Anoka is considering an expensive overhaul of its Green Haven Golf Course that would include a year-round driving range, winter disc golf, reconfigured fairways and moving a city road to revitalize the 85-year-old city-owned facility and the surrounding neighborhood.
Also part of the plan: new homes to ring the links.
"This is a big ticket," Mayor Phil Rice said during special City Council work session Monday devoted to solely to the project. "It's a huge investment."
Initial estimates put the cost for improving the golf course at $6.9 million, a price tag that would rise to as much as $11 million if everything included in current concepts is carried out.
Some City Council members raised concerns about financing the work and how that would affect other city operations.
The most recent iteration of the plan calls for a new double-ended driving range with heated bays that would allow duffers to hit golf balls nearly year-round. The new amenity could attract between 50 and 150 people per day and bring in revenue starting at $150,000 per year, according to a city memo.
Plans also call for redesigning some fairways and adding activities such as pub curling, lawn bowling, winter disc golf and other events to increase attendance and revenue. The city has already acquired a commercial property on Garfield Road and is negotiating to buy another. If successful, the city could realign Garfield so it no longer would bisect the golf course on the north side.
About 10 years ago, the city adopted the Greens of Anoka Redevelopment Plan, which encouraged a long-term commitment to Green Haven and to improve aesthetics and enhance play on the course. Discussion about Green Haven resumed because major reconstruction of nearby Hwy. 10 is set to start this summer, which could make it more difficult for patrons to get to the course and result in fewer rounds played. It also coincides with development in Anoka's Highland Park neighborhood, which includes a new senior housing cooperative.
With all the upheaval coming to the area, Council Member Jeff Weaver, who is not a golfer, feels it's a good time to redo the course.
"If we are going to do this, let's do it and make Green Haven the best it can be," he said. "I think we should move forward."
Warren Ryan, a spokesman for the Minnesota Golf Association, said the sport has been on the upswing over the past few years, fueled largely by the pandemic. As other activities were canceled or scaled back, many saw golf as a safe outdoor activity and new players picked up the sport, he said.
Municipal-owned golf courses like Green Haven saw 25,394 rounds played in 2018. That number grew to 34,110 in 2020 and 36,738 last year, according to the association's survey of golf participation in the state. In addition, a program that subsidizes rounds for youths has grown from about 4,500 kids playing to 13,000 in the past three years.
Based on those numbers, "if they are going to do it, now is the time to do it," Ryan said.
Rice said the project could make Anoka a better community, but "it has to be thoughtful." He said the Highland Park neighborhood should have nice houses "where people want to live."
But there is also some trepidation that the project could tie up a large chunk of city money and reduce the city's flexibility to take on other projects.
The city could pay for Green Haven upgrades through a combination that could include selling city-owned land, issuing tax abatement bonds and taking a $3 million loan from the city-owned electric utility.
Electric Utility Director Greg Geiger said the prospect of drawing down the electric utility's reserves makes him "nervous." He said he worries that if $3 million is loaned to the golf course, the utility might have not enough cash to pay for sudden repairs should a storm or other emergency knock out a substation. He said the utility is already looking at raising prices for customers to cover operational costs that have increased in recent months.
Council Member Erik Skogquist said he feels it would be a great project for Anoka but doesn't believe it is financially feasible to proceed at this time.