4-3 vote means Prom will manage Phalen Golf Course

The Phalen Golf Course will be under private management this spring. Prom Catering of Oakdale has been approved by St. Paul City Council to manage the course, as well as the Como Golf Course. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Concerned city council will give public courses private management

With a vote barely squeezing by, Prom Catering of Oakdale will be taking over management of the East Side’s publicly owned Phalen Golf Course, as well as Como Golf Course.

The St. Paul City Council voted 4-3 to approve a contract between St. Paul Parks and Recreation Department and the private company.

The vote signals the end of a months-long process to figure out what to do with the four city-owned courses which were losing money at a rate of about $400,000 a year.

Mike Hahm, director of the city’s parks and recreation department, pitched the partnership as a way of shedding the city of a financial burden.

“It will result in not accumulating an additional deficit,” he said, adding that it might bring the parks department flexibility to invest in other programs.

Dan Bostrom, St. Paul City Council member representing Ward 6 where Phalen Golf Course is located, voted against entering into a contract with Prom Catering, alongside council members Dave Thune and Chris Tolbert.

Bostrom seemed hung up on the idea of a catering company managing a golf course.

“They’re going to subcontract out to someone else to run the golf course,” he said. “It does not make sense.”

Hahm said that a former Minneapolis parks and recreation administrator, Don Siggelkow, will likely help Prom manage the courses.

Bostrom contended the case against keeping the golf courses run by the city was trumped up. “It was made to look like a gigantic problem, but I just simply do not believe that was the case.”

Nonetheless, he said he was resigned to the outcome and determined to work with the situation.

A slippery slope?

Amy Brendmoen, Ward 5 council member, raised concerns with how the city will monitor Prom’s performance.

“How will we know this continues to be a good plan?” she posed.

Hahm responded that the parks department will be reporting directly to the city council on contract compliance and performance, and will review the contract at least twice annually.

“I have full confidence that Prom Management and their golf partners are going to be able to follow through and operate as specified in the contract,” he added.

Hahm noted that in the event that things didn’t work out with Prom, the city wouldn’t be stuck up a creek without a paddle -- the city will hold onto the maintenance equipment as well as the building, and routine investments and updates will be made to the facilities.

In terms of staff layoffs, the result of bringing in a private partner is “a mixed bag,” Hahm said. The department will transfer many of the golf staff at both Phalen and Como to other city positions, but a few administrative positions will be lost.

Dave Thune warned council members that the move to privatizing golf courses is a slippery slope. “We could contract out any number of recreation services,” he said. “This is one more way that the city is passing on the responsibility we have to our customers.”

“Booze and food”

“We are just right now passing this on, just so a private person can pay less money to staff people working for this city on behalf of the citizens of this city,” Thune said.

He ventured that the only way Prom might make money with the operation is by paying workers less.

Brendmoen said, “We’re not taking this lightly,” but pointed out that the council had already OK’ed a move to find a private partner.

“We got back a strong response from a union shop with St. Paul roots,” she said.

“I believe they’re going to make money selling booze and food,” rather than cutting workers’ wages, she said.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com, or follow on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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