CEDAR RAPIDS — The unlucky concurrence of flooding, COVID-19 closures, derecho damage and golfing’s diminished popularity has prompted the City Council to back plans to repurpose flood-prone Jones Golf Course.
For years, the southwest Cedar Rapids venue has been a drag on revenue from the city’s four municipal 18-hole golf courses — Ellis, Gardner, Twin Pines and Jones. The council weighed closing the course for good in 2017, and on Tuesday gave the OK for the city manager to proceed with plans for repurposing the course.
“The goal would be to seek community input on repurposing the golf area to create an exceptional destination that serves both the neighborhood and the greater Cedar Rapids community,” Parks and Recreation Director Scott Hock said.
Largely because of closures from frequent flooding, Hock said the course does not break even financially.
In the last 13 seasons, Hock said, flooding has caused the back nine holes to close 11 times, resulting in 983 lost days. And in that time, all 18 holes have been closed eight times, amounting to 869 lost days.
Having closed for 99 days because of COVID-19 in fiscal 2020, the budget year that ended June 30, Jones’ revenue amounted to $250,751 — a small portion of the nearly $2.2 million the city’s entire municipal golf operation took in.
The losses largely from Jones moved the City Council earlier this year to approve a mini-golf course at Twin Pines as a family-friendly way to partially offset some revenue shortfalls.
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The city courses have netted a loss of about $1.5 million from fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2019, which is covered through general fund transfers.
Repurposing Jones and eliminating the subsidy could allow for about $100,000 to be reinvested in the other courses, Hock said.
City staff have come up with some alternative uses for the course, Hock said, but will seek input from the community.
One idea Hock proposed was to build pickleball courts. This would make space for residents to participate in the sport, which he said is growing across all ages but especially for seniors. The availability of the clubhouse for tournaments and events would be an asset, he added.
The space could also be repurposed for enhanced winter activities like sledding, a cross-country skiing, ice skating and snowshoeing.
Other options Hock discussed include a dog park, more acreage for pollinator and wetland areas and an expanded disc golf course.
Mayor Brad Hart expressed confidence in the city’s public outreach process and said, “I’m certain that the community will get to weigh in on what can be there and what they want.”
The city must cut its losses and invest in golf courses with higher potential, council member Ann Poe said. She said she appreciated the city’s past efforts to make the golf course profitable and embraced city staff’s ideas for repurposing Jones.
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“If you just take a look at how much it’s draining our entire golf system and the amount of money we continue to put into it, how much better would it be for us to utilize that money and upgrade the good existing courses at Ellis and Gardner,” Poe said.
Council member Ashley Vanorny said it is important that the council be cautious with taxpayer dollars.
Jones was her childhood park, she said, but the city has the opportunity to create something just as meaningful with public input.
“I think the sky’s the limit with this because it’s really a wonderful acreage in a great location,” Vanorny said.
While council member Dale Todd also supported the repurposing, he said “this one really hurts” and believes Jones is one of the most beautiful courses around.
“It’ll be missed, but you cannot argue with the reality of what’s going on today,” Todd said.
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