Buying lease wrong course for Kennewick

The Kennewick City Council had the good sense not to get any deeper into the golf course business when it was offered the chance recently.

At issue was a request by Gary Long Jr., operator of the Columbia Park Golf Course, for a cash settlement from the city that would also free Long from his 35-year lease.

Long had big plans for the golf course, but his vision got bogged down in a fight with the city over a breach of contract. Long won the fight, along with a $3 million award last year.

The city appealed and is awaiting trial. During that process, interest is accruing at nearly $1,000 a day, so far adding another $300,000 to the price tag.

But the lease settlement Long recently asked for was unrelated to that earlier judgment. He just wanted out of the business and was willing to take about $330,000 to walk away from improvements he'd made to the course since 2000.

Some of that money would also have bought the city equipment, vehicles and supplies to operate the course.

With a couple of board members missing from last week's council meeting, one councilman wanted to postpone the decision. But the city's attorney said the terms of the offer demanded an immediate decision. The mayor called for a motion, but none was offered.

The council's inaction killed any chance for a deal, at least for the moment. Long and his attorney will be allowed to make a second attempt with a revised settlement next month.

The council ought to resist paying anything for Long's lease. It's not a core function of city government. It will cost more if government is responsible for upkeep and maintenance, and the city has better things to do with its staff time in these challenging financial times.

Don't get us wrong, we like golf. We have golfers on the editorial board. We're not even opposed to municipal courses. But we've advocated for public-private partnerships for public facilities in the past and we would again in this case. It's cheaper and more efficient for private entities to manage public facilities in most cases. Look at the Toyota Center, for example.

No doubt Long and the city have a strained relationship at this point, given the verdict in the breach of contract case and the pending appeal. We've met with Long in the past and we believe he had a sound vision for the golf course, including a restaurant and improvements to the amenities at the course.

We also understand getting anything accomplished in Columbia Park is a challenge. In addition to the city, work has to be approved by the Corps of Engineers and often Native American tribes. The city is now involved in creating a new master development plan for all of Columbia Park.

We'd love to see all the parties involved getting along for the betterment of Columbia Park and the golf course. That's probably not going to happen until the appeal is settled, if at all.

Whatever the resolution, it doesn't make sense for the city to operate the course itself. In the long term, it may make sense to settle with Long and find a new private entity to operate the course.

But spending $300,000 of the public's money to shorten the life of Long's lease doesn't sound like a good deal for taxpayers.

Whatever the solution, we'd just like to see that forlorn waterfall Long built and then deserted up and running as an asset to the park, rather than the eyesore it now is from the highway.