Brookings City Council is lukewarm about a proposal submitted by the city’s golf course managers to build an event center at Salmon Run to boost revenue, but isn’t ready to shelve the idea just yet.
While they’re definitely not ready to spend an entire year of tourism tax money to build a structure, the council indicated in a workshop Monday afternoon they are amenable to the idea of spreading out the cost over several years.
Discussion included the numerous challenges from years past.
The council acknowledged that managers Val and Gary Early of EMT Management pumped a lot of time and money into long-overdue work in 2016, the first of their three-year contract with the city. That winter, too, was also an exceptionally wet one, further deterring people from teeing up, according to the Earlys.
Last year, the salmon season never opened, and then the Chetco Bar Fire and its thick smoke kept even more tourists away. Numerous events and weddings were canceled, both at the golf course and in town, due to the fire, which burned 191,125 acres in the backcountry.
To boost revenue at the course, the Earlys have proposed erecting a 7,200-square-foot permanent structure on the site of the tent usually used for events. The tent has been pummeled by weather, and events sometimes get interrupted by noisy storms, according to the Earlys. The additional space, too, could attract more — and larger — events, they said.
EMT Management suggested the city consider using one year’s worth of tourism marketing dollars — about $57,000 — to build a permanent structure.
The city gets that money from a lodging tax, of which 25 percent must be spent on marketing. The remainder goes into the general fund.
The city’s Tourism Promotion Advisory Committee (TPAC) makes recommendations to the city council on how to spend the money, which they have spent on tourism advertising, promotion and off-season upstart events they believe have become crucial to building Brookings’ reputation as a must-visit destination.
Another option could involve pursuing grant money from Travel Oregon.
All agreed, however, putting that advertising and promotion on hold for a year would probably not be the best financial decision, and funding any structure could be staggered over a few years using reserve funds and paying it back with lodging tax revenue.
The city had a golf consultant evaluate the course and potential revenue sources in 2012. At the time, golf courses were beginning to expand their offerings as the sport was declining in numbers.
Various city council members — past and present — have grumbled that they are tired of continually funding a public amenity that can’t make ends meet.
“I’ve really become gun-shy with the golf course,” said Councilor Bill Hamilton. “It’s seems to be money, money, money, money, money. It’s bleeding, hemorrhaging. We keep pouring money, money, money into it and it doesn’t register.”
Mayor Jake Pieper noted subsidizing golf courses is not uncommon, and the facility draws people here who might not otherwise visit and spend money in town.
“The idea that it’s hemorrhaging money; I get it,” Pieper said. “It does cost a lot of money. If you looked at it if it’s supposed to make money, I don’t think it’s a fair comparison.”
“We’ve put hundreds of thousands into the baseball fields, hundreds of thousands into the swimming pool — for three months,” he said. “We throw money at parks left and right. The only reason the golf course is open now is because the Earlys are crazy enough to put time and energy into it. They know the tourism business. I don’t know who else would do that.”
The golf course has had its share of major repairs and improvements made over the years. This year, it needed $50,000 from the city’s capital reserve fund for work, including three water main breaks. It has also needed upgrades to drainage, bridges, irrigation systems and cart paths, the irrigation and potable water systems, clubhouse and landscaping.
City Manager Gary Milliman noted that an event center could help with two problems: flat to declining revenue at the golf course and the lack of a large facility for numerous activities.
Others, however, noted the golf course is 3.5 miles from downtown — a plus for some and a detractant for others.
The narrow road there is poorly lighted and signed, and the distance could prove prohibitive for a group who might need to retrieve something they forgot in town. Tourists, too, might not be as inclined to attend nighttime events.
“I don’t know if this is the fix for the golf course, but it might be the beginning of a fix for the golf course,” said Councilor Ron Hedenskog. “I think it’s the right direction. This is the beginning, and it needs to go further.”