SOUTH JORDAN — The future of a popular south Salt Lake Valley family recreation spot is at the center of a debate over the preservation of a local landmark versus a city’s more bottom line approach to governance.
At issue is the potential development of the property now occupied by Mulligans Golf and Games, 692 W. South Jordan Parkway. The facility has two nine-hole golf courses, a practice range including two putting greens, as well as miniature golf and batting cages. For more than 20 years, it has been a popular destination for area residents, including kids and adults.
For the past few years, however, the city has been considering the idea of a mixed-use development that would include recreation, open space, dining and entertainment. But some residents have balked at the notion, saying the facility is a valuable local recreational resource and should be maintained. Many have also complained that residents have been left out of the determination process.
“They have not included the public in anything,” South Jordan resident Julie Holbrook with the organization Save Mulligans said Tuesday. “Granted, they don’t know exactly what they’re going to do, but if they are going to develop it, (wouldn’t) it be better to have the stakeholders there and say, 'This is what we’re thinking and this is why.'"
The city claims the facility is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, money that taxpayers are subsidizing. But Holbrook said there is evidence to the contrary and believes the South Jordan City Council wants to sell the property to fill city coffers.
“The real intent is the underlying value of the property,” she said. “They want to sell it for a one-time infusion of cash to the city.”
She conceded that if sold at market value, the property could be worth millions. In 2004, South Jordan purchased Mulligans from a private owner for about $12.5 million. Since then, civic leadership has changed and so has the City Council’s attitude toward operating the facility.
Last month, Mayor David Alvord announced that the city had begun discussions with the Hale Centre Theatre for a possible expansion to the 67-acre parcel that Mulligans now sits on. During the past decade, city officials have looked at whether continued use of the golf course would be the best use for the property or a mixed-use development with commercial office space, entertainment like the theater, along with some open space and other amenities.
Alvord said he expected Mulligans to remain open through the 2014 season but added that it will require further investment if the facility is to continue operating beyond this year.
Councilman Mark Seethaler said the facility has lost about $220,000 each year over the last five years. He noted that while many may consider Mulligans a city park, it operates much more like a business in that patrons are required to pay to use it, therefore is categorized differently than a typical public access amenity.
In evaluating the Mulligans property, the objective has been to determine whether there was a business case for continuing to operate it under that paradigm, he said. In order to make that evaluation and to determine the actual cash flow cost of running Mulligans, the city’s comprehensive annual financial statements were converted to a modified accounting method, explained Seethaler, a certified public accountant by trade.
If the facility were a public park, the accounting method used would be different, he added. The modified method is one used for quasi-public entities that run like businesses rather than an a facility like an open access park.
The report showed that Mulligans was operating at a deficit, which prompted the council to consider ways to mitigate the red ink.
Eighteen months ago, a planning firm began a study on future use of the space. The report suggested creating a "transit oriented community," an area that is close to public transportation and includes a mixture of retail space and high density residential units. But City Councilman Chuck Newton said that idea was flatly rejected.
“No way, we’re not going there. It’s not what we want to do,” he said. “We like the open space there. We would consider doing something with it other than the golf course, but we have to take a (long-term) look at (the possibilities).”
Alvord said the best scenario would likely be the Hale theater expansion along with other amenities, but negotiations are still ongoing. He said being able to develop a multiple-use project that families could enjoy with various entertainment and activity options would be ideal.
South Jordan is competing with Sandy for the Hale Center Theatre. Newton said it might take months before Hale owners decide where the new location will be.
Until then, Seethaler said the city will work to do a better job of informing residents of its intentions for the Mulligans site. Eventually, he would like to see a place where people come to enjoy a variety of leisure options that would generate enough revenue to sustain itself, thereby benefiting all South Jordan residents.
“My vision (would be) a gathering place with proper amenities and commercial development that would pay for the (city’s financial obligation) of a park, recreation activities like perhaps an outdoor amphitheater or pavilion mixed with a limited number of office buildings, some restaurants, probably the batting cages and maybe even the driving range, (along with the theater),” he said. “So we take that property that is now mostly a golf course that we’re paying dearly for and turn it into something that would be a real gathering place for the city.”