The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday approved a ballpark lease with the St. Paul Saints but balked at a proposal to lease two public golf courses to private companies.
The council voted to table the golf course proposal for two weeks to get more information from the Parks and Recreation Department on how private management has worked for other public courses, and what a private operator could do to make money that the city can’t.
Under the plan, the city would retain ownership of the Como and Phalen golf courses but lease them to private firms. The city would continue to own and manage the two Highland courses, due to restrictions on the tax-exempt bonds sold in 2005 to fund the renovation of those courses.
City officials said that the four golf courses will lose a total of $1 million this year and predict much the same result for 2014. That prompted City Council Member Dave Thune to wonder how private managers will make money and still keep golf affordable.
City Council President Kathy Lantry, who favors the private model, agreed to the delay but said those who want the city to operate the courses should explain how they would pay for them.
Parks Director Mike Hahm told the council that private management golf course models have worked well in other public jurisdictions, including Ramsey County. He said the city could do it without changing its basic rate structure or surrendering the right to approve future rates.
Thune said that many city recreational services are subsidized and questioned why golf should be treated differently. Hahm responded that the subsidy amount is larger than for other activities.
If the City Council approves the change, the two courses could be privately operated during the 2014 golf season.
Also Wednesday, the council approved without discussion the development and use agreements which spell out the Saints’ revenues and responsibilities for operating the $63 million Lowertown ballpark.
The city will own the ballpark, 82 percent of which will be paid for with money from the state and the city, while the minor league Saints will run the facility year-round and use it for 70 games a season.
The team will pay most of the ballpark’s operating and maintenance costs, estimated at $5 million a year. It also will capture most revenue from naming rights, advertising, broadcast rights and concessions.