ST. GEORGE – Residents and members of the Bloomington Country Club who packed the St. George City Council chambers erupted into applause Thursday night as the council approved a change to the city’s general plan that may ultimately save the club’s golf course from closing. The change would allow 22 acres of the country club grounds to be developed into low-to-high density housing zones, something that would help fund the continued life of the course, developers said.
“The Bloomington Country Club is an icon for Southern Utah,” Darcy Stewart, head of the SunRiver Group, said in October. “So we were concerned about the club’s survival.”
Stewart was approached by the Bloomington Country Club’s board of trustees about the possibility of buying the golf course around two-three years ago, he said during the City Council meeting Thursday. He wasn’t interested at the time, he said, and passed on the offer.
The City of St. George was also approached and city officials weren’t interested either.
Built in 1969, the Bloomington Country Club was the area’s first 18-hole golf course. It has experienced financial troubles over the years and was on the verge of closing in July.
“That hit me hard,” Stewart said. “All of a sudden I started weighing the ramifications of that and got very interested.”
Stewart took over management of the golf course in June and has since engaged in renovating the golf course’s aging infrastructure and clubhouse to the amount of nearly $1 million in costs.
Renovations done thus far have excited the club’s members, said Alan McKie, president of the Bloomington Country Club board of trustees.
“Not one member has made any negative comment about the direction the club is taking,” he said as he urged the City Council to approve the general plan amendment request.
Currently work is being done on the club house which Stewart said needs to diversify its uses. Additions planned for the club house include game rooms, a “kids zone,” a fitness center and a ballroom.
Thus far, the overall investment into the golf course’s renovation is estimated to run between $6 million and $8 million.
“We have a twofold challenge,” Stewart said. “First, we need to renovate the facility, but then we also need to come up with a method to put the course and the facility on solid financial ground moving forward.”
Stewart is proposing to fund the golf course through the sale of new housing units to be built on the 22 acres he asked the City Council to help make way for with a general plan amendment. People who move into the new units will also be made members of the Bloomington Country Club and help pay for the monthly maintenance and operation of the facility.
Stewart said the this would potentially add 100-150 new members to the country club who would help keep the course afloat and viable.
New development is projected to include a maximum of 220 condominiums, four twin homes and 43 single-family lots.
While the majority of comments given during a public hearing were in favor of Stewart’s plans, there were concerns as to the potential impacts it could have on the area. Among those concerns were views being blocked by new development, traffic and possible negative impacts on property values.
Area resident Richard Kohler told the City Council he believes they neither had all the documentation they needed to make an informed decision nor had he, himself, seen any documents requiring Stewart’s group to operate and maintain the golf course.
“It’s like selling your soul to the devil and not getting a receipt,” Kohler said.
He also argued the city would be violating agreements made in connection with the 1982 annexation of the Bloomington area if it approved the general plan amendment. City Attorney Shawn Guzman did not agree.
Concerns aside, the majority of those who spoke to the City Council during the public hearing were in favor of allowing the development if it meant saving the golf course. One resident in particular supports Stewart’s efforts despite the fact he’ll have to move – his home is in the path of a new road developers want to put in as a part of the project.
“It was a hard decision to make,” resident Farrell Petersen said. “… I talked to a lot of the club members and all the club members are very, very excited about what’s happening there … (The golf course) is looking so good. There’s new life there.”
Though his home is a newer “high-tech home,” Petersen said, he is behind Stewart’s plan 100 percent.
Petersen and his wife have lived in the area 38 years and plan to remain in Bloomington, albeit in a new home.
Stewart and his group have previously met with members of the Bloomington Country Club and have received majority support for their vision for the golf course. The club itself currently sports between 125-150 members.
Financial woes for golf courses in recent years is an issue across the country as they struggle to remain profitable. Headlines of golf courses shutting down are prevalent. According to the National Golf Foundation, over 600 golf course were closed between 2006 and 2013.
“Golf courses around the country are in trouble,” City Manager Gary Esplin said. “There’s a golf course closing down every day.”
The City Council’s approval of the general plan amendment has cleared the way to the next phase of the project. At that point more detail about the project overall will be presented to city staff and the council to review.
General plan amendment requests primarily give the City Council the opportunity to determine if a proposed project will be in harmony with the character of the surrounding area and is a fitting use of the land. It is merely one step in a multistep process developers must undertake to see their projects through to fruition.
The City Council finalized it’s $25,000 annual commitment to the Tuacahn Center for the Arts. The funds for the commitment will come from the city’s portion of the county’s Recreation, Arts and Parks, or RAP, tax. Producing over $70 million annually, Tuacahn is the biggest economic generator for Washington County next to Zion National Park. Funds from St. George, other municipalities and the county will go toward the facility’s multimillion dollar renovation.
St. George News reporter JJ Deforest contributed to this story.
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