, the Pioneer Press reported. Highland 9 was last profitable before 2009, while Highland National garners the most rounds and corresponding revenue of all the city courses, it was noted.
In addition, the Pioneer Press reported, the city financed the redesign and enhancements at Highland National, which reopened in 2005 after two years of reconstruction. Those revenue bonds could complicate transfer to a private partner, it was noted, though “it doesn’t close the door,” Meyer said.
“We’re starting with Como and Phalen, but that doesn’t mean Highland 9 and Highland National will forever be city-operated,” Meyer said. “We know our operational structure is not the best fit to turn a profit in this marketplace. Our expenses will forever outpace our revenue.”
The Parks and Recreation Department had requested $100,000 from the city’s Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) to study closing the Como course and finding a new purpose for the land, the Pioneer Press reported, but the item was not recommended for funding by the CIB Committee or the mayor. The Como Men’s Golf Club Board of Directors had opposed the possibility of closing the site.
That club’s president, Wayne Miller, said that he would like to see St. Paul continue to run the course, the Pioneer Press reported, because there are just too many unanswered questions about privatization, such as whether golfers would be able to continue to purchase season passes at the course.
“I’m not sure the city has thought this through very thoroughly,” Miller said. “I know the mayor doesn’t want to run golf courses, and we all kind of disagree, because they run all sorts of things that don’t make money.”
Meyer said the city has worked closely with two labor unions associated with the golf courses, the Pioneer Press reported, with the goal of finding alternative placement in available positions for the equivalent of just more than 20 full-time employees.
Ramsey County, Minnesota, has also outsourced management of its golf courses to private vendors, the Pioneer Press noted.
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