“Over several years, [Portland] Parks invested time, effort, and money into plans for a new, larger clubhouse with event space at the expense of maintaining the existing clubhouse at Heron Lakes or pursuing a less costly alternative such as a covered outdoor patio.” – 2019 City Golf Audit
The above summary doesn’t quite do justice to the history behind the complicated and confounding Heron Lakes “Clubhouse Project.” Golfers who have regularly played at the popular, high-volume 36-hole City facility over the past 50 years have likely heard bits and pieces of the story. A more comprehensive assessment is required to show how this can has been kicked down the road for a half-century.
When West Delta Park Golf Course was opened in 1971, the property had a large enough parking lot to accommodate golfers for an 18-hole course. The clubhouse facility, more accurately described as a “double-wide” trailer, was only ever intended to be temporary.1 As we’ve unfortunately learned over the past two years, “temporary” has morphed into quite the arbitrary concept. Here we are now in 2022, commemorating 50 years of 5 years to a permanent clubhouse at Heron Lakes.
Portland Parks & Recreation (PPR) always recognized the need for an actual clubhouse to eventually be built and quickly started developing plans for a replacement. In 1985 the focus, however, was on contracting Robert (Bobby) Trent Jones Jr. to return and design the third “Red” 9 (back-9 of Great Blue). Also that year, the Portland City Council (City) awarded a contract to Byron Wood, the second concessionaire hired in the property’s history. The original plan also called for Wood to construct a new, permanent clubhouse, but that plan was scrapped due to floodplain building restrictions.2
Now a 27-hole facility, it was clear that Heron Lakes needed a clubhouse upgrade, especially with plans to become a 36-hole facility (RTJ2 finished the Great Blue in 1992). So in 1989, the City authorized an extension to the clubhouse to be built, turning the double-wide into a triple-wide. The City also confirmed that “a new facility is identified in the golf 5 year capital improvement program.”3
Flash-forward to 1998 and still, no clubhouse. A new 5 year plan was approved, with the City spending $77,000 to study the possibility of saving the nearby Stockyards Exchange Building, and moving it over to the course.4 Sadly, that plan was also scrapped and the building was demolished. What a tragic fate for such a gorgeous historical landmark! In 2000 the City awarded, repealed, and re-awarded a contract to McKeever/Morris of Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas to plan and design a new clubhouse. The City authorized $620,000 to be spent as part of a larger “West Delta Recreation Area” project ($800,000 total), with plans to budget $4,500,000 towards building the clubhouse.5
Five years later, it was 2005 and still no progress. The 2005 Strategic Plan again emphasized that a proper clubhouse at Heron Lakes was “key to improving its position in the local marketplace” and called for a $5,000,000 project.6 In 2008, Kemper Sports Management (KSM) was awarded a 5-10 year contract with the expectation that they would “oversee the planning and development of a new clubhouse at the property.”7 This was the first time any specific terms would be included in an operator contract to make a clubhouse happen. Yet here we are, in 2022, 14 years later, and the triple-wide remains with only minor renovations.
So what happened? How could a sales pitch to finally bring a clubhouse to Heron Lakes be a major deciding factor for winning the contract, and then nothing happen? The answer can be found in the 5 pages dedicated to the “Clubhouse Project” in that contract. Phase 1 of the Project was budgeted for $400,000 from the Golf Fund, with $100,000 of that being a “development management fee” (DMF) paid to the operator. Should the City have opted to proceed into Phase 2, KSM would have been paid another $150,000 development management fee. Both of these DMFs were in addition to the already contracted operations management fees (increasing yearly, from $175,000 in 2008 to $323,400 by 2016).8 The authority to greenlight the project rested exclusively with the City, not the operator. Even if given the go-ahead, both the City and KSM would have to amend the existing contract or approve a new agreement to determine financing, ownership and transfer rights, planning and construction details etc. Such a process would have certainly taken up more time and required more money.
The most recent 5 year Strategic Plan from 2015, included Initiative 7: “Continue to seek resources to replace the Heron Lakes Clubhouse.”9 Instead, 2016 saw the City’s acquisition and redevelopment of Colwood, a complicated situation that need not be detailed here, and clearly demonstrated how reprioritization functions in a slow-moving, complicated bureaucratic system.10 The long-overdue 2019 Audit again identified the 50 year clubhouse problem.11
With PPR’s already 15-month long, ongoing process of developing a referral for proposal (RFP) to award a new operator contract or contracts for the four Eastside courses (beginning Nov 2022)12, the question must be asked: can an operator partner with PPR and the City and actually GET IT BUILT? GolfPDX certainly believes that it’s not only possible, but that it should have been accomplished over a decade ago.
Maintaining excellent course conditions and keeping rates affordable are certainly our top concern, but until PPR entrusts responsibility over course maintenance to the operator, there’s not much we’d be able to do in that area. However, like what happened in the successful case of Redtail’s facility developments, GolfPDX promises the same to the Heron Lakes faithful. KSM could have gone that route in 2008, agreeing to actually fund the Clubhouse Project using their vast financial resources and project development experience, but that’s not what happened. Instead, for a bill of $100,000 the golf community essentially got a fancy presentation and unused blueprints (eventually scrubbed from the PPR website).
Over 2008-2022, a single course operator will have been paid nearly $4,000,000 in management fees, none of which was guaranteed to be, nor has been evidenced to have been, significantly put back into the property to directly benefit the local community. These funds would have been far better spent getting us the clubhouse that was advertised. No more excuses. No more ambiguous, half-commitment deals. The Greater Portland Golf Community deserves some accountability and real results. Thousands of loyal golfers have already invested tens of millions of their hard earned dollars into Heron Lakes for 50 years.
We hope that PPR and the City will give GolfPDX the opportunity to engage with them in transparent conversation about how community-centered, innovative and practical solutions can be implemented so that we can finally make this project into a reality.