Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Golf plan remains best option

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The City of Winnipeg's plan to lease four golf courses to a private operator and sell another one is far from perfect, but it's the best deal on the table for taxpayers.

Some councillors are challenging the idea the four courses to be leased are losing money. The bottom line, however, is they aren't turning a profit and the city doesn't have the cash to make the investments that are necessary to maintain and improve them.

The current situation is a recipe for stagnation, but the Ontario company that wants to lease the four courses is ready to invest $2.4 million in the properties over 20 years, and pay the city more than $2 million in leasing fees over that time. There's also a provision for profit-sharing.

It's hardly a windfall, but it reduces the city's risks and liabilities, while injecting new energy and money into the four faltering courses at Kildonan Park, Windsor, Crescent Drive and Harbour View.

As for John Blumberg in the RM of Headingley, the city has no business operating a golf course outside its boundaries and the property should be sold to the highest bidder. Headingley controls its own zoning and development rules, which it can use to manage any plans for the property.

In casting their votes on Wednesday, councillors should not be swayed by their legitimate outrage over an attempt by Mayor Sam Katz and deputy mayor Russ Wyatt to bully them into submission through a wasteful and amateurish advertising campaign.

That's a separate issue, which reflects poorly on the mayor and his deputy, but it's not a ground for rejecting the motion.

It is disappointing, however, that the city never seriously considered a consultant's recommendation to get completely out of the golf-course business and consider making some of the land available for residential or commercial development.

The consultant also suggested the city merge the St. Boniface and Windsor courses into one championship course while selling off the surplus land.

The mayor's executive policy committee considered the report's recommendations, but didn't pursue them because the group was divided and it didn't expect to get much support from the rest of council.

But instead of giving up, the mayor should have launched a series of public consultations, where a good case could have been made for a more aggressive plan.

Rather than losing green space, the redevelopment option could have opened portions of the city's riverbanks for public use, instead of the exclusive enjoyment of golfers.

There are 36 golf courses in the Winnipeg area, far more than needed to meet demand, so the new manager of the four city properties will have to be very good in order to succeed.

That's assuming council doesn't end up in the rough next Wednesday.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 A16

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