The Fred Richards Executive Golf Course will close at the end of the 2014 season.
The Edina City Council approved in a 3-2 vote the closure of the golf course during its meeting on Tuesday, March 18. Mayor Jim Hovland and Councilmember Mary Brindle opposed the motion.
The council approved in a 4-0-1 vote (with four council members approving and Hovland abstaining) to begin working on a master plan for the Fred Richards property using undesignated city funds. Hovland abstained from the vote, saying there wasn’t enough time to consider the motion.
The council unanimously approved creating a master plan for the Braemar Golf Course using funding from the Braemar Memorial Fund, and unanimously approved beginning the process to improve the Braemar driving range and convert the Braemar executive course into a par 3 course.
A March 17 letter sent to the Edina City Council and City Attorney Roger Knutson from attorney Jane Prince of Weinblatt and Gaylord, on behalf of Save The Fred Association, requested Councilmember Josh Sprague recuse himself from any votes involving Fred Richards based on his profession as a Realtor. Knutson said prior to the voting that Sprague doesn’t have a conflict of interest.
The public hearing on Fred Richards’ closure was concluded during the March 4 meeting and public comments weren’t taken during the council’s Fred Richards discussion March 18. Residents made comments on Fred Richards during a public hearing on Pentagon Park’s preliminary rezoning held before the council’s Fred Richards discussion in the March 18 meeting.
Pentagon Park is a 43-acre office park located directly south of Fred Richards.
About 45 residents attended the council meeting wearing “Save The Fred” T-shirts. Residents said they supported Pentagon Park if Fred Richards remains open and supported Pentagon Park’s project if it doesn’t include Fred Richards property. The overall development plan for Pentagon Park approved March 18 by the council doesn’t include the Fred Richards property.
Residents asked during the March 18 Pentagon Park public hearing that the council slow down on the decision to close Fred Richards to consider all of the options for the city’s golf enterprise.
Residents have said in emails and during previous meetings that they support improving the Braemar golf course, but don’t believe improvements should come at the cost of closing Fred Richards.
Since the March 4 meeting, city staff met with Save The Fred representatives to discuss two proposals to keep Fred Richards open, presented by Save The Fred at the March 4 meeting.
City staff estimated that closing Fred Richards would save $734,000 between 2014 and 2020, and estimated that its six-step recommendation would reduce city spending by $2.3 million by 2020. The golf fund balance will have an estimated deficit of $881,000 in 2020, according to the city’s budget. The city uses liquor store revenue to fund the gap in the golf fund.
Save The Fred pointed out March 4 that the city’s estimates don’t include the repurposing of the Fred Richards property, which Save The Fred estimates to cost at least $1 million.
Save The Fred’s first proposal was to keep Fred Richards open and implement the city’s plan, a proposal it estimated would save the city $2.1 million. Its second proposal was to close the Braemar executive course instead of Fred Richards, estimating a savings of $2.5 million.
City Manager Scott Neal said March 18 that his recommendation to close Fred Richards remained unchanged after meeting with Save The Fred. The March 18 staff report to the council outlined concerns regarding the two proposals, including Save The Fred’s omission of 10 needed capital improvements for which funding sources aren’t earmarked, listed in the staff report for the Park Board’s February meeting and the council’s March 4 meeting. The capital improvements range from $1,500 for a new point of sales system in 2015 to $500,000 for a new irrigation system in 2025 and at least $654,000 for fairway rehabilitation due to soil settlement in 2020.
Hovland said he was concerned all the options for Fred Richards hadn’t been carefully vetted and suggested the city spend this year creating a master plan for its municipal golf operations that includes an assessment of Fred Richards.
Brindle echoed Hovland’s comment, saying she needs more information and city staff hasn’t demonstrated that a decision on the golf enterprise is “imperative.”
“Break even” isn’t a financial standard the city applies to any of its other enterprise operations, Hovland said.
“We’re in the service business, not the for-profit business,” he said, adding that not all residents can play at the country clubs.
This year is the first year Fred Richards won’t have the annual debt payments of about $250,000 and “we ought to give this a chance,” he said.
Sprague said the debt payment was never paid by Fred Richards revenue.
“It never paid for its own creation,” he said.
Brindle said she wasn’t prepared to close Fred Richards because the cost to repurpose Fred Richards isn’t known yet. It’s hard to know if the Fred Richards experience for golfers could be replicated at Braemar without a golf enterprise master plan, she said.
Sprague said he’s OK with incurring a cost to repurpose Fred Richards because it will benefit many Edina residents. Hovland responded that they’ve never taken an amenity away from a user group and given it to a different user group.
In making the motion to close Fred Richards, Councilmember Ann Swenson said she understands city facilities don’t need to break even financially. However, the city has spent the past three years attempting to find city funding for golf course improvements and it needs to consolidate its golf operation.
Sprague noted that the city was subsidizing the arena and art center prior to 2007, but then Edinborough and Centennial Lakes parks began to need subsidies to the point where the city was financially “hemorrhaging” and began the process to review its enterprises.
Councilmember Joni Bennett said that not all Edina residents are affluent and people feel the pressure of city property taxes, some to the point where they may not be able to stay in their homes.
Residents have had opportunities to give input on the city budget and priorities, and residents who do comment during the budget process say city amenities should support themselves, she said.
The city has more than one golf facility, she said, adding, “We’re not talking about doing away with golf.”
On keeping Fred Richards open, she questioned, “With what money? And with whose money?”
She pointed to the 2013 Quality of Life survey results which indicated that “taxpayers in this city … do not want to support improvements to Braemar with taxpayer money.”
Contact Lisa Kaczke at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent.