Pierce County leaders are set to discuss for the first time how to secure long-term public financing to build an elite golf course on county-owned land in University Place.
The discussion today will occur as part of the latest progress report on County Executive John Ladenburg's proposal to build a $20 million, Scottish links-style golf course at the 930-acre Chambers Creek Properties.
Led by Robert Trent Jones II of Palo Alto, Calif., design of the waterfront golf course - to be called Chambers Bay - is 50 percent complete, said Tony Tipton, project manager for the county. And the project remains pegged at roughly $20 million - $17 million to build the golf course, plus $3 million for startup costs and trail and open space improvements.
Perhaps the most important part of today's report is how the county plans to publicly finance the project over the long term.
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Tipton said last week that he will present the details of some long-term financing options during his report to the County Council's Rules and Operations Committee, which gives early review to budget issues.
When Ladenburg announced plans for the course in February 2004, officials explained that they planned to sell bonds for construction and startup, and then use revenue from the golf course to pay off the debt.
In the last several years, the county has used feasibility studies to examine the project, which is intended to spur economic development and rejuvenate a former gravel mine. One of those studies suggested a 30-year general obligation bond - representing the full faith and credit of the county - would be required to make the golf course work.
The County Council has said it intends to shield general taxpayers from the cost of the course.
Councilman Dick Muri (R-Steilacoom), one of two council members in May 2004 who voted against publicly financing the project, said he wants answers today.
"What are the costs going to be to operate it and to pay off the bond?" he said. "What are the revenues versus the expenses projected for the first few years?"
Councilman Calvin Goings (D-Puyallup) said his biggest concern - additional traffic generated by the project - was allayed when county public works officials and the City of University Place agreed that no traffic improvements would be needed.
Councilman Terry Lee (R-Gig Harbor), a project supporter, said the golf course isn't about stoking the passion of golfers.
"I'm looking at opening this site to the public, " he said. "I'm afraid if we don't get an anchored tenant like a golf course to produce revenue, there's not going to be public access."
Lee added: "I see this as an economic engine that will ripple out through the immediate community."
The County Council has authorized roughly $7 million to design the golf course and to start its construction. The county is borrowing $2.7 million of that $7 million from its sewer utility fund and plans to pay it back. Of the total amount authorized, the county has spent about $973,000 on designing the golf course.
By August, county officials expect to bring an ordinance to the council to approve the sale of bonds to build the golf course. In September, the county is expected to choose a construction contractor. October likely will see the first dirt moved for the 250-acre, 18-hole course.
The county hopes to begin construction in the fall and open the course for play in May 2007.