Guest Opinion: Chambers Bay Resort project needs to be done with the public in mind

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By Connie Ladenburg – Pierce County Councilmember

 

Connie Ladenburg

The County Council is reviewing and discussing a proposed Chambers Bay Resort Ground Lease Agreement (GLA). A resort hotel has always been a part of the development plan since the inception of Chambers Creek Properties. The intent of developing a hotel on the property is to increase tourism, thereby increasing use of the golf course. It was not to harm Chamber Creek Properties (the park), hinder public use of the park, including the trails and the meadows, or obstruct the views that this park and its trails are known. The GLA at the onset was only to include discussion of the resort development and was not to include development of the remaining Chambers Creek Properties.

After reading through the proposed ground lease agreement multiple times, I cannot support this proposed agreement because it is not in the best overall interest of the County or the taxpayers. There are too many unknowns that need clarification.

I have requested the County conduct an outside objective review, a risk/benefit analysis to determine if the proposed 100-year lease a logical agreement for the County and its taxpayers. My request has not been well received.

As proposed, the development will consist of up to 190 units, a mix of villas OR hotel rooms. The word “or” is problematic in that it could consist of only the villas. The villas are extended stay; extended stay is defined as anything MORE THAN 30 days with no definition of end time. Eventually, the villas will be transferred to daily rentals (hotel rooms) basedon a combination of occupancy, daily rates, net operating income, advance reservation projections and market capitalization rate differentials for hotel and monthly rentals. So when will that happen? We don’t know, nor can the developer give us a date certain or even an estimate. The result will be that people will be living on park property. I plan to propose several amendments to this section of the lease.

The current plan is to have 70 hotel rooms and 90 villas of different sizes the largest group will be 1,400-1,500-square-foot townhouses at around $4,500 per unit for the largest unit. This sounds to me like townhomes for millionaires. How does that benefit tourism?

The existing restaurant, pro shop and the event tent will be removed prior to construction of the resort. These facilities will be included in the new hotel. The County currently receives revenue from these amenities that help pay the costs of maintaining the golf course. The loss of existing revenue during construction is unclear to the Council. I have asked for an outside financial review that has not been authorized. A new pro shop with a $1.1 million construction allowance will be built as part of the resort and leased for 10-years by the County. The amount of the lease is not disclosed. The Council has been asked to sign a blank check to lease this pro shop space. If the pro shop lease is not renewed after 10-years, the pro shop is turned over to the developer. The Council should not agree to spend taxpayer money without complete financial information.

Parking at Chambers Bay Park is currently challenging due to its popularity. The developer must provide new parking to adequately serve the resort at peak demand periods. This must include customer and employee parking and be in addition to the existing parking currently provided by the County. The Council should reject any resort proposal that reduces public parking.

Another concern is that the elevated 9thTee Box will be removed, and that land will be turned over to the tenant for the placement of the hotel. A replacement 9th tee box will be located at a lower elevation. This is an iconic tee box and often is shown in magazines worldwide as a showcase for Chambers Bay Golf Course. The removal of this showcase tee box could have an impact on the marketing of the Chambers Bay Golf Course. What we do know is that elevated golf tees are loved by the golfing public and provide the opportunity for a visually exciting golf shot. The County should do everything possible to attract future championships. I will be introducing an amendment that would prohibit this resort development from impacting the golf course.

The trail along the perimeter of the bluff, next to and in front of the current clubhouse and tent, will be removed. The trail through the parking lot will be left for the walkers. The existing trail should be maintained.

There is language in the ground lease agreement that would allow for the future sale of the resort area. The result is that land within the park could be in private hands with no County oversight or jurisdiction. This agreement gives the developer the first right to offer to purchase the golf course as well. There is no assurance that the golf course will be maintained as a championship course if it is sold. The tenant also has the first right to develop additional residences within the boundaries of Chambers Creek Properties including, but not limited to, multi-family, senior housing or hotels. I will be offering an amendment to the lease that articulates that all the land within Chambers Creek Properties must stay within the ownership of the County with no harm to the park. If the County ever determines that the golf course is not viable, this area of the park must be maintained as open space.

The financing aspect of this proposal is what is most troubling. Initially, the County will receive $300,000 during the construction phase to cover the loss of revenue from the restaurant. At hotel occupancy, the County will receive $450,000 per year for eight years. There is an escalation factor in out years. That escalation is less than the Seattle Consumer Index. Somewhere between year 8 and year 13, a percentage rent takes over. The financial expectation is that the resort will be doing so well that the County will receive increasing revenue if the resort is successful. We all hope for that. Unfortunately, we have not seen a market analysis that provides any indication of what the market is now and what it may be in the future.

This lease agreement will likely outlive all of us. By introducing a permanent residential presence at the park and a significant change to the golf course, the public’s experience will profoundly be impacted. The future of Chambers Creek Park is at risk. This is a public park and was not built to benefit a private developer at the detriment of the park and the public.

For more information on the Chambers Bay Resort project, go to: www.piercecountywa.gov/chambersbayresort.

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