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Kent City Council still pondering par 3 golf course sale
The city of Kent might put its par 3 golf course up for sale along the Green River if a developer wants to replace the course with restaurants and shops.
The three City Council members on the Parks and Human Services Committee directed city staff at a Sept. 19 meeting to find out if developers might have any interest in the city-owned property.
City officials are trying to find a way to resolve the financially struggling Riverbend Golf Complex, which also includes an 18-hole course, driving range and pro shop.
Proceeds from a par 3 course sale could cover Riverbend's $2.25 million debt, its capital investment needs of about $400,000 per year and its annual operating losses.
"We had an appraisal done on the property to see if it's viable," said Tom Brubaker, city interim chief administrative officer, to the committee. "It's likely the sale price would solve the entire crisis, the debt and infrastructure and give us a nest egg for ongoing operating expenses. It should be more than enough to accomplish financial goals."
Brubaker declined to reveal the specific appraisal amount because the city might eventually put the property up for sale.
Riverbend's operating losses and debt caused city officials to look at ways to get the complex self-sustainable financially. The facility has lost nearly $1.4 million over the last four years, including $220,903 in 2012, according to city documents. The debt is owed to an inter-fund loan, money that the city borrowed from its water and fleet funds to help pay off the bond for the golf complex.
Council members remained conflicted about selling the course that sits south of Meeker Street, right across from the 18-hole course.
"I have a really hard time selling that property when we have (ball) fields that we haven't replaced and it's nice, flat land," Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson said at the meeting. "On the other hand, I understand there could be a wonderful community asset that would embrace the beauty of the river and have some economic development benefit with public space as well - as there is at Kent Station - that is built into the project."
Moody's Investors Services downgraded the city's bond rating twice in 2012, in part because of the golf course debt. That caused city officials to try to resolve the debt problem.
"Like Elizabeth, I am torn," said Councilwoman Dana Ralph. "It's an amazing piece of property and an asset to this community. My business sense says reducing the footprint is what makes sense but my civic sense and my heart says that's not the best choice. I haven't come to a resolution in my own mind yet."
Parks Director Jeff Watling told the committee that potential options of hiring a management company to run the golf complex or leasing the complex to a company still wouldn't resolve the debt or the capital improvement needs. Switching the golf complex from an enterprise fund set up to be self-supporting into the general fund would lead to cuts elsewhere in the city budget.
"If we had just the operational fund to deal with then I would say put it in the general fund for $250,000 per year and we will protect this community asset with that investment," Albertson said. "It's the capital improvement fund we don't seem to have a source for. I don't know if we could pass a golf levy because we couldn't pass a general parks levy."
Watling said if the council decides to sell the par 3 course, city staff has looked at making a par 3 course part of the 18-hole course by placing a set of tees at holes way forward in the fairway to create a shorter golf experience for youth or active seniors. He also discussed a piece of city property east of the driving range that could be used for three par 3 holes.
The par 3 course has brought in just 10 percent of the complex's revenue over the last five years, Watling said. The 18-hole course represents 48 percent of the revenue while the driving range/pro shop brings in 42 percent of the revenue.
Brubaker told the committee it would need to partner with a developer similar to what happened at Kent Station or with the under construction Platform Apartments before selling the par 3.
"It's very important before we sell it there's a development that meets your vision to let go of this property," Brubaker said.
Council members agreed the city should have a major say in what can be built.
"It sounds like we need to continue to examine some of the details of these options, particularly is there any commercial interest anyway to do something that would be tightly controlled by us," Councilwoman Deborah Ranniger said. "If there's no commercial interest there that presents a whole other set of challenges for us."
Watling plans to return to the Parks Committee later this year with more information about the Riverbend Golf Complex options.
"We need to see if there is a market for the kind of vision we are talking about and have another conversation about it," Ranniger said before closing the meeting.