Iron Eagle, along the South Platte River
The city’s contract with Landscapes Unlimited to manage the Iron Eagle golf course was extended Tuesday for more than another year, on a 6-1 vote.The original five-year contract was set to expire on July 1, in the middle of the golf season. The extension is for 15 months, expiring on Sept. 30, 2018.
This is an update from an advance report written before the council met. - Editor.
City Manager Jim Hawks said the proposed extension came from a golf advisory committee comprised primarily of golfers, with the city council represented by councilman Glenn Peterson. The new contract will expire at the end of the 2018 golf season, which would “be a better time to wind down,” Hawks said.
Iron Eagle has been controversial since it opened. It was intended to be funded by revenues from members, tournaments, pro-shop items and so forth, but the losses quickly mounted and the financial burden was shifted to the taxpayers.
Critics hoped to see significant changes in the operation of the taxpayer-funded golf course, which they say has lost the equivalent of $500,000 annually since it opened 20 years ago. A petition drive was launched in 2015 to get the city out of the golf business, signed by several prominent residents, but to no avail.
At that time, Hawks noted the city was bound by two contracts, if not a third, so it was a bad time to quit the golf business.
However this year, the management contract was set to expire. And, the bond that financed construction of the course will be paid in full by year’s end. That gives the city more freedom to make changes – possibly taking over management, or reducing the size of the course to make it less flood-prone, or selling it, or perhaps closing it altogether.
No one spoke about the contract extension at the council meeting, although there was a prolonged silence as Mayor Dwight Livingston waited to see if someone would. When the vote was cast, Councilman Brook Baker was the only no.
After the meeting, Baker noted that the city pays Landscapes around $60,000 a year.
"When is enough, enough?" he asked.
The existing contract was tweaked a little. Landscapes will release their North Platte employees from future obligations if the contract is terminated next year. That means the city could hire the employees. Under the current contract, the city could not hire the employees for a year after the contract ends.
The course flanks the South Platte River. Some holes, fairways and tee boxes are virtually on the edge of the bank. Floods have curtailed play and required repairs – big reasons why Landscapes has not fulfilled its intention to make the course profitable, which it said it could do when it took over management five years ago.
The extensive flood in 2015 killed nearly half the grass on the 18-hole course and made several holes unplayable. When it finally subsided, half the council voted against authorizing money for repairs. And, that September, Councilman Jim Carman voted against the entire city budget, citing constituent complaints about Iron Eagle, but no one else on the council followed suit.
The course was gradually repaired and grass replanted, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency picking up some of the costs. Then in 2016, a less severe flood again took some holes out of commission for a few weeks and killed grass in low lying areas.
After the meeting Tuesday, Landscapes Regional Manager Chris Jacobson was happy with the extension, which essentially gives the company two more golf seasons to earn income for the city, if weather allows.
"This is great for staff morale, and our members," Jacobson said.
The course is 100% repaired, "in good shape and greening up with the warmer weather," he said.
Currently, the city pays Landscapes $5,000 a month for the management, plus nearly $240 a month in cost-of-living increases that were part of the original contract. Now, the payment will revert to a straight $5,000 a month through September 2018, with no COLA adjustments unless the contract is extended beyond that date.
However, the extended contract will automatically renew for another year on Oct. 1, 2018, unless the council gives 90 days advance notice. Hawks said that is a carryover provision from the existing contract.
Baker said the advance notice requirement bothers him. He said Landscapes should come before the council and give advance evidence as to why the contract should be renewed, instead of requiring the city to give Landscapes reasons for terminating the contract in advance.