West St. Paul council decides to close municipal golf course


Graphic courtesy of Dakota County • The concept map shows what the River to River Greenway crossing could be like between Livingston and Oakdale avenues. The dashed line represents what could be an alignment through Thompson Oaks Golf Course, made possible by the West St. Paul City Council’s Feb. 26 decision to close the city-owned course.

Graphic courtesy of Dakota County • Other potential trail work includes creating an underpass near the site of the former Blockbuster on Robert Street connecting portions of the River to River Greenway.

Closure could open door to new development and trails.

 

Last golf season was the final season at Thompson Oak Golf Course. The West St. Paul City Council voted at its Feb. 26 meeting to close the city-owned course. 

The unanimous vote, with Mayor Jenny Halverson and council member Dick Vitelli absent, came after the presentation of an environmental study of the course and because of the possible loss of two holes at the nine-hole course.

 

A tough decision

City Manager Ryan Schroeder said at the meeting that a few months ago the city was notified the owners of neighboring property were in discussions to sell its land. Part of that land was used for two holes at Thompson Oak and would be a part of the sale, resulting in the loss of the holes.

Knowing that, the council had city staff contract with an environmental testing firm as a first step in the possible redevelopment of the golf course, in order to determine what obstacles there might be to redeveloping it.

In a Feb. 27 interview, Schroeder said it’s generally known that demolition debris was dumped at the golf course property, decades ago, and the environmental testing backed that up

“It’s still our impression that the loss of two holes is highly likely and it’s our impression given the [environmental] report ... that additional environmental testing will need to occur, which will continue to have impacts upon the site,” Schroeder said at the meeting, adding that city staff recommended that the course should be closed.

Acting Mayor Dave Napier said the course’s future has been an ongoing discussion at the council level for about two years, involving course revenue and other issues. 

“Although a seven-hole course would reduce my scorecard number, which selfishly would be a great thing, it’s not realistic,” Napier said, adding that with the decision to close the course, he was committed to maintaining the site’s greenspace in any redevelopment that is done.

 

A link between cities

Thompson Oak is a possible future site of a portion of the River to River Greenway trail. John Mertens, principal planner with Dakota County, said the trail system has been part of the county’s master plan since the early 1980s. 

For a long time, the trail was planned to be an eight-mile corridor that would connect the Big Rivers Regional Trail in Lilydale to the Mississippi River Regional Trail in South St. Paul. Recently, the plan for the trail was updated, making it more of a greenway, following a slightly different path than the original trail.

With segments of the trail being built over the years, one of the last big portions of work includes West St. Paul.

Mertens said that about a year ago, county staff looked at the best way to have the trail cross Robert Street. With redevelopment happening on either side of the proposed crossing site by the old Blockbuster, Mertens said the county looked at this as an opportunity to get the trail under Robert Street. 

West St. Paul received $2.2 million in state bonding last year for the project. Mertens said the county is working with the city to integrate the underpass into any new development.

The closure of Thompson Oaks Golf Course opens up the possibility of having the greenway trail go through that land.

“The master plan also has an alternative alignment that basically states if the golf course were to go away, there is an opportunity to integrate it in,” Mertens said, adding that how the golf course site is redeveloped will determine if it’s used as part of the trial.

 

Possible development

Jim Hartshorn, the city’s community development director, said the council has a good idea of what it’s looking for in terms of redevelopment, and the city is working with a number of developers.

Hartshorn said the city is seeking a developer that would be willing to pay cleanup costs at the site — according to the environmental report, it will cost roughly $1 million to clean up with site.

“The thinking is they would pay it and we would deduct that from what they pay us for the golf course,” Hartshorn said.

While there are developers who would consider that, the city is still going to seek grants from the state and county to help with the cost. Hartshorn said the $1 million number was better news than it could have been, as the city was anticipating something closer to $2 million. 

To redevelop the site, Hartshorn said the first thing that had to be done was the council saying the golf course was going to be closed. He added the city is working with the county to include the trail in redevelopment plans.

While there is no concept plan yet, Hartshorn said city staff has asked developers to provide a site plan showing a mix of senior living and townhomes, roughly 130 units. 

“The River to River trail right through a new housing project? Wow — I mean, that’s exactly what people want,” Hartshorn said.


 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com.

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