Mif wins fresh reprieve
The Mif Albright nine-hole golf course won yet another reprieve from the City Council, which voted early this morning to keep it open until a long-term operator is selected to run the course and to explore options – including forming a nonprofit – for keeping the course open.
“That’s the deal we made. We were going to try to make it happen,” Vice Mayor Doug deHaan said as he added an amendment to explore options to Lena Tam’s motion to keep it open.
But council members, who voted unanimously to grant the reprieve and to explore other options for running the course, said that a “business decision” that could lead to a permanent closure may come soon.
Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, who argued that the council should close the course because she said it is losing money the neither the golf complex nor the city can afford to spend, said she hopes to ask the council’s permission to negotiate with one of the two companies that bid to run the course permanently in early February and that she hopes the city will be able to ink a deal by May that will include the configuration of the complex.
Dozens of golfers filled the council chamber to express their outrage with city staff’s recommendation that the course be closed. They disputed staff claims that the course had lost money over the six months since it had been re-opened and said that a proposal to set up family tees on the golf complex’s south course would create chaos and drive other golfers elsewhere.
City staff said the course earned about $72,000 between its Memorial Day 2009 reopening and November 30, 2009, while operating it cost roughly $93,000. The city spent an another $32,000 to make it playable. And they said keeping the course open would only broaden the losses.
But golfers and their supporters – whose ranks included Albright’s daughter, Carol Albright Davis, and mayoral candidate Hadi Monsef – said that the numbers included staff and other costs that wouldn’t go away if the course were closed and that excluding those costs would show the course operating at a profit.
“If you closed it down, would you actually save money? The answer is no,” Golf Commission President Jane Sullwold, whose commission held an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the closure, said.
They complained that a similar effort to set up family tees on the south course after the Mif was closed on November 30, 2008, caused conflicts between groups of golfers. And they questioned what they perceived as city leaders’ haste to make the decision with what they said was insufficient public notice (Wednesday’s agenda was released on December 30).
John Vest of Kemper Sports, which has run the course this past year on a temporary basis and was one of two companies that bid to run the course permanently, told council members it would be difficult to put both sets of players on one course, but that it could be done.
But Gallant insisted that the time had come for the council to shut the course, which Mayor Beverly Johnson characterized as having suffered from years of neglect that will be costly to reverse. Gallant said golf operators, who have faced years of declining play, will be hard-pressed to obtain the money they need to make the capital upgrades the course needs and that many operators that had expressed interest in running the course dropped out of the running as a result.
“At some point in time, we’re going to have to make a difficult business decision on this course, one way or another,” Gallant said.
The council also chewed over the fact that even under a new operator, the city stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars it has traditionally received from the course for its general fund – a huge hit, especially in these challenging economic times.
Council members did not address questions about the status of closed-door discussions that have taken place regarding a proposal to swap the land the Mif sits on with a similarly-sized parcel of land owned by Harbor Bay Isle developer Ron Cowan. Cowan has said in the past that he is not interested in a swap, and the council has not publicly announced any action on one.
In other news, Councilman Frank Matarrese – wearing his Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority hat – asked that the board discuss setting up a nonprofit development corporation to direct development at Alameda Point, similar to the one that runs the Orange County Great Park at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, which council members recently visited. He also wants his fellow dais-mates to consider converting the western portion of the base – including the Northwest Territories – to wetlands.
Oh, and Johnson said she’s considering a run for the District 3 Alameda County Board of Supervisors seat that will be vacated by Alice Lai-Bitker at the end of this year.