City might take a swing at Walter E. Hall Golf Course

EVERETT — As the city explores ways to address some significant budget concerns, one option involves a dramatic revision of Walter E. Hall Golf Course.

Under one scenario, portions of the 18-hole, approximately 130-acre golf course would be sold to help pay off debt of $7.3 million dating to the 1998 reconstruction of Legion Memorial Golf Course, Everett’s other public course.

The remaining Walter E. Hall property, about 100 acres, would be reconfigured into a shorter course.

The deliberation and decision process still has a long way to go and is only one aspect of a major assessment of the city’s revenues and expenses, Everett parks director Paul Kafstanski said.

If the plan goes forward, it likely would allow the city “to substantially pay off the debt, if not all of it, and have money left to reconfigure Walter (Hall),” Kafstanski said. The issue of the debt, he added, “is important and a significant driving factor.”

The city is discussing the golf course as part of an effort to bring revenue and expenses back in sync. Without action, the city’s operating budget could exceed revenue by $13 million next year.

Other potential solutions include raising utility taxes and bus fares, or forming a new taxing district to pay for parks. Cuts might include reducing the number of Jetty Island ferry runs during the summer, and closing the Forest Park swim center and petting zoo.

The Walter E. Hall Golf Course proposal is likely to rile the Snohomish County golfing community, who have made Walter E. Hall one of the most popular public courses in Western Washington, based on rounds played per year.

According to Kafstanski, Walter E. Hall generally logs 55,000 to 60,000 rounds per year, as does Legion Memorial. Last year there were 56,196 rounds played at Walter E. Hall. The record is 66,650 in 2009.

But despite the course’s popularity, golf revenue in Everett remains an issue because of lingering debt, which is not expected to be paid off at the current rate until 2040. At the same time, debt payments are cutting into money that could be used for maintaining the course and paying to replace aging facilities and equipment.

“There’s going to come a time when something will need to give,” Kafstanski said. “The ability to continue making principal and interest payments, to reinvest in the course the way we need to and to replace equipment that’s needed to maintain the course, there’s going to be a point where we’d not be able to do all three.”

Selling property at Walter E. Hall and reconfiguring the course “might be a strategy to help us avoid getting to that situation,” he said. Going forward with the proposal “might make it a more financially sustainable operation. And if it does work, in our perspective, it’s better than trying to continue down the same path where we’re trying to eke out money.”

A big question, of course, is whether Walter E. Hall would still generate comparable revenue as a smaller course. Projections are that it would, Kafstanski said.

“We might lose some golfers who don’t want to play on an executive course, but it opens up another market” of golfers that do, he said. “And if in fact we’re able to keep the rounds constant, the maintenance for those rounds goes down because it’s a smaller course.”

If the plan is approved, the new Walter E. Hall likely would include a driving range, which neither of Everett’s public courses has now.

No final decision is imminent, Kafstanski said, and the public will have plenty of opportunity to offer feedback before any decision is made by the Everett City Council.

For now, Kafstanski said, “we’re trying to see, do the economics support doing something like this? And at the end of day, if we’re able to reconfigure Walter into a top-notch executive course, and if we also have a driving range, and if we can reduce the debt, freeing up upwards of $200,000 a year (in debt-reduction payments), that’s a lot of money.”

Herald writer Noah Haglund contributed to this report.

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