Taxpayers to foot $2.7M bill for golf course upgrades

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The only city-owned golf course in Grand Rapids is getting a $2.7 million facelift — and residents are paying for it whether they golf or not.

City officials say Indian Trails Golf Course, located in the area of 28th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue SE, is finally turning a profit. But that won’t last without some major renovations.

Built in 1928, the course needs a lot of work. The watering system has been patched with old parts and the parking lot is beyond repair. The course lacks common amenities, like a driving range.

“You’ve reached the point where you have to decide to keep the golf course or abandon the golf course,” Lance Climie, who manages the course, said.

So Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission voted 5-2 to use $2.7 million from the income tax-generated Transformation Fund to pay for upgrades. The income tax was approved by voters in 2010 to pay for projects meant to put the city on a more efficient, sustainable path. The golf course falls into its purview because it’s a revenue stream.

For years, the city’s general fund subsidized operations at the course, but that practice ended in 2012 when a study suggested the course could be self-sustaining. Changes were made, and the course cleared over $8,000 in 2013 and close to $29,000 in 2014.

But analysis suggests it will not be able to maintain that profit without upgrades.

“If we bring in the driving range, the short game practice areas, you draw in more golfers,” Grand Rapids chief financial officer Scott Buhrer said.

More golfers means more money, and more money means the course should be able to pay back the $2.7 million in 19 years — assuming revenue projections hold true.

“How do you forecast that revenue from what the golf industry will do?” First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer wondered.

He and fellow First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski challenged the profit forecast and the idea that a city-owned golf course, which competes with private sector courses, should be subsidized.

“For me, when I’m looking at general fund money — which is used for police, fire and other services — the thought is that that might not be the best use and time to spend that money,” Shaffer said.

He offered a motion to take that funding from the Parks and Recreation millage, but the idea didn’t get any traction.

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