Downtowners will soon have another pleasant diversion.
Paul Evans, the city's administrator of golf operations, said that the clubhouse at Martin Luther King Riverside golf course, overlooking Interstate 55 at Riverside Drive and South Parkway West, is complete. Evans is "shooting for early November" to reopen the nine-hole course.
The new clubhouse became controversial in the wake of a $4 million allocation for the Whitehaven golf center in 2003. The city council then appropriated over $1 million for the new clubhouse at Riverside despite the recommendation of the Memphis parks board against it.
Critics derisively dubbed the Riverside clubhouse the "Taj Mahal," pointing out that the 5,000 square foot building was double the size of the clubhouse at a private club in the city.
Shelby County commissioner Joe Ford tossed fatback into the pork-barrel fire in a 2005 interview with the Nashville Tennessean. According to that report, Ford cited the clubhouse as an example of "my vision ... to make sure we get our fair share of tax dollars."
Evans, however, described the building as "functional."
A delay in the reopening of the course fed speculation that a construction error closed the course indefinitely.
City administrator of building design and construction Mel Scheuerman explained, "The facility got caught up in the budget crunch last year and couldn't hire staff."
There were, he said, "no foundation problems. The clubhouse is built on the old number 8 green, and it changed the layout of the golf course."
"It was right on budget," he said, adding that the builder squeezed in a new tee box, parking lot, and two new greens not accounted for in the initial plan.
City councilman Edmund Ford, whose district includes the Riverside course, explained, "We had two options: Lose the golf course and put a new community center there. We were [also] planning on selling the park to Mapco for development."
Ford attributes the new clubhouse and course improvement to a grass-roots campaign. A trailer had served as a "temporary" clubhouse since the original burnt in 1992. Community residents came out in support of the replacement.
"We had a meeting before all that took place. The neighborhood people decided they wanted [the clubhouse]. That was a big interest to them," he said. "We didn't know how many people used the park until we had the meeting a couple years ago."
"That clubhouse should be doing fine," Ford added. "I don't play golf, so I don't keep up. I hadn't checked on it lately, all I know is that everything should be in place."
Golf administrator Evans said that the $70,000 and $90,000 allocations for clubhouse furniture and information technology, respectively, have been approved. Communications equipment and cash registers have been installed. Once a staff is in place, the new clubhouse and updated golf course will open.
Ford explained that subsidies defray costs for both the Whitehaven and Riverside golf projects rather than each playing a zero-sum game with city taxpayers. According to Ford, funds from the sale of McKellar Park to the airport have been diverted to the Whitehaven golf club, and Mapco assists with the MLK-Riverside park costs.
"They're bringing it back to where it used to be," he said.