The City of Philadelphia could spend millions to help restore the floodplain at its Cobbs Creek golf course, despite a multimillion-dollar commitment from the private foundation the city leased the property to.
The lease agreement finalized in December says the city has no obligation to invest in the 350-acre property, which it leases to the nonprofit Cobbs Creek Foundation for $1.
The foundation plans to restore the iconic public golf course – which hosted players of color decades before other courses and the PGA – to its 1916 design, strengthen ties with surrounding communities and raise $65 million. for all of this to happen. This could include $3 million from the city over fiscal years 2023 and 2024, as outlined in Mayor Kenney’s proposed capital program.
“I’m very grateful that the administration has found a place for this,” City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said in an interview Monday. “I guess they see this as a really important project and a great opportunity to leverage the massive investment the foundation is already making in the project itself.”
The city’s money would go to the Cobbs Creek Foundation Floodplain Restoration Project, key to the foundation’s plan to eliminate chronic flooding that often made the course unplayable. It includes restoring three miles of waterways and creating 37 acres of wetlands, for a total of 10 square miles of drainage area on the property. For context, the proposed $3 million over two fiscal years is the same amount proposed in Kenney’s capital program for homeless shelter renovations, and slightly less than the amount allocated to the zoo and art museum. owned by the city.
Renovation of the Cobbs Creek Golf Course — which has gone from one of America’s top public golf courses to a failed city asset — will also involve a new education and community engagement center, fares discounts for city residents, as well as partnerships with area school districts to provide job skills programs and other opportunities for Philadelphia youth.
It’s normal for the city to bring in cash in order to leverage greater private investment in city assets, Ott Lovell said. Take for example the planned freeway ceiling at Penn’s Landing – which would bring in more than $50 million over the next six years in Kenney’s capital plan – or the Schuylkill River Trail bathrooms, or Bartam’s Garden, she said.
“Restoring the creek…has been the responsibility of the city, but hasn’t been something the city has been able to undertake,” she said. “The foundation could not restore the golf course without restoring the creek. So, even though it was the responsibility of the city, it was clear to the foundation that it was not going to be able to be financed by the city as a whole.
The city’s $3 million capital donation would be part of an estimated $15 million the foundation has budgeted for floodplain restoration. The foundation also expects to receive $15 million in stream restoration credits from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
City Council must approve the Mayor’s capital budget. City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., whose district includes the golf course, joined a tour of the property Monday alongside Ott Lovell, foundation leaders, neighbors and community advocates. the environment who have criticized the foundation’s work to date. Jones expressed hesitation about a city investment.
“I think that, at this point, should be the foundation [putting in money],” he said.
Jones said he wasn’t sure exactly what the $3 million requested by the mayor’s office would pay, but indicated he would support such an investment if it helped his constituents gain access to the course.
“If this $1.5 [million] go for the outdoor things, maybe sidewalks and lights and tree-lined streetscapes, I’m all for it,” he said. “I don’t want it for the ninth hole.”
The Cobbs Creek Foundation has come under fire for felling hundreds of trees, many several feet wide, on the property, raising concerns about increased erosion, flooding and habitat loss . City officials and foundation leaders argue that tree removal did not contribute to erosion or increased flood risk, but was necessary in part for the creation of the wetlands, which they believe will provide a stormwater management benefit to the surrounding community. But residents have also complained about what they see as a weak public engagement process that has failed to reach many neighbors.
“It felt like my garden had been slaughtered,” said Simone Scott, a neighboring resident who used to take her children for walks on the overgrown golf course, after viewing the property on Monday. . “I can’t believe they did all this, like without really talking to people.”
For Miguel Chavarria, who lives nearby and remembers playing in the creek and caddying on the golf course in his youth, the felling of trees was devastating, but he thinks the city should when even invest in the project.
“It’s city land, so there should be investment from the city,” he said. “It should be both – a partnership.”
The foundation continues to make progress toward its overall commitment of $65 million, said Michael Rodriguez of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, speaking on behalf of the foundation. The city’s proposed contribution is part of an “ongoing public-private partnership” to make the region more resilient to flooding, he said. Foundation leaders say they are 90% complete with the floodplain restoration plan they are working with the city to finalize.
“The Cobbs Creek Golf Course is an irreplaceable part of Philadelphia’s cultural identity and heritage, and is vital to the history of black golf in the United States,” Rodriguez said. “The Cobbs Creek Foundation continues to raise the funds needed to revitalize this national treasure and develop an educational campus that will provide opportunities for young people in Philadelphia.”
This article was first published on WHYY.org.