Public course fighting to break even

by: REVIEW PHOTO: MARTIN FORBES - The Lake Oswego Public Golf Course remains a popular attraction, with 42,000 nine-hole rounds purchased in 2012 and 2013, but it is struggling to break even. For years, the Lake Oswego Public Golf Course has been a popular amenity for the community, offering a full 18-hole course along with a practice facility.

It also routinely operates in the red, even with a miniscule staff of less than three full-time permanent employees and a consistent customer base that balloons in the summer months. Investments from the city have decreased by more than $100,000 since a feasibility study was conducted in 2009, and course manager Tom Mueller appeared before the city council Tuesday to ask for direction moving forward.

The council also voted Tuesday to reverse the Lake Oswego Development Review Committee’s Jan. 22 denial of a Goodwill Industries development proposal on Boones Ferry Road. See more on that below.

In his presentation before the city council, Mueller made clear that the golf course would struggle to continue operations without more investment from the city.

“The bottom line is that there’s really not a whole lot of room to cut,” Mueller said. “I think it’s time to consider some modest reinvestment in the facility. We’ve gotten to the point now where our costs are not that much higher than what we generate in revenue, and with just a little kicker and a few modest investments, I think we can get to an operational break-even point.”

To that end, Mueller pointed to a proposed $50,000 addition to the 2014-15 golf budget that would be used for improvements on the course’s “modest” driving range and practice facility.

“Some of these things would include a new chipping area to the east side of the driving range,” Mueller said. “We’re going to add some lights and heaters to make it a nicer amenity all around. We’ll get some brand-new Titleist golf balls, and really try to shape the place up to attract some of the customers we lost.”

Mueller said another priority will be addressing the nets at the driving range, which were meant to provide extra protection but have proven to be constricting.

“It basically puts you into a cage-like situation up there,” Mueller said.

Where the driving range once brought in more than $200,000 in annual revenue, it has averaged just $92,000 over the last five years, according to Mueller.

Beyond the driving range, Mueller and Parks and Recreation Director Ivan Anderholm have also considered raising playing fees at the course, which have remained steady over the last five years.

“On an annual basis, we have looked at the fee structure at similar golf courses in the Portland metro area,” Anderholm said. “In the past, we have not felt it was a good time to raise green fees primarily because we were on the upper end of that market. But we have not raised green fees in five years, so it’s probably a good time to look at that.”

Adult nine-hole rounds run between $9 and $12 in the “cool” season from November to February, and jump to the $14-$16 range from March through October. As Anderholm pointed out, even a $1 increase in fees could result in $40,000 more revenue annually.

As part of a staff that includes just 2.6 permanent, benefitted full-time employees, along with 2.7 seasonal non-benefitted full-time employees, Mueller often works 60 to 70 hour weeks during the summer months.

“We do need to make a modest investment now,” Anderholm said.

City Councilor Karen Bowerman agreed.

“I don’t see how you can generate more revenue without more investment,” Bowerman said. “As I stand on the driving range, it just needs investment. It cries for it.”

The Lake Oswego Budget Committee will hold its first meeting of the year March 20. Starting then, budgets for all city departments will be reviewed, including the park and recreation department’s golf course budget.

In a public hearing late Tuesday evening the city council tentatively voted in favor of a Goodwill Industries development proposal on Boones Ferry Road, thus reversing a Jan. 22 development review committee ruling.

Though the DRC found that the proposal met most city standards, it ultimately decided against granting a hardship variance to clear the way for an access point on Boones Ferry Road.

City code prohibits direct access points to arterial streets like Boones Ferry Road.

Though both the DRC and city staff found that the Goodwill property would be reasonably accessible without the Boones Ferry access point, Goodwill representatives claimed that denying it would cause economic hardships, traffic problems and safety issues.

After hearing testimony from both sides, the council voted unanimously in favor of Goodwill, noting that city code was meant to be re-interpreted in these situations.

“This is a tough decision,” City Councilor Jon Gustafson said. “The DRC and staff made the right decision — the code is really clear ... that’s the benefit of our position up here, we can interpret it differently.”

The tentative decision will be finalized March 18.

WEB rezone hearing

The Lake Oswego Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a remanded public hearing Monday regarding the proposed rezoning of the West End Building.

Near the end of 2013, the planning commission rejected the city’s own proposal to rezone the WEB property, at 4101 Kruse Way, from office campus to general commercial.

The rezoning is a key element in a deal the city has with a private developer aiming to buy the property, long considered a poor public investment and an ongoing drain on tax dollars.

In response to the planning commission decision, the city council voted Feb. 4 to remand the denial to the planning commission after Kensington Investment Group’s Bob and Robert Jensen agreed to provide some more detailed information about their plans.

What: Public hearing

When: Monday, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Council chambers at Lake Oswego City Hall, 380 A Ave.

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