Chambers Creek Golf Course moving ahead

The vision for creating a world-class, destination golf course on a spectacular site offering sweeping views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains moved into sharper focus when the Pierce County Council last week authorized expenditures for the project’s design phase.

The Chambers Creek Golf Course and a trail system would be constructed on 275 acres of a recently closed gravel mine.

Following the 5 to 2 council vote Tuesday, May 25, County Executive John W. Ladenburg immediately directed his staff to complete discussions with the world renowned Robert Trent Jones II golf course design firm and also to meet with city officials in University Place and Lakewood about amending the Chambers Creek Properties Master Site Plan.

The Master Site Plan covers development on the 930-acre Chambers Creek Properties over a 50-year time frame.

“I’m certainly excited that the council shares my vision for what could be out there and that this particular type of design and designer can lead to economic development,” Ladenburg said.

The project vision is that Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his team will design an Irish/Scottish links-style golf course so challenging, imaginative and inspiring that it will achieve wide acclaim and bring corporate leaders and other golfing tourists to Pierce County from across the U.S.

On-site lodging is viewed as crucial to the project’s success, and the Master Site Plan amendment process would provide for that and other golf course-related changes.

“We’re starting down the long process of work on the Master Site Plan. The golf course is just one of many public things that will happen there. We want to make sure we do all of them right over the next decade and beyond,” Ladenburg said.

The project began in earnest last fall when Ladenburg issued a request for qualifications from golf course architectural firms interested in designing the Chambers Creek course. Fifty-seven firms responded, and RTJII of Palo Alto, Calif., was recommended to Ladenburg and selected.

The council, at the executive’s request, included $1.3 million in the 2004 budget for design of the golf course. However, because of a budget proviso, a favorable council vote this spring was required before the money could be released to the executive.

Last Tuesday’s 5 to 2 vote approving the expenditure came after a three-month period of council consideration, during which several public hearings were held.

The measure sponsored by Councilmembers Terry Lee and Calvin Goings asks the executive, among other things, to “pursue public-private partnerships for the development, operation and maintenance of the golf course to the extent possible.”

It also asks the executive to seek council review and approval of the final golf course design, cost estimates and financing or bonding plan.

A proposal by Councilmembers Kevin Wimsett and Dick Muri failed to convince fellow members to cancel Ladenburg’s public financing proposal and obtain the services of a private sector consultant/broker specializing in golf course transactions to aid the council and executive in “fully consider the range of private sector development options.”

During last Tuesday’s council meeting, President and CEO Bruce Kendall of the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County said the county golf project would benefit the EDB’s specific mission of increasing the number of primary businesses in Tacoma and Pierce County.

“A primary business is one that serves markets outside of Pierce County and brings new dollars into the county and exports a product or service outside the county,” he said. “That’s the definition of how you grow an economy. It’s one thing to re-circulate existing dollars; it’s another thing altogether to bring new dollars into the market place.”

Kendall noted that the county is receiving zero revenue from the site since the gravel mining operations ceased.

“The high end golf course concept offers an opportunity to gain substantial new revenues from the site, which I think is by everyone’s agreement a magnificent real estate location on the shores of Puget Sound,” he said.

Council Chair Harold Moss said the current council and executive have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“The question is do you want to be part of the development of one of the grandest pieces of property left in all of Pierce County,” he said, adding that the issue facing Pierce County today is similar to that faced by local officials 100 years ago regarding what is now Point Defiance Park.

“Somebody had the courage to go out and set aside an enormous piece of real estate that could have had houses covered all over it. They took the vision and sold it and developed it. I’m trying to visualize what our property will look like 100 years from today. Because if we have children and they have children and they have children, they will walk those trails and be the benefactors of what we do today.

“And I’ll be darned if I want to leave them a gravel pit to save a few bucks. That just doesn’t make any sense at all,” Moss said.