Mid/Late-Week Thoughts: Golfing

25 years later, Simpsons fans can now play 'Lee Carvallo's Putting  Challenge' | Golf Channel

An interesting tweet popped up on Aug 26th.

My response to this tweet led to a whole discussion on twitter (which is awful for debating and I don’t know why I do it) on whether or not Windsor should do this with it’s own golf courses. Although it was never clearly stated to me anyways why it would be unwise to sell the City’s golf course it is ultimately a values call that this community would never make due to the political ramifications.

The fact that world ranked courses in Canada are selling for hundreds of millions of dollars shows that land for the right price to a seller can be worth it. So what is the counterfactual on the value of these golf courses?

Existing Costs

As the golf courses are entities of the City of Windsor but Roseland does have a separate Board. Although profitable in 2015 according to media; 2016 and 2017 years both saw deficits totaling $347,000. I couldn’t find the 2018 audit/financial statement and there was no reporting on it’s operating surplus/deficit and 2019 has likely been delayed by COVID (2017 report appeared before council in June that year). Given COVID closing facilities for part of the Spring, and the club/reception/restaurant facilities would have also impacted/closed (patio only?) I would be shocked if 2020 is a profitable year.

The 2017 Audit of Roseland Golf Course also found some worrying issues: No strategic plan, policy manual hadn’t been updated since 2008, and lack of documentation on the service agreement between the City and Roseland to name the major issues . I could not find an updated report stating that these had be rectified on the City website and the 2020 capital budget mentions the lack of a strategic plan. There has also been issues with golf carts needing to be replaced in 2019 and the loss of Phil Roberts as General Manager to head parks in Amerherstburg.

Speaking of the General Manager role, the 2020 Operational budget saw this position eliminated from the Parks Department management structure. So I’m not sure who is running Roseland now or out of what budget the funding comes from. In 2020 Capital budget Little River and Roseland golf courses are due $728,000 in “Improvements” between now and 2027. These cover building, grounds and course infrastructure and past 2028, $3,729,000 is held for future capital investment.

Costing out the Golf Courses

One of the challenges is that golf course aren’t nice square areas and frankly not all of it, even if sold, would turn into neighbourhoods or subdivisions. Using the Brantford example in the initial tweet, of the approximate 49 acres, 17 acres was retained as parkland or greenspace by the city. In the case the case of Roseland, the curling club could be retained and transformed into a community centre with parkland around it.

There are of course historic consideration that outlined on the Roseland website around the design of the course that are also “important” if protecting a heritage golf course design is important to you. Based on some crude measurements, Roseland is approximately 800m X 600m in dimension if you square off the approximate shape which equates to 480,000 m2 or about 118 acres. This would leave a green spaces buffer around the whole course. Little River golf course is smaller, approximately 750m X 250m or about 46 acres running only as far south to Essex Way leaving some land still available along Little River. The challenge with the Little River course is that if unless you wanted to bury the river in a culvert the land usages near the waterway may be a challenge leaving you with less workable land or more permanent green space.

Talking to a couple of people in real estate, greenfield lots in the City are currently selling for between $100,000-$120,000 per empty lot. South and East Windsor would likely sell a bit higher than the averages in my opinion so looking on Relator vacant lots in South Windsor are selling closer to the $130,000-$150,000 range for 50 foot lots. Using $130,000 as a baseline and the Brantford framework, Little River would fetch approximately $4.03 million for 31 acres, while Roseland would be $10.14 million for 78 acres of land. Given that Brantford received $14 million for 37 acres the value for Windsor likely isn’t there.

Given that a typical acre can fit almost 5 lots on it, if the land was subdivided as a part of the rezoning/sale would exponentially drive up the value. Roseland under these crude assumptions could worth almost $50 million with over 350 lots created while still leaving 30+acres of green space to placate the South Windsor masses. Little River could generate almost $24 million with land remaining for green space.

The eventual development on this land would also pay developments charges which both areas would be paying over $30,000 per unit for single detached homes. Overall, the Development Charges could also bring in over $16.5 million plus additional zoning and building fees. Obviously, some sort of multi-residential could be apart of this development plan but given past attempts to add density have run into resistance from existing residences would a developer want to undertake that challenge in those neighbourhoods?

What is interesting about the development charges are the changes that are occurring at the Provincial level. The province under Bill 197 did just change what can be paid for by these development charges creating additional flexibility with new Community Benefit charges. These charges can not only fund infrastructure but can also be applied to help build affordable housing, LTC and community centres if a community strategy and justification is in place. I believe the City has until 2021 to updates its provisions.

Is Golf Sacred

All in, if we are looking at almost $100 million in value that could be put towards covering the costs of development and a long list of priorities that the City can’t “afford”. Why aren’t we talking about it? I full accept that my math could be wrong or I have a flawed assumption but the City has attempted or actually closed community centres, pools, arenas, and parks in other parts of the city based on the the argument of saving funds and consolidating services. I don’t recall a conversation about golf courses being apart of that discussion.

The closure of the courses would free almost $4 millions in pending capital funds to fix flooded basements or other priorities plus any risk of deficits being passed on to the City from a poor year would be eliminated. It is true there maybe for forgone revenues as well, but these are not revenue generators for the City, unlike the tunnel or airport.

Obviously are are other considerations like flood mitigation as these golf courses play roles in the City’s climate adaption plan by retaining storm water and being heat sinks through tree coverage. Paving over large sections of these green-spaces would have impacts, even if it brought density to an inner suburban ring of the City.

Why not? Politics, plain and simple. The dynamics to close a the College Ave. Community Centre in Ward 2 or an outdoor pool in Ward 6 are very different then this part of the City. Ward 1 is home to some of the highest turn out and affluent communities in Windsor while Ward 7/8 are also home to their own unique constituencies that are some of the fastest growing.

The politics of closing these courses are likely untenable unless the offer is one that can’t be refused and is politically salable. Anyone running or thinking of running for Mayor would likely be sacrificing these wards by backing these closures creating an almost impossible path to election by having to run the table in the rest of the of the City by large margins. In other words, it is an example of the City not actually putting all options on the table when they say the cupboard is bare.

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