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City eyes selling Blumberg

Ontario firm would manage four other public golf facilities

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Frank Sclamacis tees off on a round of golf at John Blumberg Golf Course on Monday. The city plans to sell the 27-hole course in Headingley.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Frank Sclamacis tees off on a round of golf at John Blumberg Golf Course on Monday. The city plans to sell the 27-hole course in Headingley. Photo Store

The City of Winnipeg plans to sell off John Blumberg Golf Course and hand over responsibility for four other sets of links.

After two years of mulling the future of 12 city-owned golf courses, council is considering the sale of John Blumberg, a 27-hole course that occupies 81 hectares of riverfront property in Headingley. Proceeds from this sale would be used to fund existing recreation facilities in Winnipeg, according to a report that comes before council's alternate service delivery (ASD) committee on Friday.

"A lot of folks might not realize we operate a golf course in the RM of Headingley," said Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, who chairs the ASD committee, which oversees golf, parking, animals and the city's vehicle fleet. "I don't think it should be a priority of the city to be operating a golf course for the citizens of Headingley, even though they're wonderful people."

The same report also calls for the city to hand over the operation and maintenance of golf courses at Kildonan Park, Crescent Park, Harbour View and Windsor Park to GolfNorth Properties, a Conestoga, Ont.-based company that already owns and operates 21 courses in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

The plan to sell off one course and take a hands-off approach to four others marks a policy shift for the city, which initially put all 12 of its city golf courses up for grabs as part of a 2011 request for proposals that yielded more than 70 responses, all of which were initially rejected.

"We've heard the public. There's been a lot of folks who've been concerned about the fact public land would be sold," Wyatt said.

"We said OK, we're not going to sell golf courses inside city limits. We're going to keep them as a green space and we're going to own the land. Instead, we're going to operate them through the private sector."

The report before Wyatt's committee suggests the city could save $759,000 a year by handing over the maintenance and operation of the Kildonan Park, Windsor Park, Crescent Park and Harbour View golf courses.

Pending council approval, three full-time golf services employees would be offered other jobs within the city, while the full-time equivalent of 23 seasonal positions -- 16 staff and seven student employees -- will have the opportunity to take other city jobs or GolfNorth jobs.

The proposed 20-year lease with GolfNorth calls for the firm to spend $4.2 million on course improvements such as irrigation systems, bridges, clubhouses and drainage, including $210,000 worth of work this year alone. The company would be compensated for this work if the city backs out of the lease, which includes provisions for the city to reclaim the Harbour View course as part of a future effort to develop lands around Kilcona Park into a new residential neighbourhood.

The lease also requires GolfNorth to share the Windsor Park Golf Course with the Cross Country Ski Association of Manitoba, which operates ski trails on the course during the winter. At Crescent Park, the firm will share a facility with Auberge and Spa Nordic.

GolfNorth would pay the city approximately $170,000 a year in property taxes and share five per cent of all gross revenue it earns over $2.5 million annually with the city. The firm will be entitled to set its own fee schedule.

The prospect of increased fees has already raised the hackles of some city councillors, along with concerns the city has conducted a faulty economic analysis of the viability of its golf courses.

Within minutes of the publication of the golf-course plan, St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes issued a statement suggesting the future of city-owned golf courses "is not as bleak as presented." Kildonan Park makes money and Crescent Drive usage is up, noted Mayes, suggesting it is inconsistent to demand golf courses generate profits while pools and arenas do not.

There is little opposition, however, to the sale of John Blumberg Golf Course, which would not come with land-use caveats.

"That would be up to the people of Headingley," said Wyatt, offering no opinion about whether the Blumberg land should remain a golf course or be developed into something else.

The John Blumberg Golf Course sale would not affect the adjacent city-owned soccer-and-softball complex. The city owns a number of parcels of property outside its limits, including Little Mountain Park in the RM of Rosser and the Winnipeg Water Treatment Plant in the RM of Springfield.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 14, 2013 A3

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Updated on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 6:29 AM CDT: replaces photo

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