A Utah company wants to build a new medical school on part of Provo’s publicly-owned East Bay Golf Course.
Members of the Provo City Council have met several times with the company, Wasatch Educational, in recent months behind closed doors to discuss the plan, which calls for building the private school over 24 acres covering holes 10, 11 and 12, on the northwest corner of the city course.
Company officials said in a Wednesday statement that the school would help alleviate a severe physician shortage in the state. There are currently just two medical schools in the state — the University of Utah and the recently-opened Rocky Vista University in Ivins, a for-profit osteopathic medical school.
But not everyone is a fan of the idea.
Provo City Councilman Kay Van Buren on Wednesday organized a rally at the golf course against the medical school plan, arguing that the negotiation process with Wasatch Educational should be more transparent. He said more than 150 people showed up, some holding signs that read: “Save East Bay Golf Course.” Opposition to the proposal has also gained traction on social media.
“Why is a small, private, for-profit med school more important than this golf course that we’ve had for almost 100 years?” Van Buren, a golfer, asked in an interview Thursday. A variety of groups — including soccer players and runners — also use portions of the course, he said.
Before Wednesday’s rally Wednesday, Wasatch Educational and Provo Mayor John Curtis released statements about the project, which Curtis called “the least kept secret in town.”
Wasatch Educational is the holding company of the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, a small private medical training facility in Provo. Curtis said the company recently made an offer to build on a portion of the golf course, in an area where commercial development had been proposed about a decade ago, just before the economic downturn.
Curtis, who is also running for Congress, said the project is “still subject to Municipal Council approval,” with public comment sessions set to be held next month.
If the tentative plan to build on holes 10, 11 and 12 goes ahead, Curtis said in the statement, those holes would be reconfigured and moved elsewhere. The city’s parks and recreation department is seeking a professional golf course designer to ready plans for the new layout, he said.
While Wasatch Educational and Curtis said the plan would only affect the three holes, Van Buren said Wasatch’s proposal includes eventually buying other parts of the course and expanding its footprint in future years.
“It makes me really upset,” Van Buren said, adding that city residents should have been made aware of Wasatch’s plans weeks ago.
Curtis countered that the school proposal balances the interests of Provo’s golfing community and with the city’s wider economic interests.
“Our golfing community will be able to enjoy an improved layout and design,” his statement said. “The medical school and the health education facility bring jobs, capital investment, increased property and sales tax and educational opportunities.”
Wasatch Educational said the new school would employ 1,588, and could be a “magnet” for other medicine-related companies to move to Provo. More details on the school, including a name, will be released in the next few weeks, company spokesman Cory Maloy said.
Negotiating with city officials in a closed executive session about buying the property was a common approach, said Maloy, who also sought to assuage other worries about the project.
“It’s understandable people would be concerned about [the golf course],” he said, “but that’s all been planned for.”