Park Board to consider closing Hiawatha Golf Course

Reducing pumping would close South Minneapolis golf course

Photo courtesy Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will consider a move in August that would close the Hiawatha Golf Course in South Minneapolis.

Dozens of golfers and supporters of the Hiawatha Golf Club appealed to the board’s Planning Committee July 19 to postpone a decision to reduce groundwater pumping that keeps the course open for play. Commissioners on the committee unanimously opted to reduce pumping at the 18-hole course, which has been under threat since heavy rains in 2014 flooded and damaged the site.

The full board is expected to vote on the measure in August.

The measure passed by the Planning Committee would reduce pumping down to approximately 94 million gallons a year. That amount of pumping would not maintain the course, but it would protect neighboring property from flooding and allow the Park Board to come up with other uses.

The course, a component of the Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park, would remain open until at least the end of the 2019 golf season.

The move to transform the course into a park would cost $28 million, the board estimates. Additionally, this option would require $18 million in dollars to maintain and operate over 20 years.

The Park Board has not identified any future uses of the Hiawatha Golf Course site, but the resolution before the board acknowledges a public process to formulate ideas. One group has lobbied the board to build a food forest on the site. Another speaker, a veteran, said he would like to see a garden to support veterans.

“No matter which way you go, this is going to be a once-in-a-generation project,” David Kaplan, a Standish resident, told commissioners.

Linden Hills resident Constance Pepin told commissioners that she would like to see the area revert to a wetland.

“Here before you is a clear and compelling opportunity for you to choose to work with nature rather than work against her,” Pepin said.

Park staff project that a new use for the site could more than double the total number of visits each year, from the estimated 211,000 visits of a maintained golf course to 525,000 visits of an alternative destination.

“As an at-large commissioner citywide that’s important for me. It’s important for me that as many people in the city get to use the parkland as possible,” said Commissioner John Erwin, who chairs the committee.

Commissioners considered an alternative scenario that would continue the pumping of approximately 242 million gallons of water to keep the course open. At one point, Park Board-owned facilities were pumping out approximately 260 million gallons of water annually, much more than was permitted.

The Department of Natural Resources regulates groundwater pumping and prefers the reduction of pumping as a more viable long-term water management option. Park staff noted that, inevitably, a future flood would damage the site, which is mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a floodplain.

A 2014 storm flooded the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Meadowbrook and Hiawatha golf courses. File photo
A 2014 storm flooded the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Meadowbrook and Hiawatha golf courses. File photo

“In terms of a sustainable choice, we’re faced with a really difficult decision on something that we love that is being consumed by floodwater,” said District 3 Commissioner Scott Vreeland. “We need to say clearly that this is a decision that has a sunset.”

The Park Board estimates it would cost $14 million to keep Hiawatha Golf Course open and further renovate it, but maintaining it would require $26 million to maintain over two decades. During that time, the course would bring in roughly $13 million in revenue.

Park staff alternatively considered keeping a nine-hole course open, but found that golfers didn’t support it and the finances didn’t work out. Only one of 25 nine-hole courses in the state are profitable, staff noted. Expenses for the smaller courses are more than half of a full course and they bring in less than half of the revenue.

The Hiawatha Golf Course saw on average between 20,000 and 40,000 rounds of golf annually in recent years, dipping to just 14,000 rounds when it was flooded in 2014. The course supports The First Tee of the Twin Cities, a youth golf program that serves roughly 300 kids. Golf teams at three local high schools play on the course. In the winter, the board uses the course for walkers and cross-country skiing.