One of several prominent decisions made at Thursday night’s meeting, Johnson City commissioners unanimously voted to close Buffalo Valley and begin the process of selling the golf course located in Unicoi County.
Buffalo Valley and the city’s other golf course, Pine Oaks, have operated in the red for the past decade, losing a combined $8.72 million since 2006.
Buffalo Valley, by itself, has needed subsidies ranging from $300,000 to $535,000, for the past several years to remain afloat.
On Monday, commissioners heard from golf industry consultant Jim Keegan, who said the demand for golf in Johnson City is insufficient to continue operating the two courses and recommended the closure of Buffalo Valley, a decision city officials have mulled over for months.
Until the property is sold, Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl said the course will still be mowed, but it won’t be maintained to a “golf course standard.”
“We are recommending that the property be maintained on a monthly basis with grass mowed to a 4-to-6-inch height, utilizing staffing and devoting no less than 50 hours per month or whatever it takes to maintain the property at a trim and neat fashion,” Stahl said.
The city will now issue a request for proposals to gauge local interest in buying the property, and if that isn’t successful, a real estate broker might be contracted to sell the property.
“I think the next step, as far as us, is to follow up on the development and the actual implementation of the closing of Buffalo Valley. There are a whole series of things to deal with security,” Director of Golf Jim Hughes said.
Following Keegan’s recommendation, Hughes also said his department is already looking at ways to enhance its website and its overall marketing approach to golf.
In a bit of a surprise, the commission unanimously voted to pull $432,300 from its unassigned fund balance and begin developing “Phase 1B” of the Tannery Knob Bike Park.
Developer Grant Summers, who has led the project, said the additional public funding will cover about two miles of additional intermediate and expert-level trails, driveway enhancements along Chamber Drive and a parking lot enhancement.
“Tannery Knobs is a small parcel but its proximity to downtown makes it really unique and a really desirable place to put some really awesome trails,” said trail designer Steve Kasacek, who works for the International Mountain Bicycling Association. “The mileage isn’t super high, but what it lacks in mileage it makes up for triple-fold in diversity and progression.”
Roughly $15,000 of that $432,300 will also go towards the creation of a feasibility and concept plan for additional mountain bike trails on Buffalo Mountain.
For the past several weeks, Kasacek and his team have been working on the initial phase of Tannery Knob, which he expects to be completed before Christmas.
According to a rough timeline presented to the commission, Kasacek will complete the design and planning of the Buffalo Mountain concept and “Phase 1B” of Tannery Knobs in January and February.
Summers and Kasacek hope to break ground on the second part of Tannery Knob in March and possibly have it completed by May.
For those eager to ride, Summers said it still might be a while before the park is officially opened to the public, but in the meantime, he said local mountain bike organizations, such as SORBA Tri-Cities, is planning to host some Tannery Knob ride sessions.
Traffic Safety Camera
After a brief presentation by Police Chief Mark Sirois, the entire commission, minus Mayor David Tomita, voted to renew a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, which operates the red light cameras in Johnson City.
Installed at six intersections, Sirois said crashes at those intersections have declined 3 percent since 2009, when the cameras were first installed.
Sirois said he expected the cameras to lower the number of crashes more than 3 percent, but compared to the 43-percent increase in crashes at all other intersections, he said the cameras have demonstrated some value.
Between 2010 and 2017, Johnson City traffic cameras issued 58,357 tickets, with 9,937 alone issued at the intersection of Roan Street and Mountcastle Drive, according to Sirois’ presentation.
The renewed three-year contract does change how Redflex and the city share its funding. Effective on April 1, 2018, the city will pay Redflex $30 per paid citation instead of the current 70 percent portion Redflex currently receives.