Golfers at Spokane’s municipal links will be paying back a loan from the city used to pay for modernizing the watering systems at all four courses.
The Spokane City Council on Monday approved the first of three anticipated $2.5 million loans from a municipal investment portfolio to the Parks Department. The money will go toward replacing irrigation and air conditioning systems at city-owned courses. The first course receiving the upgrade is Indian Canyon, which will reduce down to a 9-hole course beginning in mid-September to facilitate work on its 82-year-old watering system.
“We’ll wrap up the first nine by the time winter sets in,” said David Christenson, the City of Spokane’s golf manager who started his job in June. “We’ve got a target completion date of July 1.”
The city plans to start on the front nine holes of the course in the hills leading to the West Plains, then work on the back nine for the first several months of the 2019 season. Work at Esmeralda, then Downriver, and finally the Creek at Qualchan courses will follow, with all of the irrigation systems expected to be up-to-date by the summer of 2022.
The total work is expected to cost less than $7.5 million, and it will be funded entirely by additional fees paid by users of the city’s system. Golf rose in cost this summer on all of the city’s municipally owned courses, with hikes for a round of 18 going up between $1 and $4, depending on the package purchased by the user. Fees have not been approved yet for next golf season, but may rise modestly to keep pace with paying off the loan, officials said.
The City Council, which was also addressing Monday night the upcoming reduction in beds at the emergency homeless shelter House of Charity, was criticized for spending money on golf course repairs. City Council President Ben Stuckart emphasized that funding was coming exclusively from golfers.
“If we were just spending $7.5 million on the golf courses, I would have a serious problem,” Stuckart said. “I’ve always said we should sell one of the city’s golf courses. It doesn’t fly very well.”
The new irrigation system is expected to make the watering system at Indian Canyon 30 percent more efficient, saving 16 million gallons of water per year. It’ll also eliminate the need for nighttime watering by hand, which poses a safety concern for city staff.
The investment will be the largest since the mid-1980s made at Indian Canyon, which opened in 1935, Christenson said.
The money is coming from what’s known as the Spokane investment pool, a collection of about $500 million in reserve accounts held across a variety of city departments, said Gavin Cooley, the city’s chief financial officer. The city may spend up to 15 percent of that account to purchase bonds, which is what it’ll do to fund the work at the golf courses that will be paid back over 15 years.
Cooley likened it to the Bailey Building and Loan from the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where community investments are being used for building things Bedford Falls needs. In the past, the city’s used money from the pool to purchase automated machines for its library system, paying them back with the cost-savings in labor.
“Think of us like a banker in this case,” Cooley said. “We can lend money to create efficiencies.”
In addition to the irrigation work, the Parks Department intends to chip away at proposed improvements in a golf master plan that’s currently under development by the firm Robert Trent Jones.
“We know we need irrigation,” said Fianna Dickson, spokeswoman for the Parks Department. “We’re looking at, what else can we do?” Christenson likened the improvements to a “facelift” for the city’s courses.
Even with the increase in fees, fine weather has led to a strong golf season for the city, Christenson said. That included recond entries for the Spokane City Golf Championship this past weekend.
“Overall, rounds have been really strong,” Christenson said.