April 17, 2021

SWING AND A MISS: Possible Westwood clubhouse financing option blocked by county

City’s request for URA fails despite mayor’s input, county says to use bond referendum

Jasper County Supervisors do not support the city’s request to establish an urban renewal area for the Westwood Golf Course clubhouse at this time.

Even with input provided by Newton Mayor Mike Hansen, the board of supervisors on Tuesday, Feb. 23 refused to sanction two parcels of the municipally owned golf course — which technically resides outside city limits and in county territory — to finance the construction of a new clubhouse.

By establishing an urban renewal area, the city would have created a mechanism for Newton to bond for a new clubhouse, which staff have decided will be a public-private partnership. But the motion for county consent failed to pass with any support. Supervisor Brandon Talsma explained why he didn’t make a motion:

“I completely understand that this might be a way that the city typically operates, but seeing as how this lays outside city limits into the county, I just don’t feel comfortable authorizing this to be done at this point in time,” Talsma said. “I’m not saying ‘no’ indefinitely.”

Talsma also suggested the city return to the county board of supervisors after fundraising efforts have been completed and a more firm dollar amount has been identified. At that point, Talsma said he’d be willing to entertain it again but apologized he could not support it now.

Hansen said, “You don’t have to be sorry. You have to do what you think’s right.”

Supervisor Denny Carpenter would like to see the city put the clubhouse project to a taxpayer vote, referencing the county’s decision to hold a bond referendum to finance the construction of a new administration building.

Coincidentally, the $3.7 million construction of the new administration building costs about as much as the initial clubhouse estimates city staff gathered in 2016, but were eventually discarded and deemed too expensive. Since then the city has downsized the project’s scale, as well as its price tag.

According to Newton Community Development Director Erin Chambers, the construction of the new clubhouse is estimated at $930,000.

Before departing, Hansen told supervisors that the city would keep them informed on how the process goes and thanked the county for its consideration. Prior to the failed motion, Hansen attempted to answer questions, address concerns and provide background information on urban renewal areas.

For several years, the city has used urban renewal areas to improve public infrastructure, including $100,000 for library renovations and $300,000 for tenant improvements for the new city offices at Legacy Plaza. Other times they’ve been used to assisted project funding, like the rehabilitation of Hotel Maytag.

Hansen said the process of creating an urban renewal area does not usurp citizen input and would be subject to a reverse referendum authority. The process, too, would require public hearings.

“The city has used urban renewal because it has been a process that has worked well for the city, and that’s why it is before you,” Hansen told supervisors. “As you know, if Westwood Golf Course was within the city’s corporate limits there would be no need for us to be here.”

Jasper County Dennis Parrott asked if the project would be stopped if the board refused to give authorization. Hansen said it does not stop it and that there are other avenues that could be pursued which do “extend the timelines” and “add to the cost to the project.” Parrott also had the same sentiments as Carpenter.

“Why don’t you just let them (the taxpayers) vote on it straight out?” Parrott asked.

Hansen answered, “That’s an avenue that can be pursued, Dennis. That’s just not an avenue the city has done for the past umpteen years. And we’ve been very, very successful in the projects that we have done in the City of Newton. It’s just something we’ve routinely done in the past.”

“It’s time to do it different,” Parrott said.

The city and its respective park board have been pursuing a new clubhouse for numerous years. The current facility is well beyond its expiration date and is deteriorating. Not only that the current space is too small to hold larger tournaments, which attract visitors and increase revenues for the golf course.

Several designs have been created by contracted firms over the years. The current design includes an open-air shelter, which solves some spacing issues.

“It’s the piece of the puzzle — if you will — in the City of Newton that speaks directly to tourism, to destination tourism,” Hansen said. “… We have them now on a smaller scale, but we would be able to attract the larger scale tournaments where they were sometimes two days long, rather than just come in (one day).”

Hansen said the city has interest from both corporate and non-corporate entities to help finance the project. The city’s goal was to acquire as many private funds as it possibly can — Hansen is expecting hundreds of thousands of dollars — to reduce the cost of borrowing for the project.

Under no circumstances is the city council considering doing this project and raising the property taxes in Newton, Hansen said.

This was a major concern of supervisors when the city’s request was first brought to their attention on Feb. 2, which is why they tabled it. Doug Cupples, chair of the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, asked what would it hurt if the county approved the urban renewal area, but no one answered the question.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.