Ben Cantu’s proposal during his unsuccessful 2014 campaign for the Manteca City Council to convert the Manteca Golf Course into a low-key community park of sorts and build a new municipal golf course elsewhere triggered what one might best call an “eye rolling moment.”
Critics seized on it as an expensive proposition to secure land for a golf course elsewhere. Others viewed it as an outright attack on golfers.
That is not the way Cantu meant for his proposal to come across.
And as he gears up for his fifth run for the council — two of the times he sought election to the mayor’s seat — Cantu isn’t backing off his proposal.
But he is elaborating on it — something he didn’t do well in conveying his overall rationale for his proposal.
Cantu is well aware of the popularity of golf in Manteca and the success of the 101-acre golf course. He is also aware of its heavy use and a long list of deferred maintenance and course overhauls that the city has been compiling with no source of funding identified to pay the tab. And he also knows a growing city will place more pressure on the course.
It is why he thinks Manteca needs to start from scratch. Nothing against the course that had its first nine holes developed on land where the city’s original wastewater plant once stood and the second nine holes on the site of the former municipal dump.
Buying the land shouldn’t be an issue. Cantu noted Manteca has already secured 200 plus acres on Hays Road about three miles south of the city originally for the purpose of extending purple lines to it for the disposal of treated wastewater to allow Manteca to purse a water park resort and a family entertainment zone on land set aside for that purpose by the treatment plant.
But that may no longer be necessary given how the city is rethinking how it will process and utilize wastewater and its methane gas byproduct.
Cantu believes the city can design a championship golf course on the Hays Road location in a manner that ultimately may be more cost effective and can accommodate heavier use plus have a longer life. He wants to do by seeking out a company like Big League Dreams that specializes in partnering with cities to run golf courses.
Cantu noted that the BLD partnership has worked well for the city and players. The city is getting steady revenue —in excess of $400,000 a year — and players are loving it.
Once the transition to a new golf course is made, Cantu said the existing course would be turned into a low-key community park/open space.
That could also include additional features as the years go by. Possibilities range from additional tennis courts, a new skate park, and even touches such as an outdoor amphitheater for concerts and even theater productions under the stars such as are popular in many central Oregon communities.
The clubhouse could easily be turned into a community center or repurposed as a teen center.
From a logistics standpoint, a community park where the existing golf course is located is much more centralized. A golf course doesn’t have to be in the center of things.
And yes, this would cost money.
But here’s where Cantu makes his big point. That long list of golf course needs can’t be accomplished at once meaning it may be a hodge podge approach. And because of that it may end up being more expensive to do and not provide optimum results.
Creating a new course could be more cost effective in the long run. It also would make it more likely to find a 35-year partner like BLD to lease it while handling all the maintenance, upkeep, and operations as well as running the course. In a way, it builds on what current golf pro Alan Thomas once argued — the city would be better off financially and the course would likely fare better as well if he was allowed to lease the entire course and be in charge of everything from maintenance to coordinating play.
Converting the existing course into a community park to open it up for such use would require minimum effort.
So how would you leverage the new golf course? Manteca needs another community park as it grows. The fees collected for that purpose on top of new neighborhood parks could go toward securing loans to build the new golf course.
Some may argue that the city is building a new community park at the family entertainment zone. Such an argument, though, would verify what Cantu has been saying for the last five election cycles — the city views amenities for existing residents as a second tier priority.
The FEZ multi-use soccer fields are being pursued not for local use per se but as a regional draw to help lure private sector investments such as restaurants and specialty stores on city-owned land. Just like BLD, they probably would be accessible by local residents before the money producing games start which is typically weekdays before 3 p.m.
Look around. There aren’t a lot of youth sports and such that start up before 3 p.m. during the school year or summer. It may be called a community park as justification to use set aside redevelopment agency funding for it, but it won’t serve the Manteca community like the existing community parks at Lincoln, Northgate, and Woodward do.
Whether you agree with Cantu or not, at least he isn’t afraid to think out of the box or vet different ways of doing things.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.