Mpls. Park Board blowing millions on a golf course outside city limits

The Park Board thinks $8 million is a good investment for Meadowbrook Golf Course located in Hopkins and St. Louis Park.

The Park Board thinks $8 million is a good investment for Meadowbrook Golf Course located in Hopkins and St. Louis Park.

The 20-page sales pitch was aces.

Snapshots of water fountains and spinach-green landscapes promised an elite paradise; enthusiastic phrases like "enhance the vision" spoke of endless possibility. The brochure was written in 2013 by Colorado's Golf Convergence, Inc. and sent to Sara Ackmann, manager of golf operations for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. 

The consulting company offered to scope out the viability of six golf courses owned by the board, of which only half are actually located within Minneapolis proper. Board members were assured that the pros at Golf Convergence would deliver an analysis so comprehensive it warranted trademark protection: the Golf Convergence WIN™ formula. It came with a price tag of almost $70,000, although "out-of-pocket expenses for airfare, hotel, car, per diem if selected would not exceed $5,000." The board accepted. 

The results of the analysis were bleak. Among the study's findings: The number of rounds played on the courses had plummeted by almost 50 percent since 2000; three quarters of the golf was undertaken by age 40-plus white males making close to $100,000; "less than 15 percent" of Minneapolis residents ever set a foot on any of the courses; and almost 60 percent of the citizens polled by the consultants thought the board should sell the courses outside of city limits and invest the proceeds in "other parks and recreational opportunities."

Then came the biggest duff.

The courses owned by the board were collectively labeled "A Deep Hole," which required a $34 million capital investment in the hope that some day, just maybe, "Minneapolis Park Board golf courses might be viable."

"The business of golf is a passion for us," wrote Golf Convergence's James Keegan in his initial pitch.

Evidently the same must be said for the Minneapolis Park Board. The panel decided last week to plow forward with plans to invest nearly $8 million for "improvements at Meadowbrook Golf Course," which is located in the "Cities of St. Louis Park and Hopkins" along Excelsior Boulevard, west of Highway 100.

It's money the board doesn't have. Part of the plan includes taking out a $6 million commercial mortgage to fund most of the project. And according to the board's own math, financing the deal will cost an additional $1.6 million in interest. 

The decision comes at a time when the board should be on its best fiscal behavior.

According to Park Board estimates, the city's network of 157 green spaces is estimated to run a deficit of $46 million over just the next four years. Its yearly budget now is just south of $90 million. About eight cents out of every dollar paid in property taxes by Minneapolis residents goes to parks. Inflation, more people using parks more often, increased operational costs, and underfunding are colluding, say Park Board officials. 

“It’s a perfect storm,” Park Board President Liz Wielinski told the Southwest Journal in June. “We’re really trying to make sure that we can maintain the system so that we stay number one.” (Minneapolis is the number-one rated park system in the country, according to The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore®.)

So why at a time of cash flow quandaries is the Park Board willing to sink millions of dollars into the already bad investment that is board-owned golf courses?

"Meadowbrook is actually the most profitable of the courses we have," Wielinski tells City Pages. "So if we were to continue to have golf courses it would be one of the ones we'd want to have because it actually does do well."

Wielinski couldn't provide exact figures showing Meadowbrook's fiscal solvency, but did say the idea of liquidating the massive parcel doesn't make sense because "the land is not as valuable as you might think for selling it off for development." Wielinski spins it this way: "Everybody has their sport.… As long as people are playing golf and it's a recreation folks enjoy, why would divest ourselves from something folks like to use?… I would say there's plenty of city residents that use our golf courses." 

In this case, "plenty of city residents" amounts to a paltry 15 percent.

The new and improved Meadowbrook is slated to reopen, hopefully, sometime in 2017.