Any golfers watching the Denver City Council’s meeting last week would have heard some potentially surprising news.
“Golf courses are in trouble in Denver,” said Councilwoman Robin Kniech. “We are looking at the potential closure — well, the certain closure of the Park Hill golf course.”
That was an overstatement, but closure is certainly a possibility for one of the oldest golf courses in the city, according to the people who will make the final decision. Park Hill Golf Club potentially could be replaced with a public park and even some degree of development.
There’s no specific proposal yet, but the land’s nonprofit owner is in the process of figuring out what might happen. If you’ve got something to say about that, you might want to show up for a community meeting this Thursday, Aug. 10.
“Our goal here is to really hear from the community. If you could wave a magic wand over there, what would you like it to be?” said Charlotte Brantley, president and CEO for Clayton Early Learning. The nonprofit is in charge of the land, which is owned by the Clayton Trust.
For the last 20 years, the nonprofit has leased the land out to Arcis Golf, which pays $700,000 per year for the right to run a golf course on the 155 acres, according to Brantley. That lease is about to expire, she said, which means it’s time to make a decision about the future of the area.
Brantley expressed doubt that Arcis will renew its lease, claiming that “they don’t clear $700,000” and are thus losing money. However, Jeff Matthies, the director of operations for the course, said the company is interested to keep its presence.
“We’re doing a great job. The golf course is profitable and we hope to keep going,” he said.
But it may not be that simple.
Clayton Early Learning wants to generate more money from the land in order to support its goal of providing quality early education for kids from low-income families, Brantley said. The nonprofit announced in June that it would close one of its two schools and limit enrollment at the other.
“We’ve thrown out there that we need $1 million a year in income in one way or another from that piece of land,” Brantley said. To that end, the nonprofit is running a “visioning process” to ask what people might like to see the land become.
“Clearly, people in this community highly value some level of open space or park,” Brantley continued. She also has heard interest in retail, healthy food and housing. It’s possible that the final plan will be some combination, she said — or it could remain a golf course, if there’s enough money and interest.
One obvious possibility is that the city of Denver could get involved.
Currently, the land is restricted by city zoning to use as a golf course or open space, Brantley said. That means that any private developer would have to go through a fairly complex and risky process to get anything else done.
The city, meanwhile, already has a legal relationship with Clayton because of the way the Clayton Trust is structured. The city originally acted as the trustee for the assets left behind when George Clayton died in 1899. The golf course previously was agricultural and dairy land, and the government later managed it as a city golf course starting in 1932.
“They certainly have an interest. Let me put it that way: They definitely have an interest in what happens to the land,” Brantley said.
In fact, a committee of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation unanimously recommended that the city buy the land itself, calling it “the last and best opportunity that exists for Denver to acquire a large and contiguous parcel of land within its boundaries for the future enjoyment and use of its citizens as public park land.” (INC is a nonprofit where representatives of various Denver neighborhoods meet.)
According to INC, the city council has the legal ability to stop Clayton Early Learning from selling the land for use as anything other than a golf course.
Still, it’s not clear whether or not the city is interested in buying the land. “I am not aware of any discussions just yet,” Denver parks spokeswoman Cyndi Karvaski said in an email.
“In the end, we’re really interested in hearing what the community would like to see here,” Brantley said. “Hopefully, we’re a member of this community for the next 100 years as well.”
What do you think?
If you want to weigh in, you can attend this Thursday’s meeting at the administration building of the Clayton Early Learning Campus at 3801 MLK Jr. Blvd. in Denver. The meeting runs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. More information is available via email.
I’m also happy to hear your thoughts via email. I may republish them in a future article. I will include your name unless you tell me not to.