The city’s failure to disclose that it is getting appraisals on two of its golf courses with an eye on possibly selling them is the kind of activity that leads people to be suspicious of government, a Tulsa city councilor said Tuesday.
“For the citizens and the people we’re talking with, this type of stuff that is found out later on is one of the reasons why people don’t trust government (with) being forthright with information,” said Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper.
The Tulsa World reported Tuesday that the city of Tulsa has hired a private firm to appraise the Olde Page and Stone Creek courses at Page Belcher Golf Course, 6666 S Union Ave. Tulsa Parks and Recreation Director Anna America said the city’s ideal scenario would be to sell the properties to an entity that would keep them as public courses and would have the financial wherewithal to improve them.
America stressed that the properties would not be sold for a commercial development, such as housing. She did acknowledge, however, that one proposal presented to the city called for developing the golf course property south of 71st Street to fund improvements to the golf course property north of 71st Street.
Hall-Harper, whose district includes the city-owned Mohawk Park golf courses, noted that city officials made no mention of the appraisals when they held a public meeting on the future of the city’s golf courses in early August. Nor has it been brought to city’s councilors’ attention since, she said.
“I don’t know what the hell is going on with that,” she said. “We were having conversations about how we move forward to address the problem with the golf courses and saving the golf courses, so it is a bit of a surprise — a total surprise — that they requested, or are requesting, appraisals.”
Councilor Jeannie Cue, whose district includes the Page Belcher courses, said she, also, had been unaware of the appraisals.
“This has not been discussed at all, that they need an appraisal or were even thinking about an appraisal,” she said. “We were trying to work to just make our golf courses better.”
Cue said she would not support selling the golf courses.
“I support the people that golf,” she said. “Everyone can’t belong to a country club. … We (the city) need to look at finding money.”
Hall-Harper said the city’s decision to have appraisals done on the golf courses indicates that there is “at least a consideration or thought” of selling the property.
“And that is not what we have been talking about or even discussing,” she said.
City officials initially declined to comment or provide details on the appraisals. Wednesday afternoon, however, Mayor G.T. Bynum said he understood why councilors would be upset to learn of the appraisals in the news.
“I never liked being surprised by news stories when I was on the (City) Council,” Bynum said. “That’s on us for not realizing that a routine data collection process could lead to a surprise for the council.
“But that’s what this is: a way for us to make informed decisions with my colleagues on the council about how we create the best golfing experience possible at our courses. We can’t make informed decisions without collecting relevant information.”
The city has four 18-hole courses — Olde Page and Stone Creek at Page Belcher and two at Mohawk Park Golf Course, 5223 E. 41st St. North.
Billy Casper Golf has operated the city’s golf courses since 2008. In fiscal year 2019, which ended in June, 95,601 rounds were played on the four courses, generating revenues of $2,387,452, according to Billy Casper Golf. During that same time, the city subsidized the courses to the tune of $98,871, while the golf courses generated $87,142 in sales tax revenue, according to the company.
America, Cue and Hall-Harper were among the city officials who met with golfers at Olde Page in early August to discuss the future of the city’s golf courses. They made no promise of additional funding but did encourage golfers to consider creating a private golfing committee to help raise money for the courses.
Councilor Cass Fahler said many of his constituents play on the Olde Page and Stone Creek courses and that he, also, was unaware of the appraisals.
After doing some research on the matter, he’s come to understand why the city wants to know what the courses are worth, Fahler said.
“I presume that they are not intending to sell,” Fahler said. “I think someone had put that in writing, and I don’t see that.
“But I do know that this gives us a good ability to really find out what we are working with and can transition these into possibly a public/private partnership.”