John Ladenburg has never thought of his proposed golf course in University Place as just a golf course.
The Pierce County executive's plan goes like this: After the county builds an $18.7 million professional-caliber golf course at Chambers Creek Properties, the course will make money, which will be used to transform the rest of the former gravel mine into parkland, an arboretum and open space projects for the general public.
But Ladenburg's plan might take hold sooner, without the need for revenues from the golf course, under a rough idea to deliver two parcels of open space to the public at the same time Chambers Bay Golf Course opens in May 2007.
"It's an idea of how to get more people down to the site, " Ladenburg said Friday. "Let's see if we can find a way to do one or both of these things at the beginning because it will be cheaper to build them once we have the (golf course) contractor mobile on the site."
The idea, outlined in a June 16 memo Ladenburg sent to the Pierce County Council, is to spend about $4.1 million to groom two open areas for "passive" recreation, such as picnics or summer festivals. A site called Central Meadow would encompass 22 acres in the middle of Chambers Creek Properties. The other site, North Meadow, would unfold over six acres on the northern portion of the site.
Question is, how would the county pay for what would amount to expensive accessories to an expensive golf course?
Tony Tipton, project manager for the county, said the possible sources of money include the county's sewer ratepayers, the sales tax for parks or the county's general fund, which is fueled by property and sales taxes and pays for sheriff's deputies and other core public services.
Tipton said the general fund is lowest on the list "just because there are so many competing interests for general fund dollars these days."
Tipton emphasized that the open space projects are only rough ideas. "Nothing is proposed, " he said.
The issue is on the table as the seven-member council approaches a Sept. 13 vote on whether to approve the ordinance that would issue bonds to finance construction of the golf course.
So far, the council has nibbled around the big vote, drafting a companion ordinance that includes a backup plan to sell golf course property or land around it for housing developments if the course fails to make enough money to cover its expenses.
In the early 1990s, the county used its sewer utility fund to buy the former gravel mine that is Chambers Creek Properties. Ladenburg wants to build a 250-acre, 18-hole Scottish links-style golf course at the 930-acre site with a waterfront view in University Place.
The golf course, which is being designed by architect Robert Trent Jones II, is intended to rejuvenate the scarred landscape, enable expansion of the county's wastewater treatment facilities, generate revenues to build other parkland projects envisioned in the master plan for the area and pump up the local economy.
Ladenburg is asking the council to approve an ordinance that would issue 30-year bonds and pledge golf course and sewer revenues to pay off the debt. The county would commit property and sales tax revenues as well, if the course and sewer revenues aren't enough.
The county would borrow $18.7 million to build the course and pay an estimated $35.9 million in principal and interest over 30 years.
The council hasn't taken a bite of Ladenburg's idea to also find money to pay for the two open space projects to complement the opening of the golf course.
"We have our hands full with the risk tied to the golf course, " said Council Chairman Shawn Bunney (R-Lake Tapps). "I'm most interested in making the decision on the bonding to protect taxpayers. I haven't spent any time looking at what these added amenities might cost."
Asked if he would pay for the two open-space projects out of the general fund, Bunney said, "Not at this time, no."
Asked if sewer ratepayers should pay for them, Bunney said he's focused on the bonding ordinance and that "we have time to figure all of that out."
Councilman Calvin Goings (D-Puyallup) said neither general taxpayers nor sewer ratepayers should pay for the open space projects.
"The golf course has been touted as a moneymaker that will allow us to fund additional amenities at the site, " he said, "and that's what needs to happen."
Tipton, the project manager, noted that the golf course already is planned to open with a public amenity - a $1 million, roughly four-mile trail running through the course and paid for by sewer ratepayers.
The two open space projects would move the county closer to opening access to the site's beach, Tipton said.
"Once Central Meadow is there, that gets us to the water, " he said. "The next logical piece is to work on dock and beach access."
It's unclear when the public projects envisioned in the master plan, including dock and beach access and other parkland projects, will happen. But the long-term focus is to get them done, Tipton said, despite all of the attention paid to the golf course.
"The reason why the golf course is pushed more heavily is the golf course can actually generate revenues, " he said. "We hope it can take on helping not only build some of these things in the future, but also maintain them, which is just as important."