PORT TOWNSEND — The city-owned golf course will remain a golf course for at least three more years while Port Townsend officials dive deeper into a mix of potential alternative uses for the nearly 60-acre property at the center of town.
The Port Townsend City Council voted unanimously Monday to allow the city manager to sign a three-year lease with one of three vendors who submitted proposals in September to take over operation of the Port Townsend Golf Club when the current lease expires at the end of this year.
Those three years will “buy us some time to explore the alternative-use concepts,” which include everything from preserving the property as open space to using it for affordable housing to continuing golf in one form or another, said Alex Wisniewski, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.
And based on hundreds of comments received in a recent city survey, many residents would be open to some combination of uses, he said.
“It would be great to have everybody win in this community,” said Mayor Michelle Sandoval, “and one of the things about having everybody win is everybody may have to share.”
City staff will now choose among three vendors, all based in Port Townsend, to continue operating the more-than-a-century-old golf club through 2023. They include PT Golf Course Players Club, AA Complete Solutions and Gabriel Tonan Golf Shop, which has managed the club since 2013, when Tonan took over a lease dating back to 1987.
“There was a high level of passion and interest in providing golf to the community,” Wisniewski said in reference to interviews held Oct. 21 with representatives of each vendor.
“But there was a resounding theme that there will be an ongoing challenge to fully cover the expenses associated with paying for irrigation water as well as re-investing in the course, premised on how we crafted the RFP (request for proposals), which was to shift those expenses to the vendor.”
The chosen vendor would not necessarily be expected to address the $1.2 million in capital improvements recommended by the National Golf Foundation after its analysis of the club in 2018, Wisniewski said, noting that the city does not have funding to pay for those improvements or subsidize operations.
The question of how to pay for those outstanding costs, as well as costs that might come with converting the property for any combination of other uses, should be central to the conversation about its future use, Sandoval said.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if during this three-year period the golf course people who really came out strong … were to gather together with all of those creative ideas from people who want alternative uses and figure out a way to fund these things,” she said.
In his presentation to the City Council, Wisniewski noted that a new source of funding will need to be identified in the next three years regardless of how the property is used. Options include applying for grants from the state Recreation and Conservation Office as well as creation of a voter-approved metropolitan parks district that could raise money through new taxes.
A multi-year effort to form a countywide parks district was suspended indefinitely in 2013. Sandoval said the idea is worth considering again, especially as the city continues to tighten its belt amid an economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Expressing hope that the pandemic will subside enough in the next three years to allow for in-person community meetings, Sandoval said, “Let’s bring people together in the charrettes that we finally have and say, ‘Hey, what about a metropolitan parks district?’”
She also suggested that a public-private partnership could lend itself to a more financially sustainable future for the property.
The City Council left open the possibility that golf could continue under a new lease after three years if it fits into the community’s desires and makes sense financially. Council member Ariel Speser said she’s hopeful that the vendor chosen to take over in January will see that as an incentive to invest in the property and engage in an ongoing public process.
“I think the door is open for partnership and creativity there,” she said.
Sandoval implored residents on all sides of the issue to come together to solve the key challenge: finding a sustainable funding scheme.
“If you really love the golf course and you really love the pool and you really love all the amenities we have here, we need to be creative,” she said. “Let’s not disengage. Let’s try to figure out how to make this work.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached by phone at 360-417-3509 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.