Golf course approval is long-awaited news

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2005

Vantage Point By Robert Hale, publisher of the Juneau Empire.

Like the long-awaited second high school for Juneau and the oft-debated and much-anticipated environmental impact statement for a road out of Juneau, the community now knows it will likely have an 18-hole golf course on north Douglas Island, perhaps as soon as 2009.

The city of Juneau signed a 35-year lease with Totem Creek Thursday for a 274-acre area that would include the public golf course, and the nonprofit organization will have the option to purchase an additional 194 city-owned acres for a possible housing development once the course has been completed.

Totem Creek, after 10 years of discussion and planning, has a acquired a permit from the city of Juneau and an Alaska Coastal Management permit, each containing 49 stipulations that pertain mostly to the management of water control and to specific habitat issues. The permits, along with the lease, clear the way for Totem Creek to begin raising $8 in development capital within the next five years and to start construction of the course.

Within three years of the start of construction, Totem Creek says, it will be time for local golfers and tourists to tee 'em up.

Being an occasional golfer, but certainly not a good one, I'm among those who welcomed Thursday's news that a regulation course may soon become a reality here in Juneau. I say that for three reasons:

• because of what it adds to the unparalleled mix of recreational outlets we have here. Juneau's - and Southeast Alaska's - outdoor adventures, from walking and hiking trails to canoeing and kayaking to skiing and snowboarding are of the caliber that people worldwide want to experience. Not counted among those are the many hunting and fishing opportunities available here. Golfing here could be one of the best experiences on the planet.

• because of what it affords the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit each year, whether by cruise ship or otherwise. Those who aren't as thrilled about fishing or kayaking may certainly take the time to play a round of golf, rain or shine. Add to that the potential an 18-hole creates for Juneau as a convention destination.

• because of what the course could mean for additional housing, not all of which would have to be in the higher price ranges. If the Totem Creek project goes rather well, a housing development could be added to the mix. Most of the homes that would be built near the course may not satisfy Juneau's need for more affordable housing, but several years down the road developers might consider including smaller, less expensive homes in their plans.

The first hurdle Totem Creek must clear is raising the money it needs to get its project off the ground. Its agreement with the city specifies that it has five years to raise the money or the lease won't go into effect. Company officials seem optimistic the money can and will be raised within a year and that construction will begin immediately thereafter.

The next community proposal, after the fate of a swimming pool for the Mendenhall Valley is decided, may be for a heated, indoor driving range to satisfy golfers during the off-season. If the timeline for approval is 10 years, as it appears to be with such projects, its planners need to get busy now.

• Bob Hale is publisher of the Juneau Empire. He can be reached at robert.hale@juneauempire.com.



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