City mulls course

Soldotna weighs pros, cons of buying Birch Ridge

Posted: Thursday, March 06, 2008


  Doug Jung chips onto a green at Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna last summer during the Twin Cities Walker Cup. The city of Soldotna is weighing the pros and cons of purchasing the course. Clarion file photo

Doug Jung chips onto a green at Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna last summer during the Twin Cities Walker Cup. The city of Soldotna is weighing the pros and cons of purchasing the course.

Clarion file photo

If the city of Soldotna does not purchase Birch Ridge golf course when its owners retire in the not too distant future, the likelihood of Birch Ridge remaining as a golf course is in question.

That was the opinion expressed by Soldotna Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael during a special session of the city's Parks and Rec Commission last week.

"It probably will not stay a golf course," said Carmichael, who proceeded to offer up four alternates for retaining the recreational attraction at the east edge of town.

With most commission members agreeing that having a golf course is within the city's vision as far as recreation is concerned, the group asked for more detailed information about acquiring Birch Ridge, and scheduled another special meeting for 5:30 p.m. April 10.

Commission member Kathy Gensel, who told the group she resides right across from Birch Ridge, said the golf course "definitely" is part of the city's vision.

City Councilwoman Betty Obendorf, the council's representative to the commission, said, "This definitely fits into the quality of life (aspect of the city's comprehensive plan)."

Linda Hutchings, who presided over Thursday's meeting, said the golf course "is part of my vision."

In fact, the only commission member expressing some reservation was Barbara Jewell, who said historically, a golf course has not been part of the city's plan.

Carmichael laid out several possible scenarios for the future of Birch Ridge: the city could purchase and operate the golf course; the city could manage the course while subsidizing a private owner; the city could purchase the golf course and lease its operation to a private enterprise; and, the city could purchase the course and enter into an agreement with a non-profit organization such as a golf association to run the course.

The fourth option would be the least expensive in terms of labor fees paid to those watering and maintaining the course, who Carmichael said could be association volunteers. He also indicated a golf association would present a long-term interest in maintaining Birch Ridge as a golf course.

Birch Ridge owners Pat and Myrna Cowan previously told the city they would like the property to remain a golf course, and if the city did not purchase it, the Cowans would strive to find a buyer who would keep it as such.

The Cowans indicated a selling price of $1.5 million, according to Carmichael, who also said a reasonable price would be $1.7 million if the property were to remain a golf course.

Although he said if the city bought the golf course it could not reasonably expect to recover its capital investment, operationally Birch Ridge does pay for itself now.

Carmichael said the Cowans have provided the city with "a wealth of information" to assist in evaluating a course of action.

Obendorf questioned an earlier independent evaluation that set the market value at $1.2 million, not $1.7 million.

Carmichael said the appraiser made the "wrong assumption on zoning," and Pat Cowan said the appraiser failed to provide comparative selling prices and had incomplete income information.

Saying it would be in the city's interest to pursue a funding grant from the Rasmuson Foundation, Carmichael said the organization assisted the city of Sitka with its city golf course "to the tune of $700,000," and said Rasmuson also helped Ketchikan and Wrangell with municipal golf course projects.

Seated in the audience Thursday was City Councilman Peter Micciche, who said he would be interested in knowing whether the citizens of Soldotna support the city taking on a liability such as the golf course.

He also said he and his family just moved into a home near the golf course, and he does not want the fact that he is questioning the purchase to be construed as opposition to the idea.

"I simply would like to know how the people of Soldotna feel about the purchase of this property," Micciche said.

In addition to its other attributes, the amount of money raised at Birch Ridge golf course for local charities should also be considered, said Obendorf.

Cowan said $55,000 for charity was raised at the golf course last year.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at

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