A proposal by Anoka County Board Chair Rhonda Sivarajah to keep the county-owned Chomonix Golf Course open for at least three more years will be presented to the board’s Parks Committee Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 9 a.m., at the Bunkers Hills Activity Center.
The committee discussed, but did not take action on a recommendation from Parks Director Jeff Perry Jan. 15 to close the golf course, which is located in Rice Creek Chain of Lake Park Reserve, and convert it to an outdoor recreation area because Chomonix is losing money and golfers.
Instead, the three-member committee, which comprises Commissioners Mike Gamache, Matt Look and Robyn West (absent), along with other County Board members present (Sivarajah, Scott Schulte and Julie Braastad), discussed other options and decided to continue reviewing the future of Chomonix at its February meeting.
However, following distribution of a flyer Jan. 19 by parks staff that outlined the staff recommendation to residents of 31 single-family homes adjacent to Chomonix, a large group of people, both residents and golfers, came to the Anoka County Government Center the morning of Jan. 22 for the County Board meeting, even though the issue was not on the agenda and there was no opportunity to speak during the board meeting.
But in the reception area outside the meeting room an impromptu session took place with Sivarajah and County Administrator Jerry Soma prior to the board meeting. Residents and golfers alike expressed their opposition to closing the golf course and repurposing the property, and they were displeased the county had provided information earlier in the process.
It was so sudden with no public announcement, one person said, and another likened the recommendation to close Chomonix to moving a National Football League team in the middle of the night.
Some said the golf course was an intangible benefit to the community, that the county had set Chomonix up for failure and that there was a lack of transparency in the county’s process.
Sivarajah told those gathered that no final decision has been made and she will propose keeping the course open for at least three more years at the Feb. 5 committee meeting, during which efforts will be made to “turn it around,” including evaluating revenue and expenses and possibly hiring a consultant to recommend ways to make the course self-sustaining.
“I believe I have the support of the other board members for this recommendation,” she said.
Sivarajah invited the residents and golfers to attend the committee meeting and make their feelings known.
“We are open to all ideas,” Gamache said.
According to Perry, an evaluation of the golf course operations found that over the past five years (2014 to 2018), Chomonix had a cumulative net operating deficit of $641,520, which translates into more than $100,000 a year, with the gap being filled from parks department reserve funds, which was not sustainable in the long term.
In addition, capital improvement needs over the next five years (2019-2023) total $1 million for a combination of maintenance operations (equipment replacement, for example) and upgrades to the clubhouse, which was built in 1987 and needs new heating and air conditioning, siding, a roof and restroom improvements, Perry said.
The number of rounds of golf played at the course have steadily declined over the years, and dozens of golf courses like Chomonix in the metro area have closed since 2000, he said.
According to Perry, staff considered outsourcing the golf operations and looked at a model used by the city of St. Paul and Ramsey County, but it was determined that Chomonix would continue to operate in a significant net deficit.
It was also not viable to sell the land because it was acquired with federal and state funds in the 1970s and is under strict protective covenants that would require the land to be replaced at equal or greater value, Perry said.
An option discussed at the January Parks Committee meeting was to lease the course to the city of Lino Lakes to run the operation, Perry said. Lino Lakes Mayor Jeff Reinert, Council Member Rob Rafferty and City Administrator Jeff Karlson attended the meeting.
Repurposing the golf course would require an amendment to the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve master plan through the Metropolitan Council, and that would make any improvements eligible for grant funding through the council, he said.
Concepts outlined by Perry included creating a year-round destination outdoor recreation area to include a single-track mountain bike course (“a growing trend,” he said), trails and picnic area; converting the driving range to an archery range; using the clubhouse for a banquet facility, bike rental, programs and food and beverage services; adding a new picnic pavilion; adding parking pay stations due to regional park facility designation; and moving the cross-country ski operation to Rice Creek campgrounds.
If the Parks Committee signs off on Sivarajah’s proposal to keep the course open, the decision won’t have to go to the full County Board for action Feb. 12, according to Perry.
The county is planning to hire a new director of golf course operations following the resignation of Chris Bettinger in December, Perry said.
Chomonix was built as a private, nine-hole golf course in 1969 and was acquired by the county, along with some other property, in the first phase of the creation of the Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve, he said.
The county expanded Chomonix to an 18-hole course in 1987 at the time the clubhouse was built.