Council chooses Greenway to operate golf complex

Council chooses Greenway to operate golf complex

Michele Ellson
Chuck Corica Golf Complex

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to negotiate with Greenway Golf for a long-term lease at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex. A lease could be negotiated in 45 days and sent to the council for its approval.

The decision caps five years' worth of efforts to assess needed improvements for the golf complex and to find a long-term private operator to help pay for them, a timeline dotted with countless late-night meetings and a trail of twists, turns and outright reversals that divided golfers and inspired a ballot measure that could put more control of city parkland into voters' hands.

Council deliberations focused on the possibility of increased play at a redesigned Jack Clark south course and the prospective operators' proposed solutions to the complex's drainage issues, along with Greenway's environmentally friendly practices.

“I think that whatever you decide tonight will be your decision,” Kemper's Ben Blake said after it became clear the council was seriously considering Greenway. “We're perfectly good with the decision because it's been a fair process.”

City staff had recommended Kemper's proposal in what they termed a close call, saying that while they were excited by Greenway's plan, they were concerned about Greenway's small size and the logistics of hauling in 800,000 cubic yards of dirt to revamp the complex's courses. But some Greenway boosters said they didn't think moving the dirt would be a big deal, citing the recent dredging and hauling of material from Seaplane Lagoon on Alameda Point.

The Golf Commission split 3-2 in favor of Greenway's proposal, and four of the commission's members offered the council their position Tuesday night. But a selection committee that included two city staffers, the city's golf consultant, Golf Commission president Jane Sullwold and Alameda Junior Golf Club president Norma Arnerich voted 4-1 in favor of Kemper's proposal, with Sullwold casting the lone vote in Greenway's favor.

More than a dozen speakers talked in favor of Greenway's proposal, saying they were excited about the operator's proposal to restyle the Jack Clark south course as a links style course and that they liked Greenway's “green” course management practices. Most said they liked Kemper's staffers here in Alameda, and Greenway's George Kelly said he would hire Kemper staffers who wished to stay.

“I've got no problem with Kemper. They're a management company, that's what they do,” said Bill Schmitz, a Golf Commission member and chair of this year's Alameda Commuters golf tournament. “Greenway – agronomy, irrigation, greens, that's what they do. And that's what we need.”

But several others said they thought Kemper had done a good job here and that they deserved to be hired as the complex's long-term operator. They said they believed Kemper had more financial depth than its much smaller competitor and more experience managing municipal golf courses.

“I felt Kemper is getting a bad knock for not doing major improvements when they were only managing (the complex),” said Betsy Gammell, another golf commissioner. She said the council should adopt city staff's recommendation to negotiate a long-term lease with Kemper.

Stevinson, Calif.-based Greenway Golf is offering a base of $3.4 million in rent over the next decade and $6.7 million in renovations at the golf complex, including $5.1 million worth of work on the Jack Clark course, which would be redesigned by noted golf architect Rees Jones. The company, which operates a dozen golf courses, is asking for a 20-year lease with a five-year renewal option. Kelly also offered to maintain existing green fees for local players, a concern raised by some Kemper backers.

Kemper had offered more rent and less money for improvements. The company had planned to spread improvements complex-wide.

City leaders hired NGF Consulting in 2007 to compile a report on the golf complex that said it needed $10 million worth of upgrades, which council member said they didn't have the cash to fund. In December 2008, council members hired Kemper to run the golf complex for a year while they looked for a more permanent operator – a job the company has held for nearly three and a half years now.

Kemper and Bellows Golf Management were the original finalists for a long-term contract to operate the complex and in March 2010, the council unanimously voted to negotiate with Kemper to operate the complex's two 18-hole courses and with Alameda Junior Golf to operate the Mif Albright short course. But city leaders made a fresh request for management proposals after learning that Kemper wasn't planning on using its own money to pay for improvements as expected, and that former Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant had offered to have the city take out bonds to pay for them.

City leaders went back and forth over what to do with the Mif Albright nine-hole course over the years, shuttering it in late 2008 and reopening it six months later. Alameda Junior Golf vowed to operate the course and then backed out, ultimately deciding that a professional manager should run it instead. Harbor Bay developer Ron Cowan brought deliberations to a halt when he announced in April 2011 that he was interested in offering cash and property he owns but has been unable to develop on North Loop Road in exchange for the Mif, where he wanted to build 112 homes. Council members rejected that plan, which prompted a ballot measure that would require voter approval for similar deals to be considered in the future.

While some golfers praised Kemper's interim management of the complex, others questioned some of the company's actions in seeking the deal, including an earlier proposal to cut the complex to 27 holes and the company's apparent decision to work with Cowan on the swap proposal, which included using e-mail addresses collected from golfers to seek support for the plan.

In other business:

The council okayed zoning changes that will allow massage businesses to locate on Park and Webster streets and restrict tattoo parlors on Webster Street. Massage businesses may now locate on the second floor of buildings on Park and Webster, something their owners couldn't do before, and on the first floor of buildings after obtaining a use permit.

Tattoo parlors will only be able to set up shop on the second floor of buildings on Webster Street, the same rules that had been in place for the Park Street business district. Planning services manager Andrew Thomas said the change was being put in place following concerns about the number of prospective tattoo parlors whose owners sought to locate on Webster after the city decided to allow the businesses to locate here last year.

Council members also signed off on a countywide transportation expenditure plan and officially requested the Alameda County Board of Supervisors place it on the November ballot. The ballot measure, which will ask voters to double the half-cent sales tax they now pay for transportation projects and extend it in perpetuity, includes $242 million for the Island's bridges, high speed bus service and other projects.