Tuesday, October 12th, 2010
By Janie Southard
Council OKs miniature golf course at K.C. Geiger
  ST. MARYS - City council members approved the construction of a $228,000 miniature golf course in K.C. Geiger Park Monday by a vote of 4-2 before an audience of about 20 guests.
City council members Pat McGowan and Dennis Vossler cast the dissenting votes on the mini golf course to be built by Harris Miniature Golf of Atlantic City, N.J. The plan was researched by safety service manager Tom Hitchcock and city mayor Greg Freewalt, both of whom visited several Harris-built courses. Both stated this company can best build the design desired.
The price quoted represents a $22,000 discount if the project begins this month. The course is scheduled to be ready for golfers next summer.
The project will be fully funded from the city's capital improvement fund, which has a balance of $2.6 million.
There has been opposition to the plan from several residents who attended previous council meetings.
"It's not about for or against, it's a question of due diligence and fiduciary duty," McGowan said before the vote. "It's $228,000 of taxpayers' money. I would not spend my own money without investigating and evaluating the facts. I talked with several local banks and none of them would touch this project."
Hitchcock previously said he surveyed teenagers about the idea of a golf course and it was well received. McGowan said he didn't consider talking to 60 teenagers at the swimming pool or a newspaper poll of sixth-graders an adequate demand study.
"What we should be looking at are engineering specifications, which outline exactly what the thing will look like and we need competitive bids that assure we're getting the best product for the best price," McGowan said.
He cited information from city law director Kraig Noble that "an item or project which costs more than $25,000 must be advertised and put out for public bid."
"That's unless there is only one supply source and I doubt (the Harris company) is the sole source of miniature golf courses," he said.
Hitchcock and Freewalt have said the course could not be put out for bid because the Harris company owned the design.
Councilman Ron Ginter said McGowan should have brought up his concerns during committee meetings. McGowan stated there was no opportunity in committee. "There was no discussion," he said.
Vossler said he doesn't believe the city should get into this type activity.
"I'm one of a body of people and I will support whatever council decides, but the whole thing does not sit well with me," he said.
Resident and Realtor Curt McCullough, who has opposed the project at past meetings, said the course should not be in the park, but near Grand Lake to enhance tourism.
"I think this is inappropriate use of public funds without research (by a professional) of the project. I think your projected cost of operation is unrealistic, and I think there should be competitive bidding," McCullough said, offering to make land available for the project if further research was provided. "I would entertain the idea of donating land if there was professional research."
Resident Pam Hobler, who could not attend the meeting, asked that her written statements and a grassroots poll be distributed to council members.
She posed several questions. What about restroom facilities? Will an upgrade in the concession stand to meet health department approval be done? If interest wanes in a year or two, what will happen to the course? Is there a business plan? When did city government decide to become business owners?
Her poll showed 62 residents against the plan and six wanting more information.
Councilman Jim Harris said he hated to see government getting into private business.
"But I'm not seeing anyone else come forward," he said, adding he has voted with the mayor before and (the projects) have "always come out roses."
Councilman Billy Slemmons asked, who would build the golf course if the city didn't?
"We haven't done a project except the (Lock 13 renovation) and we caught hell for that," he said.
Councilman Mike Kleinhenz said everyone wants something for the park.
"We're not trying to get into the public sector, but this is a public asset. I haven't taken a poll, but people I've talked to like the idea and can see other (activities) springing from this - bocce ball, frisbee," he said.
Freewalt previously said the city isn't viewing the project as a money-making venture. At a cost of $1.50 for children younger than 12 and $2 for everyone else, he hopes to employ seasonal help at the 18-hole course and break even. He has estimated the maintenance cost will be $17,000 a year. The area will be in operation Memorial Day to Labor Day.
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