At the next meeting of the St Augustine City Commission, the same spendthrifts that brought you the First America Foundation, that conceived the skateboard park on Anastasia Island and purchased the M & M Market in Lincolnville, will decide if they should evict an attraction operator and demolish the oldest miniature golf course in Florida.
Using the pretext that the carpet golf course does not comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act as a basis to examine the renewal of the existing five-year lease, Assistant City Manager Tim Burchfield presented the commissioners with alternative uses for the space if they take it back.
A common call for our local government to live within its budget, thereby running “more like a business”, should never be confused as a mandate for public municipalities to expand into private businesses to “make more money”.
In case you do not get it, the message is not “collect more” it is “spend less”.
The purpose of city government is to provide essential services that the individual residents cannot provide for themselves, then to divide the cost of those services between the taxpayers.
Government was never intended to make a profit, as a business does. Based on the assumption that the government pays a “competitive price” to obtain and provide those essential services, the people have given government the power to tax.
To the extent that managers and politicians engage in speculative ventures with public funds, or misappropriate public funds for private ventures, they commit malfeasance in office.
The City of St Augustine, as a municipal government, has proven that they are incapable of managing business enterprises — take the Colonial Spanish Quarter Museum, for example. They have proven that they are incapable of collaborating to produce Olympic scale events — take First America Foundation, for example. They have proven that they are incapable of selecting partners to invest in public amenities — Hamilton Upchurch Skateboard Park comes to mind. They have also proven that they are incapable of making real estate decisions — the now boarded M&M Market on Bridge Street is just one example.
In two weeks, on Monday May 14, the City Commission will take up the discussion, and may take a vote to act, on the lease renewal request for the bayfront miniature golf course. I have no investment in Ripley Entertainment, however, they have maintained the course as well as anyone else, and they are willing to take the risk of investing $50,000 in city-owned property to make it ADA compliant.
If the City denies the lease renewal and takes the property back, not only will they give up the certainty of $22,500 per year in rental income, but they will also spend about $16,000 to demolish the bayfront landmark, plus the added cost of installing an irrigation system and grass.
Then what will they have; a new venue to compete with The White Room and a dozen other downtown venues who are trying to rent facilities for wedding ceremonies? Government has no business competing with taxpayers in private business ventures.
If a greater public use cannot be demonstrated with a solid plan that does not involve increased spending of taxpayer money or speculative risk, the City should drop the idea, let the lessee bring the property into ADA compliance, then sit back and collect the rent for the purpose in which the putt-putt course was intended.
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Historic City News asked:
What should be done with the city-owned carpet golf course?
– Let Ripley’s rent carpet golf for five more years
– Let Ripley’s rent carpet golf for five more years with five-year option
– Let City pay $50k ADA upgrade and operate carpet golf themselves
– Let City pay $16k to demolish carpet golf and build green space