CEDAR RAPIDS — Flooding and the waning popularity of golf have city staff proposing a mini golf course at Twin Pines as a new moneymaker, and City Council members questioning repurposing Jones Golf Course, a flood-prone venue that was nearly closed for good in 2017.
The city’s four municipal 18-hole golf courses — Ellis, Gardner, Twin Pines and Jones — saw another $200,000-plus net loss in fiscal 2019.
The loss was driven by 171 days of complete or partial closure at Jones due to flooding of Prairie Creek, and play that saw the smallest number of rounds in more than a decade, council members learned this week.
“I think we’re getting close to the time we need to start looking at that again because I hate to see us lose all that money and what we’re spending to repair that every time,” council member Scott Olson said of the flood damage. “And it looks like we’re just going to have to, year after year after year, I’m afraid.”
Olson and council members Scott Overland and Ann Poe, who serve on the finance committee, engaged in a “spit ball” session after seeing the persisting shortfalls they’d hoped would have been eased by the promise of more marketing, cost reductions and new revenue initiatives that kept the city from closing Jones in 2017.
The committee heard and supported a new effort to install an 18-hole mini-golf course at Twin Pines, which has lost money each of the past six years, including more than $75,000 per year the past three years, according to city data.
Officials estimate it could cost $550,000 to install with construction this summer and opening of the mini-course by the end of the year. Money would come through an intracity loan, which would be repaid over time from the course’s revenue. The mini-course is projected to generate $168,897 in net revenue per year after paying for additional staffing, the city said.
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The council members directed city staff to examine their suggestions for Jones and provide options at an unspecified time in the future.
These were not formal plans, but still signaled at least some elected officials are considering more significant changes to the golf system, which in the past have fallen flat amid opposition.
Twin Pines was considered for sale more than a decade ago, but that plan also withered.
The city golf department is considered an enterprise fund. Although it is a public department, it is supposed to operate like a business and cover its own costs. Yet taxpayers have been picking up the tab while fewer people are playing.
Play dipped to 81,910 rounds in fiscal 2019, down 11 percent from fiscal 2018, and the latest in a three-year decline.
The deficit would have been greater if not for Ellis, which turned a $95,269 surplus in fiscal 2019, and Gardner, which was $7,896 in the black.
Twin Pines lost $108,298 and Jones lost $223,557.
The courses have lost $1.54 million net in the past six years, or on average $256,540 per year, which is covered through general fund transfers.
The City Council must decide whether it can accept a $250,000 annual subsidy for Jones, or whether it needs to change strategy and focus on enhancing “the other three courses so that we have a chance of improving the experience and being able to have those three courses do what they need to do to pay for themselves as much as possible because it seems to me they can,” Overland said.
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Poe wondered about selling the back nine holes at Jones and repurposing the front nine into Top Golf or mini golf where patrons could take advantage of what she called the nicest clubhouse of the four courses. She also suggested upgrading the clubhouse at Ellis — which she called the city’s premiere course — to make it more competitive.
“I think we could make up money that we’re losing at Jones by really utilizing that as a premier course and expanding that clubhouse and opening it up so that we can hold tournaments there,” Poe said.
Olson said he believed a “grand plan” for repurpose Jones paired with upgrades at the other three courses would be “well received,” by community members, many of whom have recognized the flooding woes at Jones are not curable.
Scott Hock, Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation director, said he anticipates meeting in the next two weeks with staff to start reviewing the request.
The recreation department is proposing sticking with a staff restructuring to a golf operations manager, a superintendent for each course, and two golf pros, which is down from a golf pro for each course and an additional roving superintendent.
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