SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's defunct Wingpointe Golf Course has another chance at a mulligan — but it might be a long shot.
In an announcement heavily laden with golf puns, Rep. Chris Stewart said Friday the long-shuttered golf course may have the opportunity to reopen thanks to new legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Working with Mayor (Jackie) Biskupski, I was able to tee-up language in today's bill … which sets up a chip shot right off the apron to reopen the golf course and put its finances in the sweet spot in time for first tee in spring of 2019."
Translation: The Federal Aviation Administration rule requiring Salt Lake City to pay fair market value to the Salt Lake City International Airport for Wingpointe's land lease is no more (if the U.S. Senate also passes the act and President Donald Trump signs it into law).
Wingpointe's land belongs to the city's airport, which had been leasing it to the city for $1 a year before an FAA audit declared in 2012 that the airport needed to charge a fair market rate for the property, $150,000, making the course financially infeasible
Ever since Salt Lake City's Wingpointe Golf Course shut down three years ago amid the financial troubles, Biskupski's administration has been trying to salvage the shuttered golf course. But the legal lease issues have stood firmly in the way, all while City Council leaders grew increasingly impatient and eventually vowed to stop pumping any more city funds into the course.
"It's silliness that things like (this) take that long," Stewart said, acknowledging the rule change "took a long time." But now, Stewart said federal policy isn't making it impossible.
For the last two years, Biskupski's administration has been working with Stewart to pass a law to amend the lease agreement, but while the legislation dragged along in Congress, Wingpointe's greens shriveled up — and so did the City Council's patience.
In 2016, the City Council agreed to set aside more than $60,000 to help maintain the course while Biskupski's administration worked to reopen Wingpointe. Regardless, the greens still dried up, and the administration estimated nearly $900,000 would be needed to reopen the course.
Then finally, last fall, the City Council had the last straw when the $150,000 lease payment was due. They grudgingly approved the lease payment, but on the condition it would be the last chunk of city money Wingpointe ever gets — and if the mayor's office hadn't figured out something else by the time the next lease payment was due, that would be it for Wingpointe.
The FAA legal issues have been the city's biggest hurdle, but the next big challenge is finding the money.
"We really appreciate Congressman Stewart's championing of this initiative," Biskupski's spokesman, Matthew Rojas, said Friday. "We recognize that there are additional hurdles that need to be cleared."
In addition to the Senate and the president, Rojas said the city will also have to find "significant private investment to make Wingpointe playable again."
Rojas, acknowledging the City Council's past reluctance to invest any more city funds, said the mayor's team doesn't have plans to make any requests. He did, however, say the mayor's team has been looking for private partners, but "I'm not sure they have found that yet."
Councilman Charlie Luke said that while Stewart has helped "open the door a little bit" toward Wingpointe's opening, he warned there's still much the city would have to figure out.
It would likely take "millions," Luke said, to reseed the course and bring its water infrastructure up to par.
"I'm still somewhat bitter," Luke said, noting he remains "frustrated" that even though the city pumped money into the greens, they still dried up.
"It makes it a lot more expensive for anybody looking at opening it, but now that this federal arrangement is working out, it seems to be moving in that direction, it certainly creates that possibility," Luke said.
Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall said it's too early to say what the city's next steps will be, noting that any additional city investment will likely be out of the question. But, Mendenhall added, she looks forward to any proposals from the mayor's office for private management options the council could consider.
"If there's such significant community desire, then perhaps there are private investors that would be interested in coming to the table to bring Wingpointe back, operate it and sustain it," she said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche