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Grand Rapids is considering spending between $3 and $15 Million on an indoor golf driving range

December 15, 2022

“I’ve got just the place for low-cost housing. I have solved this problem. I know where we can build housing for the homeless: golf courses! It’s perfect! Just what we need. Plenty of good land, in nice neighborhoods, land that is currently being wasted on a meaningless, mindless activity engaged in primarily by white, well-to-do male businessmen who use the game to get together to make deals to carve this country up a little finer amongst themselves.”          George Carlin

Grand Rapids City officials never cease to amaze me when it comes to how they spend money. On Tuesday, only a few local news agencies reported that the City of Grand Rapids is considering spending between $3 and $15 million on an indoor driving range, according to a story on WOODTV8.

The source for this news is David Marquardt, the director of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation. Marquardt is quoted as saying: 

“Topgolf is the one brand that comes to people’s mind. It is in most of the major cities across the country, like Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis. That company looks for a big population base and other things that attract people to their cities like major league football. Grand Rapids does not have that.”

Again, it’s all about entertainment stuff when it comes to attracting people to live or visit here. How about instead of making the City of Grand Rapids primarily a destination for tourism or attracting “talent”, how about we attract people based on the notion the principle that every person who lives in the city is valued? And when I say valued, I mean that everyone has all of their basic needs met – earning a living wage ($25 an hour minimum), health care, good public education, great sustainable transportation, and yes, truly affordable housing. 

The director of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation says that Topgolf is probably not in the cards, but a smaller version of what they do. The discussion so far is to build an indoor golf driving range using land at the City operated Indian Trails golf course. (Of course this is what the City would call a golf course.)

Marquardt then goes on to say: 

“The Indian Trails golf course is what we call an ‘enterprise fund’. And so essentially it needs to be self-sustaining like any business. It would not necessarily be taxpayer funded, but rather funded by user participation. We would be looking at some partner funding from other sources. I don’t know how many or whom.”

Do other people find it curious (and enraging) that this is even a conversation happening in city government circles? The timing is also pretty incredible, especially considering we are only beginning to come out of a major pandemic, with massive inflation, making thing even more economically stressful for thousands of families in Grand Rapids, along with increased pressure from residents to re-direct funding away from policing and into housing, health care and other basic needs. 

In addition, I have no doubt that Grand Rapids City officials will be able to find partners – ie rich people – who will contribute to the cost. However, as we continue to see with other public/private partnerships, more often than not the public pays (with little or no input), while the private sector makes money and lobbies to use federal, state and local public dollars, all in the name of attracting people to Grand Rapids. 

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