CEDAR RAPIDS — Jones Golf Course is tentatively slated to open on Monday, May 15, with a handful of changes designed to improve its balance sheet, Cedar Rapids staff told members of the Parks, Waterways and Recreation Commission on Tuesday.
This is a shift from the city’s previous plan to close the 18-hole municipal course — which lost more than $800,000 over the past five years — as part of an effort to curb losses in the city’s golf department.
The biggest change at Jones is to the operational model, said Lisa Miller, the city’s golf operations manager. League play has shifted to other courses, and Jones is to focus on being “deal-oriented.”
“We are keeping the leagues off,” Miller said. “One of the complaints we’ve received in the last several years, people like to play golf when they have time to play golf — after work, certain times of the day. With all the leagues we do have, it is difficult, especially after work, for players to get a spot.”
The city — which also owns Ellis, Gardner and Twin Pines courses — also plans to save money by not filling the vacant golf pro position at Jones, 2901 Fruitland Blvd. SW, said Sven Leff, the city’s parks and recreation director.
“We are working to get Jones reopened,” Leff said. “Jones is not yet recovered from flood damage last fall. It still is getting cleaned up and grass is regrowing. We are just re-entering growing season this spring.”
Jones has closed 25 times since 2001 due to flooding, and repair costs vary. Miller said it is going to cost $2,000, plus labor, to repair the course from last year’s flood damage.
In recent weeks, city staff had remained tight-lipped about the future of Jones and declined to comment when The Gazette reported on April 10 that the course would reopen in 2017. That news surfaced through interviews with City Council members, who answered questions about plans for the taxpayer-funded golf course.
The plan to close Jones — announced last December — became a lightning rod with avid golfers who scoffed at the decision, while others raised concerns the city would keep using tax dollars to cover losses.
Jones has been responsible for $803,719 of the $1.1 million the golf department has lost in the last five years; the department has borrowed more than $2 million from the general fund in total over time to cover department losses. City officials vowed to correct golf department finances after being criticized in the 2015 annual audit.
“The issue we don’t seem to be dealing with is the cost of continued, ongoing use of the city’s golf courses,” Cedar Rapids resident Steve Anderson said during the April 11 City Council meeting, citing The Gazette report of Jones staying open. “The challenge to you being stewards of the public’s money ... is to look hard at the big, big questions. And big questions demand this — bold leadership to make the tough decisions.”
Meetings between city staff and the Cedar Rapids City Council over the past month revealed a lack of support among policymakers to close Jones, which was the key recommendation in the plan to stabilize golf department finances, Leff said. City staff plans to double its efforts to make Jones break even, he added, noting fiscal 2016 closed with Jones losing $29,000.
Fiscal 2017 is off to a rough start with the lost time due to last year’s flooding, plus losing several months of season pass sales when Jones was heading for the chopping block.
Moving forward, city officials plan to put out a request for a proposal for private golf course management to see what offers surface, Leff said. This does not signal a definite direction, but rather is to present another option for City Council to consider. Privatization wouldn’t happen until 2019 at the earliest, he said.
“One day, Jones may still end up closing if alternative management options don’t work, but for now it’s not the time for that,” Leff said. “It’s time to go do more.”
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Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett has asked for a plan, with time for a public hearing, to be presented before the Cedar Rapids City Council either at the April 25 or May 9 council meeting.
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