By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
Hello to the future of MacArthur Park
On Thursday, June 22, Sun Valley Golf Course hosted its last rounds of golf. The nine-hole executive course in La Mesa has seen what other golf courses have experienced in the last few years — a decline in public interest for the sport.
“The business in and of itself has slowed down and is not sustainable,” said Mary Jane Gonzalez, who along with her husband Johnny have operated Sun Valley since 1997. “We’ve pumped more money in here in the last couple years just to keep it going for the love of golf and for the love of this place because we’ve been here so long. Our kids grew up here, the whole nine yards.”
In addition to declining interest in golf, Gonzalez pointed to rising costs of doing business and rising water costs as other factors in closing Sun Valley.
“The upkeep for ball golf itself is tremendous, to keep a course the way golfers like to see it,” she said.
Sun Valley’s five-year lease agreement with the city was supposed to expire in October, but the Gonzalez family had already decided to not renew another five years and requested to terminate the lease a year early and have been on a month-to-month agreement since March. Their plan was to stay open until October but business went down after it was announced the course would be closing and it was “squeaking” by on sometimes as little as $25 a day.
“It was tough to make the decision to be done, but it had to be done,” Gonzalez said, adding that the only reason they stayed open past the agreement was to honor golfers who had already purchased multi-day passes and to host some tournaments that were already scheduled.
“Some [golfers] have come by and expressed their grief about us closing, but it’s still slow,” Gonzalez said.
City takes over
On June 30, the city of La Mesa will take back responsibility of the 13-acre golf course and incorporate it back into MacArthur Park. Starting on that day, the course will be closed until an inspection and maintenance can be completed.
“We’re going to transition,” said Greg Humora, assistant city manager. “We’re going to figure out, when the city comes on board, what the city is going to need to do — what the city’s responsibilities are — because basically the keys get turned over to us.”
Some of the immediate transition work has already been figured out. Tree and landscaping work will be done, maintenance on the irrigation system will be performed, and the ball and foot golf holes will be taken out because the city will not be upkeeping the tees and greens.
“That’s the highest-cost maintenance aspect out here,” Humora said, adding that the parks maintenance budget will not be affected because workers already maintain the other nine acres of MacArthur Park.
“It will cause stress a little with the schedules and routines, but we have mowers and crews already in place,” he said. “It is something that we are prepared to take on.”
‘Central Park La Mesa’
The city has been preparing for its takeover of the golf course since the Gonzalez family announced it wouldn’t renew its lease. A City Council subcommittee, led by Vice Mayor Guy McWhirter and Councilmember Kristine Allesio, was formed to decide what to do with the added acres to MacArthur Park.
“Right now, [the golf course] meets the needs of hundreds of people in La Mesa. We’re asking, ‘How can we meet the needs of thousands?’ That is kind of the driving effort,” McWhirter said. “What can we do to make this a viable park where people will come and get involved?”
A landscape architect has been hired to prepare a draft design of short-term uses for the added park space, which will include open space, a walking trail, new access points and some possible amenities, like a new disc golf course, a dog park and a community garden.
The city is also looking to partner with businesses to offset costs.
“We have people that are giving us presentations already saying, ‘Hey here’s what we can do to benefit the city and it could help us in what we’re trying to do as well,’” McWhirter said.
Proposals already heard by the subcommittee include putting in a splash zone near the clubhouse; turning the clubhouse into a café or restaurant; and creating a space for a wedding venue.
“Once the word got out [that the golf course was closing] … all of a sudden there was a huge interest from people and corporations approaching us and saying, ‘What are you going to do? We could do some sort of development over there and everything,’” McWhirter said. “But we said from the very, very beginning that this is always going to be a park. There is no way this can turn into development or anything like that. It has to stay a park.”
The city will soon announce the release of official request for proposals (RFPs), for partnerships with private businesses for ideas for the golf clubhouse, putting green and driving range areas of the course.
A presentation on the first phase design concept is scheduled for a public meeting in August.
As far as the long term future for the entire 22-acre MacArthur Park, an RFP for planning firms to perform an Opportunities and Constraints Study has been released and can be found by accessing the city’s bid portal at cityoflamesa.com/90/Purchasing.
The study is planned to look at the property and existing facilities to recommend ideas for its reuse, renovation and increased benefit to the community for park and recreation purposes. Public input will also be a part of the study.
The renovation and expansion of MacArthur Park is long overdue and once completed, the hope is that it will be utilized more than it is today.
“This is really an unknown gem,” McWhirter said. “The location and the size could make this a Central Park La Mesa.”
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.