Policy: Environment & Energy

Mini-golf course atop former trash dump thrives

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News,Business,Energy and Environment

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — For 37 years, Bob Walther has been building a popular and successful Evansville business in an unlikely place — on the city's former trash dump.

Walther's Golf & Fun on First Avenue, south of Diamond Avenue, has 36 holes of miniature golf (18 indoor and 18 outdoor), a lighted driving range, a laser tag arena, party rooms and food service. It operates on more than 18 acres in Kleymeyer Park, and Walther has leased the land from city government since 1977.

"It's a nice attraction for the city of Evansville, and we've had a nice working relationship with the parks department for 40 years," Walther told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1eC62iG ).

That 40-year lease is up in 2017, and Walther has approached the city about a 50-year extension. The city, for legal reasons, must issue a formal request for proposals before any extension can be signed. Parks and Recreation director Denise Johnson said that likely will take place within the next couple of weeks.

But Johnson said Walther's Golf & Fun has been an asset to Kleymeyer Park, and the city is receptive to a long-term extension. She noted Walther's substantial investment in the business — nearly $2 million — over the years.

Walther said he's planning even more investment, and that's why he wants the new lease. He wants to make substantial upgrades, such as reconstruction of both miniature golf courses and repaving the parking lot.

Those expenses are more significant than they would be on normal soil, Walther said, and they are ongoing. Because of Kleymeyer Park's distant past as a landfill, any construction on top of it sinks unevenly.

"The differential settlement makes it costly to do business here," Walther said, but, at the same time, "the public has proven it can be attractive to do business here."

Walther is eager to get started.

"The longer we wait, the more costly it gets," he said.

If the Board of Park Commissioners extends its lease with Walther's, Johnson said the terms would be similar to what they always have been — with the city owning the property and Walther's owning any improvements that are made.

The city receives 5 percent of Walther's gross receipts from the driving range and 1 percent from the other attractions, under the current terms. Johnson said Walther pays all federal, state and local taxes, and utilities. Walther's sons are involved in the business, and the family has a succession plan.

Kleymeyer Park's soft ground hasn't just been a problem for Walther's — Johnson said the Parks and Recreation Department, for the same reasons, has long had difficulty maintaining its youth sports fields there.

The Evansville Youth Football League has a land-use permit at Kleymeyer. The park also has softball fields and Central Bark, a dog park. Johnson said softball facilities at the park could close once the Convention & Visitors Bureau's baseball and softball complex opens on North Green River Road near Heckel Road.

Walther, though, said he and his family continue to embrace the First Avenue property's business potential.

Walther's Golf & Fun has 74 employees, including 10 involved in day-to-day management. Walther wants it to continue for future generations.

"I think everybody has a real sense of accomplishment with what we've been able to do," he said. "We've proven that we have been good stewards of the city dump, that's what it is. We look forward to being here another 50 years."

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Evansville Courier & Press.

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