|Mendota Heights / Voters OK city's purchase of golf course|
|Hotly contested campaign ends with 254-vote approval margin|
|BY BRIAN BONNER |
|Article Last Updated:04/25/2007|
Father-and-son golfers Mike and Kieran Lynch got the news they had hoped for Tuesday night: Mendota Heights voters decided to spend $2.8 million so the city can buy a par 3 golf course.
After a hard-fought, four-month campaign, golf course supporters won 53 percent of the vote - 1,865 to 1,611, a difference of 254 votes. About 42 percent of voters in the St. Paul suburb participated, "a phenomenal percentage for a special election," City Clerk Kathleen Swanson said.
The vote guarantees plenty more father-and-son outings for the Lynches and for the rest of the golfing public. A losing vote would have meant the course's owners selling the 17 acres for a housing development.
"It's not too hard, but it's not too easy," said 11-year-old Kieran Lynch, explaining why he likes to play the Mendota Heights Par 3 Golf Course at 1695 Dodd Road.
"We played last Saturday at the par 3," Kieran's father, Mike, said. "We go there several times a year. It's a great community asset, and I'm glad it's going to stay that way."
Plenty of voters in Mendota Heights, however, will not be happy with the outcome.
Robert Bonine led opposition to the referendum. He said single-issue special elections favor the supporters of whatever measure is on the ballot.
"If this were a general election, we would have crushed them," Bonine said.
He said Mayor John Huber, who supported buying the golf course, maintained only a facade of official neutrality and unfairly influenced the campaign along with other city officials.
"In February, the mayor said he knew of no opposition," Bonine said. "Now he knows of 1,600 people opposed. We needed 280 more."
Bonine doesn't think the golf course will be successful.
"This money is going to pay for a ragged golf course that's going to fail in three years," Bonine predicted.
Huber disagreed. He thinks the golf course will turn a modest profit, as it has for much of the past decade. Between 1995 and 2005, the course ended only one year with a slight loss. In all other years, it was in the black. Its best year was 2001, with $253,689 in revenue and $167,410 in expenses, for a net operating profit of $86,279.
If the course fails to generate enough revenue, the mayor noted, the city could sell the land for a profit, citing its appraised value of $3.2 million.
"I'm pleasantly surprised, to be honest with you," Huber said of the referendum's passage. "It's tough when you ask people to raise their taxes; it's tough to get an affirmative vote."
To pay for the course, property taxpayers will foot an extra $50 a year on average for the next 15 years.
Huber said the close vote and the campaign's intensity vindicated the City Council's decision to put the issue to voters, rather than making the decision among the five elected officials.
"A lot of people had an opinion," Huber said. "There were strong opinions, and people felt pretty passionately about it on both sides."
Huber thinks the course will have continuing popularity because it fills an affordable niche for young and inexperienced golfers.
Sally Lorberbaum, who with Robin Ehrlich co-chaired the Save the Par 3 Committee, believes the land's future as a golf course "is reasonably certain."
To celebrate, Huber, city officials and referendum supporters plan to tee off at the course at 11 a.m. Saturday. Lorberbaum, who has played miniature golf before, said she might even take up lessons.
Brian Bonner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-228-2173.
"I'm pleasantly surprised, to be honest with you. It's tough when you ask people to raise their taxes; it's tough to get an affirmative vote. People felt pretty passionately about it on both sides."
John Huber, mayor of Mendota Heights, on the decision to keep the par 3 course