Three of four candidates for Pierce County executive say they don’t favor public funding for lodging or restaurants at Chambers Bay Golf Course.
Depending on who wins the election, that could scuttle an idea floated earlier this summer by current executive John Ladenburg. He proposed the county consider joining with a private developer to build lodging, a clubhouse and a restaurant at the course and share in any profits.
Originally, the county hoped a private investor would pay to build the new facilities. Now KemperSports – which operates the course for the county – wants at least some public investment. The idea is that Pierce County can borrow money more cheaply than the private company.
The county has hired a consultant to study the feasibility of lodging at Chambers Bay. It looks like a final report won’t come until after the election.
Ladenburg has been the primary champion of Chambers Bay, which opened last year. It was his vision to build a high-end course to generate revenue to help pay for the development of other recreation amenities at the county’s Chambers Creek Properties in University Place.
That vision seemed to be validated earlier this year when the course won the right to host the 2015 U.S. Open, which the county estimates will generate tens of millions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenue.
But the course has been controversial from the start. The county borrowed $21 million to build it and pledged golf course, sewer and general fund revenue to repay it. So far, the course is paying its own way, and Ladenburg says it will continue to do so.
But it likely will be up to the next executive and the County Council to decide whether to invest in Chambers Bay lodging, restaurants and a clubhouse. And so far, only Republican candidate Shawn Bunney says he’s keeping an open mind.
"It’s not a yes or a no because it has not been vetted," Bunney said. He wants to see if such a plan would protect taxpayers and provide a return on the county’s investment. You can listen to his full comments here.
The other candidates – Democrats Calvin Goings and Pat McCarthy and Executive Excellence candidate Mike Lonergan – offered variations of "no" when asked whether they would support public investment in lodging and a restaurant at Chambers Bay.
Goings said he would support a 99-year ground lease for a private firm that would develop lodging and restaurants. You can listen to his full comments here.
Lonergan said it’s time to reap the benefit of the money the county already has invested at the golf course. "If the market bears it out, there should be no difficulty finding private interests to invest" in lodging and a restaurant, he said. You can listen to his full response here.
McCarthy said she’s "not in a position right now to say I would support that … My belief is that it should be done through some other mechanism." You can listen to her full response here.
Coming tomorrow: the executive candidates give their take on impact fees to offset the cost of providing new services to housing developments.