Glendale considers repurposing city-owned golf course
By Mark Carlisle
Glendale’s Glen Lakes Golf Course could be coming to its end.
City Council decided this week to hold public meetings to discuss the long-term future of the run-down, city-owned course at 5450 W. Northern Ave.
While not all councilmembers voiced an opinion during the Tuesday, May 22 meeting, three of the seven members indicated it would be untenable for the city to fund needed improvements for 50-year-old golf course and many councilmembers suggested compromise in repurposing the property, possibly finding a way for it to remain a green space — something many residents have said they enjoy about the course being in their neighborhood.
“I believe that there is no alternative but to shut the project down,” Vice Mayor Lauren Tolmachoff of the Cholla District said. She was the most vocal during the meeting about the unsustainability of the course.
Although the Council added an opt-out clause to the contract with the course’s operator, there was no action taken regarding the status of the course.
“We’re not making a decision today. What we’re making a decision to do is continue to maintain the golf course but doing it in a way that we can look at other options,” said Sahuaro District Councilman Ray Malnar.
Several on Council said the public outreach process will allow the city to consider all options for the site and for the public to suggest options. Mayor Jerry Weiers spoke to the many members of the public attending the meeting wearing green in support of the course.
“We encourage all of you, if you’ve got some ideas that can work, that are real dollars, please let us know,” Mayor Weiers said. “…But please come with some ideas, don’t just come say, ‘We want you to keep it open,’ give us some ways to do that.”
The green-clad members of the audience represented Save Glen Lakes, a community group that gathered over 500 petition signatures requesting the city preserve the course and fund improvements.
There is no date scheduled for the public meetings, but Ms. Tolmachoff said Friday that they will likely not happen until schools start up again, after Council’s July recess.
Ms. Tolmachoff also said that, taking the temperature of her fellow councilmembers during the meeting, she anticipates a change in function for the city-owned site.
“I think based on what was said the other night, I think it’s pretty clear that — I don’t believe — there will be a consensus for it to remain a golf course. That’s my opinion,” she said, acknowledging that not every councilmember spoke on the issue.
Mayor Weiers said that while no one on Council wants to see the golf course go away, it’s Council’s job to responsibly spend the city’s money in ways that will benefit Glendale’s entire population of nearly 250,000.
He was not optimistic that the course could remain.
“I love the outdoors. I’d love to figure out a way we could keep this thing open; I don’t know how we could do it,” he said.
Although conversation centered around the excessive cost of the course, the discussion took place before a unanimous Council vote to approve a new contract for the course operator, Golf Maintenance Solutions, for more than seven times what the city paid the prior operator.
However, Ms. Tolmachoff suggested as an amendment an opt-out clause that allows the city to withdraw from the agreement without needing the operator’s approval or a breach of contract. The city would have to provide the operator with 90-days’ notice. The amendment passed unanimously.
After gathering public input and considering their options, Council may then invoke the early termination option, should it decide to repurpose the course.
The city removed the course’s former operator, AZ Golf Ventures, in March for a breach of contract involving not having the proper insurance for the course and replaced it with Golf Maintenance Solutions.
Golf Maintenance Solutions is based in Carefree and has managed hundreds of courses around the country. During a public meeting with the Save Glen Lakes group last month, Councilman Bart Turner of the Barrel District, which contains Glen Lakes Golf Course, called it a “turnaround company” that assesses needed improvements and helps enact those improvements.
The newly approved contract will pay Golf Maintenance Solutions $429,500 to manage and operate the course for fiscal year 2018-19, which runs through June 30, 2019. AZ Golf Ventures had been paid $5,000 per month, or $60,000 per year.
Ms. Tolmachoff said, per acre, this contract will fund the course at a rate four times higher than city parks are funded.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Council also approved the $90,980 bill for what Golf Maintenance Solutions has already done since it took over March 5.
For the needed infrastructure repairs, which include, among other things, replacing an antiquated and dilapidated irrigation system and repairing the course’s restaurant and bathroom, the city will likely have to commit more funds than the one–year contract provides.
During the meeting, Ms. Tolmachoff requested that City Attorney Kevin Phelps instruct the operator not to fund any improvements during the city’s review periods, but simply maintain the course’s current state. She hopes that by doing so, the operating costs will come in below the nearly $36,000 per month average of the year contract.
That directive is not laid out in the contract, but it does state the operator must get authorization from the city before any major improvements.
The Save Glen Lakes citizen group has offered to do what it can with improvements.
“There are work groups forming right now to paint, to fix roofs, to replace distance markers on the driving range, and so on,” said group member Sam McConnell of the Sahuaro District during the meeting.
A citizen has already replaced the tops of some of the picnic tables at the course.
Mr. McConnell, who also serves on the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, also suggested hosting a charity tournament at Glen Lakes to raise funds for course improvements.
Save Glen Lakes co-leader Jean Merkel of the Barrel District suggested forming a citizen task force to “provide (Council) with suggestions and solutions.”
Ms. Tolmachoff said changes like this will not be enough to revive the course.
“Unfortunately, Glen Lakes Golf Course is in need of much more than just elbow grease at this point,” she said during the meeting.
Ms. Tolmachoff’s main objection to pouring money into the course is that Glendale’s other municipal course is nearby, in better condition, and charges less. She said the city isn’t financially stable enough to have to fund two courses so close together.
“If you’re competing with another municipal golf course that’s five and half miles away and glen lakes is more expensive, I don’t know how successful it could ever be,” Ms. Tolmachoff said Friday.
Ocotillo Councilman Jamie Aldama was the only one to support funding the course.
“I just don’t think it’s fiscally responsible for us to walk away from some of our assets, as we have in the past,” he said. “If we walk away from this one and close it, which facility or which asset is next? We just say, ‘Hey, it’s gone too long (without upkeep), can’t pump money into it.’ So, I don’t know if half a million dollars today would have been half million dollars if we would have maintained it proactively.”
Ms. Tolmachoff pointed out that the city nearly went bankrupt five years ago and cut back on several city services. However, Ms. Merkel and her Save Glen Lakes co-leader Jane Bachmann of the Barrel District said last month that that’s not the only problem with the city’s management of the course. The two criticized past city contracts with course operators, saying the city did not incentive operators to spend on course improvements and didn’t ensure that operators carried out agreed-upon improvements.
In his meeting with the Save Glen Lakes group last month, Mr. Turner supported course funding.
“I wholeheartedly want it to stay a golf course,” Mr. Turner said, though he noted his fellow councilmembers may not agree with him.
After seeing the $429,500 price tag for the one-year contract, Mr. Turner did not say during the Council meeting whether he still supports funding. His only comments during the discussion were to second Ms. Tolmachoff’s amendment for the 90-day cancellation period.
Cactus District Councilman Ian Hugh did not speak during the discussion.
Mr. Malnar and Yucca District Councilwoman Joyce Clark both encouraged a compromise with the citizens. Ms. Clark also mentioned that the contract was too costly.
“I’m torn, because I think part of what Councilmember Tolmachoff said is correct. A half a million dollars a year to support Glen Lakes Golf Course is crazy, folks,” she said. “But I also believe in the power of the people. You’ve got 500 petition signatures that I hope will not be ignored the way the 1,000 signatures for Stone Haven (housing development) were.”
She hoped the city and the neighborhood group could find a middle ground, suggesting a compromise where the course could remain a green space, something members of the group have requested in the event of repurposing.
“My middle ground would be to see 10 acres of the 44 acres preserved as a neighborhood park,” Ms. Clark said.
Ms. Tolmachoff also suggested keeping green space at the site.