Group claims South Jordan audit proves Mulligans is profitable

Published: Monday, July 14 2014 5:46 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, July 14 2014 5:46 p.m. MDT

Kids and families play the miniature golf course Monday, July 14, 2014, at Mulligans in South Jordan.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — A group advocating for the preservation of a popular local sports and entertainment venue is questioning city officials' financial reasoning behind a potential redevelopment of the site.

The organization Save Mulligans claims the auditor hired by South Jordan has said that revision of Mulligans' financial numbers are “mischaracterized.”

South Jordan officials claim the city-owned facility is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and more than $7 million over the past decade, money that taxpayers were subsidizing.

However, auditor Richard Bowler said during a South Jordan City Council meeting on July 1 that "to characterize the $7 million as a loss is a mischaracterization."

"In one year, there was a refinancing of the mortgage. For whatever rationale, (city officials) chose to reduce the mortgage balance by more than $4 million. That was not a loss but a use of cash,” he said.

Bowler suggested more analysis on ”this 10-year period."

South Jordan City Councilman Mark Seethaler, who works as a certified public accountant, said in May the facility was losing about $220,000 each year over the past five years.

Seethaler also noted that while many may consider Mulligans a city park, it operates more like a business in that patrons are required to pay to use it and therefore is categorized differently from a typical public access amenity. The modified method is one used for quasi-public entities that run like businesses rather than a facility like an open access park.

But Save Mulligans President Julie Holbrook questioned the city’s assertion that the facility was losing money, as well as its accounting procedures, citing Bowler’s findings.

“Anyone who is familiar with basic accounting principles understands that the city's revised financial statement of Mulligans is inaccurate,” Holbrook said.

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 and two putting greens, as well as miniature golf and batting cages. For more than two decades, it has been a popular destination for area residents of all ages.

In April, Mayor David Alvord announced that city leaders had begun discussions with the Hale Centre Theatre for a possible expansion to the 67-acre parcel that Mulligans now sits on.

South Jordan had been competing with Sandy for the expansion, but Hale Center Theatre's board announced last month that Sandy had been chosen as the site for the new arts facility.

Holbrook said the city should abandon plans to redevelop the Mulligans property, particularly now that the Hale Center project is no longer possible.

“There is no compelling reason to destroy this valuable open space,” she said.

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.

Save Mulligans has strongly advocated continuing its use as primarily a golf facility.

“We urge the city and council to work with the Utah Golf Association, who have offered their expertise and services, to prepare a sound business plan for a greater financial return on Mulligans,” Holbrook said. “With everything that’s here, it should be the most profitable golf course in the whole state.”

In response, Seethaler said the City Council is willing to collaborate with Save Mulligans, along with other stakeholders such as the Utah Golf Association, to develop a viable business plan that would improve and maintain the facility while keeping it profitable and self-sustaining.

“I totally accept the proposal to work with (Save Mulligans) to provide (a plan),” he said. “I will do it in good faith because what residents need, if they are going to make a decision, is a clear choice. Here’s what we’re going to do to really save Mulligans as a (business) and to keep it up with respect to capital improvements so that it continues to be a beautiful facility.”

Email: jlee@deseretnews.com

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