Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Swinging at good ideas

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It's discouraging how new ideas to make the city more efficient and cost-effective are rapidly shot down before they have received a full hearing.

Mayoral candidate Gord Steeves' proposal, for example, to sell parts of four city-owned golf courses and use the revenue to fix roads was dismissed out of hand by the other contenders.

A civic audit, backed by an extensive independent study of the city's golf services, had recommended the city get out of the golf business in 2010. The naysayers do not appear to have read the documentation, which actually debunks some of the claims made in response to Steeves' announcement.

Candidate Brian Bowman called the idea short-sighted and he wondered if Mr. Steeves would liquidate civic parks, too. Of course, Mr. Steeves had earlier disparaged Mr. Bowman for suggesting he was prepared to at least study the idea of using road tolls to reduce congestion, help the environment and raise money to pay for infrastructure. He wasn't endorsing the idea, but the mere suggestion it was worth studying was out of the question for some candidates.

Mr. Steeves is proposing the city sell Kildonan Park, Crescent Drive, Windsor Park and John Blumberg golf courses to the highest bidders. He says the prime real estate could be worth $100 million.

The new taxes generated would also be applied against the city's $7-billion infrastructure deficit.

It's impossible to say today what the land would be worth several years from now, assuming council supported the sell-off. Nor would the money represent a long-term solution to the city's infrastructure woes, as Mr. Steeves suggests.

Whatever the final benefit to the city, however, the idea of disposing of the four courses (and possibly more, the city owns 12) is valid.

The golf industry has experienced decreased participation and increased competition in recent decades, putting the squeeze on most of the 36 public, private and semi-private courses located in and around the city. The city's courses were $8 million in debt a few years ago and there is no evidence the downward trend can be reversed, at least not without substantial investment.

That's why an American consultant, Golf Convergence, recommended the city get out of the business.

City-owned golf courses may have been necessary 100 years ago when there weren't enough courses to meet demand. Today, however, Winnipeg's golfers are more likely to complain about the weather than the availability of courses to play.

Critics says the sale would rob the city of green space. In fact, it would increase public park space because some 24 hectares would be set aside for that purpose.

The idea Winnipeg is short of green space is also flawed. The city maintains open park space at a rate that is 50 per cent greater than required by comparable municipalities, says Golf Convergence. The accepted ratio is four hectares per 1,000 people. Winnipeg maintains as open park space 6.1 hectares per 1,000 people.

There is no reason why ski clubs can't continue to operate the way they do now. In fact, there would be more space for winter and summer recreation than is currently available.

Public consultations would reveal the affected neighbourhoods would be gaining park space, not losing it.

The plan is not set in stone. It is a proposal that could be altered to suit the highest needs of the community. Windsor Park, for example, could be merged with St. Boniface to create a championship-level course, as the consultant suggested.

A few golfers might be angry at losing one of their courses, although it is interesting not one of them opposed the idea when it was first raised four years ago.

The facts cry out for a rationalization of the government-owned golf industry in Winnipeg.

Politicians, unfortunately, never let facts get in the way of a good line of attack.

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 July 29, 2014 A8

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