Explaining My Vote on the Resort at Chambers Bay

Explaining My Vote on the Resort at Chambers Bay

My vote today is difficult because we’re given a choice between a flawed proposal presented by the Executive and continuing to lose money on a luxury golf course accessible to few Pierce County residents. Even the other respondent to our request for proposals (RFP) seems to have walked away from future dealings with Pierce County.

It didn’t need to be this way. Had the Council been involved in negotiations the whole way, just as every other local government in the region does in the ordinary course of business, we could have worked out our concerns during that process. Instead, they decided to give away our negotiating position making it nearly impossible to fix the problems in this proposal.

That’s why in the next month I’ll be introducing a bill to ensure that the executive branch of county government work with the Council, on behalf of the public, in all contract and agreement negotiations as the Charter intended.

In the course of the debate of this ground lease, it’s clear we’ve managed to create a lot of confusion. Hopefully, this helps a little.

A Decade in the Making

Early concept for Chambers Bay Golf Course and Resort in the original 2007 Master Site Plan

If you hadn’t been paying close attention over the last 10+ years, you might think this resort is something cooked up by the current Executive and Council. In truth, this has been a part of the development of Chambers Bay Golf Course since the beginning.

The purpose of building a luxury golf course was to attract people from outside Pierce County with the resources to spend top dollar for that experience.

The resort was necessary to ensure enough people were there to play the course, and to generate additional revenue to pay off the bonds. In fact, this was pitched to the Council at the time as a way to speed up development of the park portion of the property.

Unfortunately, the Great Recession hit and made the market for developments of this sort go away for a while. Even now, when the request for proposals (RFP) was put out, there were only two respondents.

I can’t imagine that I would have supported the construction of this sort of course back in the day. Using public property for such exclusive use is improper to me. But if we’re going to make benefit of that decision, we’re faced with a difficult financial situation that we need to fix.

You can see the bottom line for the current financial problems here.

Interference with the Park

The issue that has understandably upset a lot of folks is how this resort development will impact the park. While one trail segment through the site needs to be relocated, the project is located on the unused slope just beneath this existing. In fact, the updated Chambers Bay Master Plan actually reduced the amount of the site available for development.

Everyone desires to ensure that the whole property remains intact for the enjoyment of the public forever. But it’s also true that this site was designed to be a source of economic development. To date, it has not met that promise and has not been able to pay for its operations and debt service owed to the sewer utility.

That actually creates a different risk to holding the property together. When the Council approved construction of the golf course, they required that property be sold to prevent subsidy from the general fund. As a result, making sure the golf course & resort are viable is actually the best way to ensure we keep the property together for everyone to enjoy.

To be clear, we intend to protect the portion of the park used by the public and add new features following the Master Site Plan, as proceeds become available. The impacted trail must be replaced. The hotel and villas are limited to an unused hillside that should have limited impact on enjoyment of the park.

9th Tee Box

I’ve heard the golf course described as a jewel, national treasure, and apparently, the 9th tee box is one of the most Instagrammed spots by the pros. Not being a golfer, I’ll have to take their word for it, but it does seem that people love to play it and that hole is particularly iconic. As such, there’s been some concern about the impact construction activity will have on the 9th.

It turns out, the recommendation to make changes to the 9th actually came from County staff and Kemper Sports. Their reasoning is that the hole didn’t quite work right (something to do with the “angle of attack”). Locating the restaurant near that hole lets everyone get a chance to enjoy the most highly prized view while also “fixing” the 9th during the construction disruption.

Right of First Refusal/First Offer

Some in the public understandably expressed concern when they saw that the developer wanted the right of first refusal to purchase the golf course or to make an offer on other portions of the property should the County decided to do so.

I want to make clear, we have no plans nor desire to do so.

This is actually pretty standard language in development contracts. In this case, it’s to protect the developer’s interest if the County loses its mind and decides to sell off the golf course for some other use. The resort’s primary value comes from the golf course. If it were converted to housing development, for example, the resort would be worth little. Likewise, the County is gaining a similar right to the resort in case they want to sell to ensure it remains a resort.

These concerns combined with an earlier iteration of the proposal from Absher/Putnam which showed other phases with additional housing around the site. Those phases were quickly rejected and have never been part of the plan.

We are also deleting language about the right of first offer because it’s unnecessary and just causing concern for the public. While it’s a common practice in private developments, as a public agency, we’re required to have public bids if we surplus property.

All lenders would require the right of first refusal to approve financing for the development.

Conclusion

I’ve heard from hundreds of you about your love of the park at Chambers Bay, the golf course, the trails. I’ve listened to your fears for its future. I share your frustration with some aspects of the agreement.

At the same time, I have a fiduciary duty to respond to the financial problems with the Chambers Bay Golf Course. If we voted no today, it would likely be several more years before another opportunity comes up. Who knows what the economy would look like then?

Supporting this ordinance makes solvency more likely, encourages more tourism, and makes it more likely we’ll secure other major golf events, and that’s why I voted yes.

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