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Archive for Wednesday, February 28, 1996

CITY APPROVES GOLF COURSE

February 28, 1996

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The estimated $3.65 million project cost is $1 million less than previously proposed.

The city will build a municipal golf course near Clinton Lake, Lawrence city commissioners decided Tuesday night.

In a split 3-2 vote, commissioners agreed in principle to an offer from Municipal Golf Inc., of Omaha, Neb., to build an 18-hole public course on about 170 acres of federal land below the Clinton Lake dam.

Contract details will be completed during the next several weeks, but construction could begin as early as May 1, said Tim Burke, president of Municipal Golf. The company hopes to open the course for play by late August 1997.

He said the links will be "psychologically pleasing" for average golfers -- seniors, youths and hackers alike.

"We're not going to be the toughest golf course around, by far," he said.

That didn't make the decision any easier.

Mayor Bob Moody and Commissioner Bonnie Augustine opposed the plan, warning that it could dip into scarce property tax revenues and set poor priorities for the city's parks and recreation plans.

The course did not rate among the top or even moderate priorities in the city's master plan for parks, Augustine said. Promoting affordable housing should be the city's goal, not using taxes to subsidize golf games.

"The timing of this project is actually horrendous," Augustine said.

But Commissioners Jo Andersen, John Nalbandian and Allen Levine argued that while the course might not pay off in the first few years, revenues down the road should cover $3.2 million construction costs, plus annual operational costs.

The same can't be said for other city parks projects, Levine said, including a $13.5 million recreation center or the $2.8 million Municipal Pool.

"It might not make money, it might not break even, but it will come closer than any other project we have," Levine said.

The proposal from Municipal Golf initially called for a $4.65 million financing plan. Tuesday night, however, commissioners decided to borrow money backed by the "full faith and credit" of the city -- a move that should cut about $1 million in interest costs.

The total project will cost about $3.65 million, Burke said, all financed by charges for green fees, cart rentals, concessions sales and other products and services at the course.

Not everyone at Tuesday's meeting was so confident.

John Drake, 1447 Lawrence Ave., doubted Burke's predictions that enough rounds would be played to pay off the debt.

"The golf business is a lot like farming," said Drake, who owns a course in Pittsburg. "If things don't happen right weatherwise, you don't get the play."

Bob Billings, president of Alvamar Inc., which owns and operates Lawrence's only existing 18-hole public course, said several other public courses in the area operated at a deficit last year -- despite not having to pay off any debt.

The city project, meanwhile, could affect his plans to build a new 18-hole public course west of Wakarusa Drive.

"It may be postponed indefinitely, or it may be something that we do soon," he said before Tuesday's meeting. "It's still an iffy deal."

But Nalbandian, a lead proponent of the city project, said the city course would pay off through more than golf games. The city's set to lease 1,500 acres of federal land near the dam for recreational purposes.

"In the long run, this is a good, sound investment," he said.

COURSE FEATURES

The course will have 18 holes, including four par-5s, and an estimated distance of 6,171 yards from regulation tees.

Greens fees for 18 holes are estimated to be $16 on weekends and $14 on weekdays.

A driving range, putting green, practice bunkers, clubhouse and pro shop will be included.

Two practice holes also will be available at minimal cost -- likely 25 cents to $1 -- to "just hack around" south of the clubhouse, said Tim Burke, president of Municipal Golf Inc.

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