GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the June 15 Gainesville City Commission meeting, City Manager Cynthia Curry told the commission that she has placed the City’s Ironwood Golf Course and another unnamed department on “management watch.”
Curry said, “What ‘management watch’ means is that there are concerns that have been identified in that department. They could be problematic or not–it could be management, operational, it could be financial, infrastructure, all of that. But what we do is we sit with the department, outline what the issues and problems are, outline a timeline to try to have them resolved, bring in the expertise that we need to help internal staff do the analysis and review, and then come back to the commission with recommendations.”
Curry said her staff would probably come back to the commission in early January with their recommendation “for how we proceed in fiscal 2025 before we put a budget before the commission.”
Mayor Harvey Ward said, “There are lots of avenues available to us. Nobody up here does not think that there is some community value–not dollar value, but community value–in a municipal golf course that provides many things to our community. We’re all very well aware of that.” Although the City Manager recommended closing Ironwood in a budget workshop on May 25 and several commissioners said they supported selling the golf course, Ward said some media outlets “got a little bit ahead of themselves with some headlines” and added, “We are clearly not going to talk about selling a golf course today.”
Commissioner Ed Book advocated for a modest increase in fees to make Ironwood more financially viable. He said that usage of the golf course and event venue in the next year would affect the decision to keep it open in future years. Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut encouraged members of the public to share ideas for increasing revenue at the golf course.
Members of the public spoke in favor of continued operation of the course, pointing out all of the nonprofit fundraisers that are held there every year, the programs for young golfers, usage of the course by local high school golf teams, and benefits to nearby businesses. Given that people play about 40k-45k rounds of golf per year at Ironwood, several people suggested that increasing fees by $5 per found could generate an extra $200,000, which would allow the course to break even or make a small profit.
Commissioner Casey Willits said he wanted the public to know that “the [Joint Legislative Audit Committee] said, ‘We want Gainesville to feel pain.’ And when they said they want us to feel pain, they didn’t mean generically the City, they mean every single citizen, every single resident of our city… And if this feels painful, there’s a reason.”
Commissioner Bryan Eastman said, “This is what community advocacy looks like. You guys reached out to us, the City government listened to you, and Ironwood is staying open.” He asked supporters of Ironwood to bring friends to play golf and “grab drinks, grab food there.”
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she was concerned about keeping Ironwood affordable: “I think we’ve seen in programs throughout this country, when you involve at-risk groups, that they, too, enjoy it, benefit from it.” She asked the City Manager to balance the cuts they need to make with “the asset in terms of what it’s providing.”
Ward said he wanted to see data about who is using Ironwood when it comes time to make a decision: “Are they Gainesville residents, or are they near-Gainesville residents? Because frankly, people who live in Gainesville are already paying more for the course than folks who live outside the city are.” He said the course clearly has value to the people who spoke at the meeting, but “I will remind you, though, there are 145,000 people in the community and about a dozen who spoke… I’m not looking for extra people to come out; we’re looking for actual numbers, not here but at the course.”
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