May 11 2017 02:53 AM

Council questions budget plan to transfer golf course to LEPFA

Lansing City Council members are wrestling with a budget proposal that would turn over the management of the city’s remaining golf course to a third party.

Council members have expressed concern at budget hearings over the Bernero administration’s proposal to shift the management of the Groesbeck Golf Course to the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority. The goal would be to ultimately reduce the amount of money the parks department spends to keep Groesbeck, the sole surviving golf course owned by Lansing, by making it self-sufficient. The city shut down two others, Red Cedar and Waverly, to save money.

But Council members noted that LEPFA has failed to make its other properties financially independent. Those include the Lansing Center, Cooley Law School Stadium and the Lansing City Market. It also runs Common Ground, which has declined to four nights from seven in 2007.

Together those represent a subsidy from city taxpayers of over $1 million.

The administration wants LEPFA to take it over Jan. 1, in the middle of the fiscal year. LEPFA would receive $286,000 from the city’s parks millage, said Spitzley. That equals approximately half of what the city is currently spending for a full year of operating the course.

“Transferring management of the course to LEPFA is aimed at improving Groesbeck’s bottom line to reduce the subsidy, which would allow the city to redirect those resources to other needs,” Randy Hannan, Mayor Virg Bernero’s chief of staff, said by email.

Spitzley and 2nd Ward Councilman Adam Hussain raised concerns that the Lansing Parks Board had not been consulted about the proposal. That fact was brought to the attention of City Council last week by Jim McClurken, the board’s vice chairman and a candidate for the 4th Ward Council seat.

Veronica Garcia-Wing, who chairs the Parks Board, said she had “concerns” about the proposal and it not being shared with the board. She’s asked the Parks Department staff to provide information about the plan to the board on tonight when it meets.

“As a board member, I’ve got concerns with the millage subsidy as it exists, and that is certainly compounded by this new proposal,” she said. “It’s troublesome to me that a significant portion of the parks millage goes to golf and cemeteries. It’s even more troublesome with the prospect of LEPFA taking control. That doesn’t sit right at all.”

Scott Keith, LEPFA’s president and CEO, presented the Council with a barebones business plan last week. The plan did not address concerns about how long it would take for the city to realize a cost savings. Those questions, Spitzley and other Council members said, remain unanswered.

“I think there are a lot of questions,” she said. “I’m not sold.”

Clouding the issue is LEPFA’s current operational responsibilities, particularly with the Lansing City Market. After taking over management of that facility, it was supposed to become self-sufficient as well. However, taxpayers have continued to subsidize the operations. LEPFA is seeking $80,000 for the market this year despite only having a few vendors in the building.

Keith defended the market’s performance, noting that “it’s time to re-evaluate what people want” from the market. He said farmers markets have proliferated in the region and they “have an impact” on that.

In the past 18 months, he said, the market has found a bit of success with smaller gathering events, like a Cards Against Humanity tournament. “That may be what people want,” he said. “More small events.” The market has also become the host of outdoor events, such as Jazz & Blues on the Grand, a summer concert program.

He defended the city’s subsidies to LEPFA’s current operations and the potential expansion by noting that the region garnered over $60 million in economic activity from the Lansing Center conferences and events.

“So a million dollars in investment for $60 million in return,” he said — “I don’t know about you if you’re in that finance world but I would take that in a heartbeat.”

$80,700 City Market
$723,800 Lansing Center
$399,000 Cooley Stadium
$286,000 Groesbeck Golf Course
$140,000 Common Ground