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Archive for Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Losing proposition

December 28, 2004

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The city's municipal golf course has fallen far short of rosy projections for financial success.

Now isn't the time to play the "I-told-you-so" game, but many in Lawrence must be thinking back a few years, to when city officials and Lawrence golfers were telling the public a new municipal golf course would be a win-win situation for Lawrence.

A private developer who has a tremendous, civic-minded individual with a proven track record as a golf course operator had planned to build another golf course in Lawrence. However, some golfers complained about the cost of playing on a privately owned course and said the city needed a municipal course where greens fees would be in the range of $8 to $10 for nine holes and something under $20 for 18 holes.

A sufficient number of city commissioners bought into the idea, and Eagle Bend Golf Course was set in motion. This caused the private developer to cancel plans for another 18-hole course. The city hired a consultant who came up with a rosy projection for a city-owned course even though some in the city tried to warn that the findings of the city's adviser were far too optimistic.

A recent news story tells of Lawrence city commissioners approving an increase in the Eagle Bend greens fees. The new fee structure calls for golfers to pay $36 for 18 holes and a cart on weekends and $33 on weekdays.

The city golf course operation is expected to lose $103,000 in 2004 even though it pays almost nothing for land leased from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, pays no taxes on the land and gets water, a major cost for golf courses, at no charge from the city.

It is a questionable operation and one that is likely to require subsidies from city taxpayers for years to come, whereas a privately owned course pays taxes, pays for water and is not a drain on city resources.

Those dreams of greens fees in the $8 to $20 range are long gone, and the city lost the opportunity to have another first-class private course that paid its own way.

How bad would the deficit be if the city had to operate its course under the same ground rules as a private golf course owner? Is there any reason to hope this public course ever will break even financially as predicted by the city's consultant and city officials?

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