The rumor mill has gotten a little ahead of the reality of the situation. There is no pending closure. —Art Raymond, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor
SALT LAKE CITY — City and airport officials are working on a plan that will allow Wingpointe Golf Course to continue to operate despite federal concerns about the course's rent-free agreement with Salt Lake City International Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration balked at the deal following a recent audit, saying the airport should be getting fair-market value as landlord for the property. The FAA's objection spawned a series of rumors about the golf course, including some that had the course closing as soon as next month.
"The rumor mill has gotten a little ahead of the reality of the situation," said Art Raymond, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "There is no pending closure."
But there is concern about Wingpointe's future.
Becker, already in Washington, D.C., this week for a Center for State and Local Government Excellence board meeting, met Tuesday with FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation officials, as well as members of Utah's congressional delegation and Maureen Riley, Salt Lake City's director of airports.
Raymond said the mayor left that meeting today "feeling confident" that a plan can be developed that will address the FAA's concerns and allow the golf course to continue to operate on airport property.
"There was a shared sentiment that we could figure this out," he said.
FAA regulations have changed since the last time the airport was audited, which Raymond said was more than 20 years ago. Today, it requires that airport-owned property being used for non-aeronautical purposes be compensated at fair-market value.
When auditors came across the no-cost lease of airport property for the Wingpointe Golf Course, it raised a red flag.
"The FAA doesn't want to see money that's supposed to go to airport operations get funneled into extraneous projects that are not airport related," Raymond said.
Fair-market value for the sprawling, 7,185-yard course has not yet been determined, he said.
No matter the cost, entering into any kind of lease agreement that requires the city to pay to use the land at Wingpointe "would be very difficult for the golf program," Raymond said.
Salt Lake City's golf program is a break-even operation, and no taxpayer money is used to subsidize the courses.
"(City golf courses), by design, run a very lean, cost-conscious operation," Raymond said.
City and airport officials contend that the golf course benefits Salt Lake City International Airport in ways that don't show up on a financial audit. The property is managed and maintained by the city's golf program at no cost to the airport. It's an amenity for airport patrons and makes for a scenic entry to the airport, Raymond said.
There are also wetlands on the property, which limits what can locate there.
Salt Lake City International Airport ranks as one of the most fiscally sound airports in the nation, Raymond said. That's part of the reason the airport is able to move forward with plans for a $1.8 billion rebuild.
"I think that's the basis from which we can have a conversation with the FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation," Raymond said. "When they look at Salt Lake City, we have a great fiscal and operational track record to work from."
Attempts to reach FAA officials for comment were unsuccessful.