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City okays $1 million for golf course expansion

Posted 6/14/16 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Like the mythological bird, the Phoenix, which continually rose from the ashes after its death, a proposed expansion of the Fox Hills Golf Course to an 18-hole course has risen from the ashes.
Just one month ago, during the May 10 meeting of the Watford City City Council, the golf course board was told that the city didn’t have any extra money in its City Infrastructure Fund to allow for the project to move forward.
But that all changed on Monday, June 6, when the city council reversed its earlier decision and agreed to provide $1 million from the City Infrastructure Fund over the next two years toward the $4.5 million project after the golf course board and a newly-formed non-profit, the Watford City Community Builders (WCCB), stepped up to cover the additional costs.
According to David Johnson, golf board vice president and member of the non-profit group, the WCCB will be taking out a $1.5 million loan, as well as an additional $2 million loan to purchase the 38 acres of land that the city owns next to the golf course.
“The golf course board is pledging revenues from the course’s operations toward paying back the $1 million loan,” states Johnson. “And we hope to sell the land next to the golf course to private developers for new homes.”
According to Johnson, the city’s funding, as well as the loan and the sale of the land will provide the $4.5 million that the golf course needs to begin construction of the first phase of the 18-hole expansion project.
“I think that the golf course board has taken all of the risk from the city,” stated Johnson. “We don’t want to burden our members with higher dues any more than we have.”
While Johnson noted that annual individual and family membership fees would go up to help pay for the new course, he believed that increased play on the new course would help generate more income for the golf course.
But even with Johnson’s assurances that the golf course and the WCCB would be able to handle the project, Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor, was concerned that the city had the $1 million for the project.
“The question is can we find the $1 million and if we should do this,” stated Sanford. “Is it the prudent thing to do? We know the plan was never for the city to put in $1 million in city cash. That’s the issue.”
While the city council members had mixed feelings on whether or not there was enough funds in the City Improvement Fund for the project, Steve Stenehjem, who has already done considerable mass grading for the golf course expansion project and is one of the residential developers, told council members that their $1 million investment would come back to the city in the way of increased property taxes.
“If the golf course gets built, nice, big homes are going to be built around it,” stated Stenehjem. “For a million dollar investment, you are going to have a multi-million dollar development that is going to be an asset, not a liability. Developers have made millions of dollars of investment to move dirt and to create a city asset.”
Justin Voll, city council, agreed with Stenehjem that the new homes that would be built along the course would generate revenue for the city.
“If the area is built-out, there is a big potential tax source for the city,” stated Voll, as he made the motion to provide the $ 1million funding. “And there is money in the City Improvement Fund to cover the $1 million.”
Under an earlier motion by Councilman Phil Riely, the council approved selling the city’s 38 acres of land next to the golf course to the Watford City Community Builders. As part of the stipulations to the sale, the city noted that the land needs to be surveyed, and that the city required that it have access to the site. Additionally, the city will place restrictions on the land so that no homes can be built on the existing golf course until the expansion project is completed.
With funding finally in place, Johnson states that construction on Phase 1 will begin in mid-July with the work to be completed by the end of 2017.
“At the end of 2107, we will have the original nine hole course, as well as the new 12 holes,” stated Johnson. “The plan is to then close the old course and reconfigure it to six holes, build a new practice facility and move the maintenance facility as part of the Phase 2 construction.”
According to Johnson, Phase 2 of the project is expected to begin in 2018 if the golf course board can raise the needed $3.5 million.
“We’re going to have to raise the money for Phase 2 through private donations,” stated Johnson.
While Johnson acknowledges that some people may argue that this is the wrong time to be expanding the golf course, he believes that with the growth in the city’s population that the time is right.
“We’ve been planning the expansion of the course for the last eight years,” stated Johnson. “This is a quality of life project that will make Watford City more attractive to people moving here.”