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Funding dilemma clouds Mick Riley Golf Course's future

Published June 19, 2013 6:19 pm

Contract • Closure is possible as Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County try to negotiate a new long-term lease.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mick Riley Golf Course's days may be numbered.

That's a worst-case scenario, but not out of the realm of possibility. The cushy contract Salt Lake County had to operate the course for the past 50 years has expired, and the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, the main owner, feels it cannot legally continue the sweetheart deal.

But the new lease rate being offered by city Public Utilities Director Jeff Niermeyer — $60,000 a year, up from $1,000 annually since the early 1960s — could put Mick Riley into the red financially, and the county might have no choice but to shut down the Murray course popular with junior and senior golfers alike.

Nobody wants that, so Niermeyer and the county have negotiated a five-year interim contract, starting at $21,500 a year and rising annually in $5,000 increments to $41,500, that buys time to find a long-term solution.

"I have no desire to close the golf course," said Niermeyer. But as overseer of the Salt Lake City Water Enterprise Fund, which finances water delivery to nearly 200,000 city residents, he feels obligated to secure a reasonable return on outside use of city lands. In this case, that's 102 of the 120 acres that make up Mick Riley.

But as Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams told the County Council on Tuesday, "at $60,000-a-year we'll probably have to close the course" unless another option emerges, such as Salt Lake City or Murray picking up the tab and adding Mick Riley to their golf programs.

Added his community services director, Erin Litvack, who helped draft the interim agreement: "The five-year lease gives us time to negotiate a long-term solution. It gives us time to prepare the community for a possible closure. It's been a jewel in the community for 50 years."

She noted that Mick Riley is a hub of the state's Junior Golf program and also is popular with seniors.

When the original 50-year contract expired, Niermeyer said an appraisal of the course property determined its fair market value was $9.3 million. That appraisal represented the "highest and best use" of the land, which Niermeyer acknowledged "is probably not a golf course" but some sort of residential/commercial mix.

"City ordinance says we have to look at fair market value when we allow others to use the city's land," he added. With a fair market value of $9.3 million, he could have charged $600,000 to lease the property. The offer was discounted to one-tenth of that, Niermeyer said, in recognition of the county's significant role in maintaining the main 9-hole course and its accompanying par 3.

Virginia La Plante, who has a county lease to operate The Fairways Cafe at Mick Riley, was disheartened Wednesday to learn of the course's financial dilemma.

"It would be a great disruption to my life if they closed it," she said, embellishing on her love for Mick Riley. "It's a beautiful spot to be. The view of Mount Olympus is fabulous, the pro staff is great to work with and we have a constant influx of regulars who support me as owner of the cafe. Of course, I've created a great spot for them to be."

County Councilman Randy Horiuchi suggested the county must have some land in the canyons that it could trade for the golf course, better enabling Niermeyer to protect the city's mountain watershed.

"Those are some of the opportunities we hope might work out," Niermeyer responded.

Final details of the five-year contract are still being resolved, both sides said.

mikeg@sltrib.com

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Mick Riley Golf Course

The 9-hole course and a Par 3 executive course occupy 120 acres of ground and wetlands between Vine Street and 900 East.

While located in Murray on land primarily owned by Salt Lake City, the course is operated by Salt Lake County.

Named in honor of Joseph Michael (Mick) Riley, the first golf pro at Nibley Park in 1922 and the designer, builder and manager of Meadowbrook Golf Course from 1950 until his death in 1964.