My Turn: No hole-in-one

Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011

The last day of 2010 marked the end of the agreement between Totem Creek Inc. and the City and Borough of Juneau, bringing to a close my 16-year involvement, and that of many others, in the effort to create a first class golf course for the people of Juneau on the west side of Douglas Island.

Ultimately, we failed to attract the financing our agreement with the City required. As is the case with many business propositions, the timing was not right. In retrospect, the main flaw may have been the requirement that we build a public golf course entirely with private funds.

Simply stated, the Totem Creek project did not meet the expectations of conventional investors.

Not to say we did not attract interest in our project. The most promising developers we met were backed by serious money, had personal experience with Southeast Alaska, and had previously financed and built high quality golf and residential developments. They came to Juneau in 2007. We walked the site together and they began collecting information to analyze the project’s potential, but a rapidly destabilizing national housing market ended their interest. Later, another pair of developers took on our project and marketed it to potential investors throughout the world. But the late-2008 global financial meltdown rendered these efforts fruitless.

Totem Creek Inc. won the right to develop a golf course proposal in 1995. In September 1996, following the completion of survey work, golf course design, and other preparations, we submitted applications for a myriad of permits from state and federal agencies, and the City and Borough of Juneau.

Within nine months, all state and federal permits were in hand and our project had received approval, with modifications, from the Alaska Coastal Zone Management Program. The permit that I thought would be easiest to get — the city’s conditional use permit — languished “in process” from September 1996 to May 2003.

Only a deeply flawed city permit process would pit community volunteers promoting an Assembly-approved recreation project against anti-development advocates employed by state and federal agencies. Yet for nearly seven years a city department presided over this debacle, which ended badly for the state employees who lost their jobs in 2003 when the Department of Fish & Game’s Habitat Division was eliminated, due in part to the division’s involvement in the city’s conditional use permit review process.

Should Juneau give up the idea of creating a high quality outdoor recreation project — one that would be accessible to every resident and visitor to Juneau of any age healthy enough to swing a golf club? Perhaps the answer lies in the experience of our Canadian neighbor, Whitehorse, where they built a self-supporting 18-hole golf course. The City and Borough of Juneau could build a golf course, with eventual repayment through the sale of nearby residential lots and the creation of taxable property. But after Totem Creek’s seven-year slog through permitting hell, I have my doubts.

Instead of re-fighting old battles — an easy temptation for me — I’d like to thank the many people who contributed so much to this effort, beginning with Chip Parr who got this all started. Kake Tribal Corporation, under the leadership of Gordon Jackson, provided an initial cash investment followed by the steady financial support of the Juneau Golf Club. We thank Bill Robinson, our golf course designer; the late and greatly missed Tom Findley who provided pro-bono legal and business advice; our environmental and earth science consultants — Randy Bayliss, Jason Ginter, Art Dunn, and Craig Lindh; Gary Murdoch, for his map services; John Halterman for his marketing efforts; and those who served on our board over the years: Beverly Anderson, John Barnett, David George, Kevin Hulse, Tom Koester, and Bob Storer. On a personal note, I thank Rod Swope and Steve Gilbertson who restored my faith in the ability of city employees to get things right. On behalf of the Totem Creek board, I thank all of those not mentioned who put their time, energy, hopes, and encouragement into this project.

• Metcalfe has served on the board of Totem Creek, a non-profit corporation, since 1996, and as president since 2005.

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