Although the city continues to move towards renovating the municipal golf course next year, officials are leaving room to reconsider the plans.
Ahead of the City Commission’s unanimous vote Tuesday to scale back maintenance at the temporarily closed Bobby Jones Golf Club, there was some indication that plans for a major renovation are not immutable.
In February, the commission voted to pursue a $21.4 million project to downsize the municipal course from 45 to 27 holes and create 130 acres of public park at the 293-acre property, with construction set to begin next spring.
Although no commissioners have suggested abandoning that plan, some alluded to the possibility that changing conditions associated with COVID-19 could alter the project. That included Commissioner Hagen Brody, who suggested the city should wait until this summer’s budget season before finalizing the timeline.
“I don’t think we’re in a rush because we want to have a better grasp, in my opinion, on where we are in the economy,” Brody said. “If we are in the middle of a recession, and we’re reopening the golf course, it’s just going to become an expense.”
The city closed Bobby Jones in March as part of its COVID-19 response. Earlier this month, City Manager Tom Barwin indicated the course would remain closed until renovation begins.
At a special meeting Tuesday, the commission voted in favor of renegotiating the maintenance contract at Bobby Jones. Although staff proposed eradicating the grass on portions of the property as a precursor to the renovation, the majority of the commission was hesitant to commit to that step in case construction did not proceed as scheduled.
Instead, the commission voted to move to a simple mowing contract for the property. City staff estimated the new maintenance agreement would cost about $150,000 annually. Under the current agreement with BrightView Golf Maintenance, the city pays $143,825.17 monthly to maintain Bobby Jones. BrightView must first agree to the deal before the commission can adopt it, an item scheduled for May 18.
Although some commissioners said the city needed to keep its plans fluid, Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch said she did not want to depart from the proposal. Ahearn-Koch noted the city has been debating the future of Bobby Jones for more than three years, and she felt officials should stick with the 27-hole plan.
“We made a decision,” she said. “I know we didn’t know about COVID-19 at the time … but this commission took a stand.”
Still, city administration and staff acknowledged the complications the pandemic presented. Although staff said eradicating the grass would result in some cost savings for the renovation effort, City Manager Tom Barwin said he understood the commission’s desire to hedge its plans.
“There is uncertainty out there,” Barwin said.