Borough steps up and drives a good deal for golf course

The borough and the Alaska Department of Transportation have found an answer to preserve the Wrangell Golf Club’s low-cost use of 33 acres of state land on Ishiyama Drive for the nine-hole Muskeg Meadows course.

When the state last year determined it needed to start charging a market-rate land rent to the nonprofit, the borough figured out it could lease the land from the state at no cost – and then sublease it to nonprofit for $1 a month.

The borough assembly signed off on the deal Dec. 12.

The golf club has operated Muskeg Meadows for more than 25 years after it was built on state land just above the south end of the airport runway. Under the terms of its original lease, the golf club did not have to pay rent. Instead, its members performed brush-cutting and other work around the airport security fence.

Following expiration of the lease last year, the Department of Transportation told the nonprofit it would have to pay for an appraisal to determine the land’s fair market value and start paying rent based on that value.

Borough officials calculated that could cost the financially stretched golf club as much as $12,000 the first year.

State law, however, allows the department to lease the property to the municipality at no cost, creating the opportunity for the borough to take ownership of the improvements at the golf course and sublease the land to the nonprofit.

Muskeg Meadows has become a popular recreation site for Wrangell residents, players from around Southeast and out-of-state visitors. The high school hosts an intramural golf program at the course, which is also popular for cross-country skiing, walking, birding and community events.

“The golf course not only contributes to our recreational opportunities but also to our economy as a whole,” Mayor Patricia Gilbert said in an interview after the assembly approved the deal. It’s in the borough’s “best interest not to lose” the value provided by the course, she said.

The assembly without opposition approved the five-year lease with the state and a five-year sublease to the golf club — both can be renewed.

The Wrangell Golf Club will continue to manage the course as it has since 1995. “Customers shouldn’t see a difference,” said Kristina Woodbury, president of the nonprofit.

Though it will not pay a lease fee to the state, the club will now be required to pay the state a percentage of its gross revenues from the sale of food, beverages and merchandise at Muskeg Meadows. According to Woodbury, it is unclear why the state began imposing this charge after not doing so previously.

The payments to the state will range from 6% to 8% if food and merchandise sales in total exceed $50,000 a year; plus 12% of all alcohol sales.


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