SEASIDE — When Justin Cutler learned that the Seaside Golf Course was for sale, he was intrigued.
What opportunities might be available if the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District bought the 102-acre parcel, the district’s general manager wondered.
Could it become a large city park, with nature trails, disc golf, archery, or even a high ropes challenge with a small zip line between the trees in the adjacent forest? Could the district expand the services it already provides to residents and visitors?
Those possibilities and more will be discussed during a public forum beginning at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday in the Bob Chisholm Community Center, 1225 Avenue A.
The district board is conducting the forum before it decides whether to pursue grants for purchasing the golf course, listed at $2 million.
“We want people to participate,” Cutler said. “So often they feel government is not responsive. We want to be responsive. We will take their thoughts, wishes and desires into consideration.”
Although the decision isn’t made, the board, like Cutler, was curious enough about the property’s potential to request an analysis. National Golf Consulting Inc., of Florida, told the board in its report that the district could lose $74,000 to $88,000 a year if it retained the property as a nine-hole golf course.
But the district could earn a net revenue of $40,000 to $50,000 if it created a driving range there, according to the analysis. The recreational-open space zoning on most of the site, however, may prohibit a driving range.
“When we look at Seaside, there are some parks, but not a large community park with trails and other activities that draw families out of their homes,” Cutler said. “This provides a unique opportunity.”
To pay for the site, Cutler proposes seeking grants, including the local government grant offered by the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation. In addition, the family estate that owns the golf course may be interested in making a donation in return for tax benefits, Cutler said.
He also plans to talk to the North Coast Land Conservancy about financial support: The conservancy’s Circle Creek land abuts the golf course.
“One of the key things is that we could connect Circle Creek with the Prom,” Cutler said. “There are good sidewalks from the Prom and down Avenue U to the golf course. Then people could go onto the trails. There would be better access to fishing and boating.”
Some people have expressed support for turning the golf course into a park, but others worry that improvements to Broadway Park, which grabbed most of the focus for the past few years, will be ignored.
“They are asking, ‘Is the district doing too much?’ Cutler said. “I think that’s a valid concern. “We would only be looking at grant money for the acquisition.”
Listed for four months with Windermere Cronin & Caplan Realty Group, the course is owned by the Fulmer estate in Washington. No offers have been made on the property yet, said broker Pam Ackley, who is the listing agent along with Dana Weston and Craig Weston, also with Windermere.
“We’ve had a lot of phone calls, and there have been studies done,” she said. But so far, no one has brought $2 million to the table.
Although the allowable uses for the property, which is in a floodway, are limited, a house on a separate lot on the corner of Avenue U and Edgefield Street is included in the price. The multi-family zoning on that lot allows six to nine units, Ackley said.
“If someone came along with a boutique hotel, and a restaurant was put in the clubhouse, it would really be a great facility,” she added.
With the hotel and restaurant adjacent to a park offering recreational activities, “it would be a real plus for the community to have,” Ackley said. “It would be a happening place again.”
Ackley remembers when the restaurant and bar on the clubhouse’s second floor was a popular meeting spot. At the moment, it is a storage area.
Constructed in 1923, the course is on the former site of the luxury hotel built in 1870 by Portland railroad builder Ben Holladay. Even then, the site offered a variety of activities, including a racetrack for horses and a fish trap on the portion of the Necanicum River that flows on the property.
But the property’s history goes back even further. At least five acres on the southern end, known as the “Par-Tee” site, contained a population dating back 1,000 to 1,800 years ago, according to Deanna Commons, western field representative for The Archaeological Conservancy. It is thought that the Tillamook tribe may have occupied it first, with the Clatsops occupying it later.
More than 7,000 artifacts – bone and antler harpoon heads and points, spear throwers, digging sticks and needles – were excavated at the site from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s. It also appears to be a burial ground. Not all of the Par-Tee site has been explored, Commons said.
Because of the site’s historical significance, the conservancy’s officials may be interested in being a financial partner with the recreation district in the golf course’s purchase, said Cory Wilkins, western regional director of the New Mexico-based nonprofit organization. Wilkins has discussed a potential partnership with Cutler.
The Archaeological Conservancy acquires and preserves archaeological sites on private property throughout the United States. Since it was established in 1979, it has acquired 440 sites, including a site on Avenue Q in Seaside, Wilkins said.
The conservancy also might help manage the Par-Tee site, he said. Management of other sites ranges from “neighbors watching over the property to full-blown tours,” Wilkins added.
In addition to how the 102 acres would be used, there are questions about how it would be maintained and staffed.
The course, its buildings and equipment are generally in fair to poor condition, according to the National Golf Consulting report. Because the property is in a floodway and a floodplain, the course is closed for at least a month once or twice a year due to flooding.
Flooding could increase after the Oregon Department of Transportation removes a berm from the Necanicum River south of the property this year, the report added.
Although there is no indication that the existing clubhouse is structurally unsound, it is “dated, aging and unattractive,” the report said. It would cost at least $150,000 to update the building, and $450,000 to $500,000 to replace it.
The equipment, which the report said is in “constant need of repair,” would need to be replaced at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000, if the golf course remains. Eventual replacement of the maintenance shed would add another $100,000 to $150,000 to costs, according to the report.
“It needs to be reinvented,” said district board Chairman Michael Hinton about the property. “It’s not viable as a golf course now. Justin is doing a very careful, analytical job. He’s trying to help us visualize what it could be.
“It would be a big jump for us,” Hinton added. “People might think we had a load of money if we bought it, but they don’t understand the partnerships that would have to be involved.”
For the project to be successful, the money required to maintain the property would have to come from revenue generated by the property, Cutler said.
“It would have to be cost-neutral,” he added.
At Wednesday’s forum, Cutler will give a brief presentation about what the property could become. Public comment will be taken, and the comment period will be open until the district board’s meeting Feb. 20. The board, then, will decide whether it wants to pursue an appraisal, submit grant requests and develop partnerships with other organizations.
“It could be a real gem for Seaside and its residents,” Cutler said. “But if the community is not behind us, either we need to create a better vision of what it could be or we move away from it.”
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.