Home On the (Driving) Range
There is a very interesting, yet controversial, proposal to install a lighted, modern driving range in Ruth Park in University City. The Post-Dispatch has a good article on it here. As a U. City resident who has played Ruth Park many times, I am going to try to get to the city council meeting tonight to listen to the debate and see the vote.
There are many good arguments for the driving range: 1) There really is a need in the mid-county area for one; 2) It would absolutely make money for the city; 3) It is just improving an existing driving range one of those small ones where you hit and collect your own balls.
There is really, to my mind, just one argument against it, but it’s a good one: Would you want to live right next door to a lighted driving range operating at night? So, no doubt there is a little bit of NIMBY involved, but I can certainly understand the homeowners’ concerns. (For the record, I don’t live near Ruth Park.) People made this investment in their homes with Ruth Park as a 9-hole course, not a nighttime driving range.
My favorite part of the article though, was about the other objections to the proposal:
Some critics also oppose allowing a privately operated business in the public park and question the financial arrangements. Currently, the golf pro operates a private business and gives a return to University City. Officials are considering making him a municipal employee."
I don’t know whether the opposition to a private business in a public park is a knee-jerk anti-business attitude, or opponents reaching for any argument they can use, but it’s just silly. Businesses operate within parks all the time. We can probably all agree that Forest Park is the crown jewel of parks in our area, right? Let’s count the private businesses there: The Boathouse Restaurant, the 27-hole public golf course now operated by a private business that leases the land from the city, Triple A golf club is a semi-private club that has operated in the park for years, and Steinberg Skating Rink is operated by a private company. There are probably several more. The MUNY is a private business, but it might be non-profit, so I don’t know whether that counts. Anyway, there is nothing wrong with private businesses providing services within public parks and paying governments for the right to operate within those parks.
The current business arrangement with the golf course and U. City is a terrific example of innovative government. Operate the golf course like a business and lease the land from the city sounds good to me. If the money is not there to operate the course without a subsidy, perhaps the potential of making the course fully run as a business, with all the attendent risk and reward, should be considered. Making the golf pro a city employee is a terrible idea with that comes pension requirements, benefits, etc. Not a good deal for U. City taxpayers. I have no idea how the council will vote tonight, and as I said, there are good arguments on both sides. I just hope the vote will be based on actual issues and not false arguments. Knowing the councilmembers as I do, I am confident it will be (based on the real issues).