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Soldotna putting for dough

Posted: Friday, May 16, 2008

Five months after hearing large sums of money have been granted to Alaska cities to help develop municipal golf courses, Soldotna gave the nod Wednesday to exploring the possibility of such a grant to help buy Birch Ridge.

The city has not yet decided to buy the golf course. A purchase has been the subject of debate for nearly three years.

The Soldotna City Council, on a five-to-one vote, approved Resolution 2008-22 authorizing City Manager Tom Boedeker to seek grants as possible funding sources for buying the golf course. Councilman Ed Sleater opposed the move.

Birch Ridge owners Pat and Myrna Cowan have indicated they would like to sell the golf course and retire within the next two years.

To assure the property remains a golf course, the Cowans first offered it for sale to the city, but said if the city chooses not to purchase Birch Ridge, they would strive to find a private buyer who would maintain it as a golf course rather than develop it for some other purpose. The property is zoned partially commercial and partially rural residential.

During a special session of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board earlier this year, Parks and Rec Director Andrew Carmichael opined that the property probably would not remain a golf course.

Carmichael told the advisers that the Rasmuson Foundation helped the city of Sitka with its municipal golf course "to the tune of $700,000," and said the foundation also helped Ketchikan and Wrangell with municipal golf course projects.

Boedeker at the time, suggested the city investigate the possibility of obtaining a Rasmuson grant, but Councilman Peter Micciche said he would first like to hear from Soldotna residents as to whether they believe the city should own a golf course.

Other council members said, without knowing how much is available in grant assistance, the city leaders could not present a purchase price figure to residents when asking the question.

The Cowans have said they would sell the course to Soldotna for $1.5 million.

Sleater has maintained his opposition all along, saying, regardless of how much the city would need to pay to buy Birch Ridge, residents would be forever saddled with the expense of operating the attraction.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Cowans said the golf course has provided them a comfortable living over the years and they are confident the city will be able to operate it without taking a loss -- possibly making a small profit.

Soldotna resident Tim Cashman told the city council he owned a golf course in Albuquerque, N.M., for six years and high operating costs led him to sell it.

"The problem I have is the operating cost of a golf course, which would be on the citizens of Soldotna," Cashman said. "Go ask the citizens.

"I don't think the citizens of Soldotna should support a golf course for a few," he said.

After Councilman Scott McLane made a motion to adopt the resolution to see what grants are available, Councilman Shane Horan said, "I wish we'd have done this a month ago."

Micciche said he would support the motion, but still wants a vote of the people.

"What will it hurt to ask?" Micciche asked.

Rhetorically repeating the question, Sleater said if the city applies for a Rasmuson grant, then learns the community does not support the purchase, Rasmuson will have done a lot of work on the application for nothing.

"The next time we go to Rasmuson ... on the library (expansion) ... they may not want to talk to us," Sleater said.

Saying he is uncomfortable with asking for a vote of the people, Horan said as elected representatives, council members are charged with making decisions.

With the affirmative vote, Boedeker said he can now proceed during the current year grant application cycle.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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