By Leslee Kulba
Following considerable discussion, Asheville City Council decided to postpone hiring a management firm to run the Municipal Golf Course.
A couple city council members expressed their disbelief that government would be in the golf business. Gordon Smith explained the city had acquired land that is deed-restricted to be used as a golf course in perpetuity. Marc Hunt, however, had no problem with the city subsidizing recreation. He thought public perceptions about golf might vary from other parks-and-recreation services because the city charges a fee to use the green.
The members of the public who addressed council were split on whether or not the city should relinquish management responsibilities; yet they all agreed the golf course had been allowed to deteriorate for lack of management. Words like “top-heavy” and “untrained” were used to describe those in charge. Some members of the public were of the opinion that the city should continue to run the golf course; it just needed to hire a manager who knew more about the business. Council was presented with a petition signed by so many people, Mayor Terry Bellamy requested another public hearing.
Robert Green, who owns Golf USA on Tunnel Road, told how the property value of his home, his business, and the people he employs are dependent on the survival of the golf course. He supported the management agreement, saying whoever runs the golf course had to be “fast and flexible” to keep up with the changing demands of the golf market.
The golf course was returned to the city following the dissolution of the Regional Water Authority. Since at least 2005, city leadership, if not the full body of council, has been seriously considering outsourcing its management. Tuesday, the considerations advanced to the verge of signing a contract.
Contrary to the sentiments of some who spoke Tuesday, the city had held outreach meetings for stakeholder feedback. The city’s interest concerned a $140,000 recurring subsidy for an enterprise fund that should have been running at a profit. Another worry was that land of historical and aesthetic value was deteriorating to the point people were complaining. The course, designed by Hall of Fame golf architect Donald Ross, opened in 1927.
RFP’s were issued in March. Of eight firms responding to the RFP, Pope Golf was selected. The company, headquartered in Florida, offered senior management with over 150 years of combined experience. As it ran ten properties, it could offer efficiencies of scale and expertise in golf operations, sales and marketing, and course upkeep.
Pope asked for a seven-year contract, as that is the amount of time they believed was needed to start turning a profit on their investment. According to the terms of the proposed agreement, Pope would pay the city an annual flat fee of $72,000 for the first three years. That would put the city’s budget almost $200,000 ahead of its current position. Following that, Pope would pay the city, on a sliding scale, between 10 and 12 percent of annual gross revenues from the green itself.
Council members used a Q&A format to familiarize the public with social terms to which Pope had agreed. Rates would remain unchanged, except Pope would like to offer discounts for off-peak use, Pope will continue to host the course’s major historic tournaments, and it will interview all current employees for rehire. The city, in addition, has prepared a severance package for those not re-employed by Pope or the city. One efficiency Pope would introduce would be seasonal employment. Currently, all employees work year-round. Smith was concerned that, although Pope employees would be compensated in accordance with the city’s living wage policy, different rules might apply for the temps.
. . . And a Hole in Another
As the fight for control of the water system continues, the city maintains its commitment to upgrading century-old pipes that, as Vice Mayor Esther Manheimer noted, can only be discovered after they blow. Following heavy rainfall on April 17, Leslie Klingner returned to her home on Blair Street to find a sink hole and evidence of 36” of water in her basement. City inspectors condemned her house. Other neighbors were similarly affected; their homes were built over a long-forgotten terra cotta pipe installed around the turn of the last century to service residents on Sunset Mountain.
Typically, property owners pay for pipes that go bad on their property. This scenario was different, because the pipe happened to be a public waterway, the likes of which are now only installed in public rights of way. Hunt noted old pipes are sink-holing in his neighborhood, but not under anybody’s house. In light of other pipes that can and will go bad, the city offered to pay for 75 percent of the cost of replacing the infrastructure. Not everybody’s homeowner’s insurance covered the unlikely event. Residents appealed for 100-percent coverage and waivers of permitting and waste removal fees. Council agreed to only the 75/25 cost-share.