Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Heritage Oaks' Future

Ten years after a divided city council approved the Heritage Oaks golf course, the city has more options about how to make the project pay for itself.

A lot of people may think I’m not the one to be making those choices. They still ask me about the campaign promise to shut down the golf course. The short answer is: there wasn’t one. But the long answer requires a look at the city’s recent history.

Emotions ran high in 1999 and 2000 about the proposed golf course. The people of Harrisonburg didn’t want it, and the city council did. Those emotions were hard to gauge in the 2000 city council campaign. It became apparent well before the election that those of us who’d been opposed to the golf course would win. But what wasn’t clear was what people expected us to do. Did they think we could shut down the project, or were they just expressing their anger about it?

Neither option was available to the City Council. A flawed bond issue had tied us to the course for at least ten years. Stopping it then would have hurt the city’s credit rating in ways we’d still be paying for. Three lawyers, including Virginia’s attorney general, told us we were stuck with it.

And I tried to tell people that during the campaign. But, as I said, emotions were running high.

Ten years later, the city has choices to make. Should we sell beer? Should we out-source the marketing? Should we hire an outside manager? Should we try to attract a restaurant to the property?

Those are all ideas worth looking into. But in 2000, we didn’t have a lot of options. The city had signed a contract. The trees had been cut. The money had been borrowed. Closing down the project was just not possible. If we’d shut it down, we wouldn’t have opened three new schools.

The commission we appointed told us the questions wasn’t whether we should have built a golf course, but whether we had to continue the project.

That’s similar to the question we face now. I hope people can get past the emotions of ten years ago. I’d like to be on City Council again, to use my experience and knowledge about this and other continuing issues. You may not always agree with me, but you know I’m willing to make tough decisions.

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