What's the role of city government in our sports?
Wed, 20 Feb 2013 19:42:49 GMT —
Let's say you own a shoe store.
You've invested a lot of money, sweat, time and tears into this venture. It's your life, your livelihood. The American Dream.
Work a long day, go home, kiss your wife, eat dinner, watch TV, pet the dog, go to sleep. Repeat.
But then, you find yourself in competition with a government-owned shoe store. Not only does this shoe store not have to pay taxes, but it's supplemented by tax-payer dollars.
Let's call this Uncle Sam's Shoes.
For many, many years, Uncle Sam's was the only shoe store in town --- and it was not run very well. People grumbled about the lousy shoes and the condition of the store.
As a result of this grumbling and discontent, privately-own shoe stores --- including yours --- opened up to provide a higher quality service.
The folks at Uncle Sam's saw what was happening. Lo and behold, they made their shoe store much better, with great shoes at great prices.
While the prices at your shoe store are competitive, you believe Uncle Sam's is undercutting you. They often offer lower prices and better deals. Uncle Sam is able to advertise more than you, at our expense.
Nobody said living the American Dream was easy.
Is this the role of government, to compete with privately-owned businesses? Or is it the role of government to provide the best shoe store they can possibly provide, since they were around long before these other shoe stores were a twinkle in somebody's eye?
It really doesn't matter if it's shoes, clothes, cars or burritos.
Or in this case, golf courses and softball fields.
This brings us to our Point-Counterpoint confrontation. Where do you draw the line between the government providing a good public service and hurting private enterprise?
POINT: What took so long? (Part I)
Oak Hills used to be called Hough Park or, as it was affectionately-known, Rough Hough. Back in the day, it seemed to have as many rocks as blades of grass.
"I know a lot of people were begging for that place to be upgraded," said Dan Baumgartner, owner of Turkey Creek Golf Center. "But they would not spend the money to make it better. They were just keeping the money."
Enter Turkey Creek. And Railwood Golf Club. And Eagle Knoll, Redfield and Tanglewood.
"These other places opened up and all of a sudden, they decided to upgrade Oak Hills," Baumgartner said. "They didn't need to before, because people didn't have any other place to go, unless you belonged to a country club.
"If that golf course would have been maintained like it should have been, and been kept in good condition, you wouldn't have seen these other courses open up.
"So they should have left it the way it was, or they should have made it a nice facility long before they did."
The city dumped a lot of money into Oak Hills with Zoysia grass and newly-designed holes.
It is no longer rough. It's good.
COUNTERPOINT: "Our improvement plans where in place long before these other courses took flight," Director of Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Bill Lockwood said. "We simply didn't have the money for a long time to improve the property as we needed to.
"I think it's a benefit to all of us to have good, healthy programs and to offer people alternatives."
Said Railwood's Jim Johnson: "I think the bottom line is that the Parks and Rec is directly competing with us and these other courses. We were here to meet that demand when they weren't doing it.
"It's not their role to keep up with the Jones', so to speak. I think in some sense, they're trying to move us out of the market and that's just not the role of publicly-operated golf. It's there to provide a service, initially, when there are no other options."
Said Lockwood: "We have a broad vision to provide programs, land and facilities for people to utilize in their leisure time. It all has an economic benefit and spin-off to make the community attractive to all sorts of other entities.
"We generally try to avoid it, but at the same time, there are some things that compete with the private sector. But we don't intentionally go out and try to do that. There are many things we've been doing for a long time that the private sector has since gotten involved with.
"That doesn't mean we should stop doing those things, I don't think."
POINT: What took so long? (Part II)
Just like Oak Hills, the Binder Complex softball fields were a mess --- perhaps even somewhat dangerous --- for many, many years. Bumpy, harder-than-granite infields, and jagged chain-link fences that were falling down.
"There were a bunch of us who asked the city to please fix these fields. We begged them," said Brad Copeland, co-owner of the Fields of Legends, which opened in 2004 in North Jefferson City. "They refused to do it.
"That's what prompted us to build Fields of Legends."
In their first year, Copeland said his four-field facility took "half" the teams from Parks and Recreation leagues. Shortly after, the Parks and Rec dumped a sizable amount of money into improving the fields at Binder.
"They knew they had to do something," Copeland said. "The city is trying to compete against everybody instead of trying to help people succeed in business.
"They're not putting their dollars where they should be. It almost appears these people are jealous of others coming in. I don't hate all government, but I hate it when they do what they're not supposed to do."
COUNTERPOINT: "Those (Binder) fields needed a ton of works for eons," Lockwood said. "Again, we had such a backload of capital improvements, but we had those improvements in mind for many years.
"We wish all of these businesses the best of success, always. We wish none of them ill-will. It just gives people a choice."
POINT: Crying Uncle (Sam).
Government-owned facilities not only pay no taxes, but receive tax dollars.
"Obviously, that's a big advantage for them," Baumgartner said. "Then they go to the high schools and undercut me and take the high schools away from me, for the driving range and other things.
"I don't mind the competition. But if you're going to do that, you should have to pay taxes and not receive tax money."
Said Johnson: "They have so many competitive advantages. Besides the taxes, their equipment and machinery --- they get discounts that we can't even approach.
"I'm not against the golf course being there, it's been there a long time. But just provide a basic service for the people. Kids can get started there and it's cheap, cheap, cheap.
"But they're directly competing with the rest of us around here."
COUNTERPOINT: "I suppose it depends on how you look at it," Lockwood said. "It was a property that was given to the public trust to be maintained and used for the public benefit.
"That's what we've tried to."
POINT: This Bud's (not) for you.
When Charles Hough and his family gave this land to the city for the golf course in 1917, there was this clause in those legal papers:
No beverage containing any quantity of alcohol, or its substitute, shall ever be used or drunk on said premises. Said City shall not permit said grounds for any purpose that would detract from its character of a public park. ... A violation of any of the provisions of this conveyance .... herein described and conveyed shall immediately vest in me and or my heirs that I many be living at the time of such forfeiture on annulment.
"It shows you, clear as day, that no alcohol will be served, not one drop, or it goes back to the original heirs," Baumgartner said. "It's wrong of them to try, in my opinion, because here's a man who was willing to donate this land to the city, but it's very clear --- it's cut and dry --- that he's against alcohol out there.
"If somebody is going to give you a gift like this, and he has a wish and he tells you up front, then you should honor that. If they can't make it out there without serving alcohol, then they need to close it up."
All other courses in the area sell alcohol. The city has tried for decades to allow alcohol at Oak Hills.
COUNTERPOINT: "Many people are in favor of it, some are not in favor of it," Lockwood said. "In the 1950s, the majority of the (Hough) heirs signed off on it, but there were still some that had a problem with it.
"It's been brought up for debate many times."
Jefferson City actually took the Hough family to court in 1991, but the suit was eventually dropped.
"We don't have any approved plans, at present, to do anything with that," Lockwood said."That's an issue for the attorneys and the courts to answer."
But if the Hough family heirs eventually approve this idea, it would just be a matter of time.
"I would think so, yes," Lockwood said. "But the Parks commission would still have to make that decision."
POINT: Show me the money.
"The city's looking to cut back in all these different areas --- the fire department can't get money --- and the Parks and Rec is spending all this money on advertising and everything else," Baumgartner said. "I just don't get it."
Oak Hills loses about 33-35 percent on its investment every year.
"That's about right," Lockwood said.
COUNTERPOINT: As for undercutting the competition:
"I don't know what they're charging compared to what we're charging," Lockwood said. "We just try to be in line with the market.
"There's certainly no conspiracy to set prices or anything like that."
In addition, the City has opened a two-room facility in the old Cedar City school --- one room hosts karate classes (the Turkey Creek Room), Lockwood said, the other hosts small family functions (Cedar City room).
"We rent it out for birthday parties and family reunions, same as the McClung Park indoor facility," Lockwood said. "Everybody was crying about more indoor facilities --- those are the only two the city offers. They're modest facilities, they're certainly not the high-class facilities.
"We provide basic amenities --- there's a microwave oven, a sink and a refrigerator. So I certainly wouldn't call it a banquet center. "
With the name Turkey Creek attached to it, however, there's certainly been some confusion.
"We've had people come over here and then get mad, because they said they had our room booked," Baumgartner said. "We had to explain to them that there's another one on the other side of the road. That's just not right.
"The City told me not to worry about it, because they wouldn't rent it out enough. If they rent it out one time, that's one time too many. They're not only competing against me, they're competing against restaurants, hotels, Michigan Place ... why?
"They have things like the ice arena, tennis courts, swimming pools, why not put the money there to make those facilities better, since there are no other ones around here?"
SUMMARY: What do you think?
"I'm not against the Parks Rec," Baumgartner said. "I'm against the Parks and Recs competing against businesses. They have plenty of mowers, why don't they start mowing grass? There's great money in mowing grass.
"It's the same thing with these golf courses."
Said Lockwood: "We hope all of these entities succeed. One size doesn't fit all."