Restaurant owners in St. Paul are banding together over concerns about public funding provided to St. Paul’s Golf Course’s clubhouse, which operates the Tin Cup Restaurant and Patio that will be open year-round.
Smitty’s Family Restaurant’s owner Doug Millar had approached Café Orleans owner Tom Barclay a few weeks ago, and both decided to circulate a petition to other restaurateurs to state their objections about the issue. The petition states, in part:
“We the undersigned food and beverage businesses in St. Paul believe that using tax dollars to build a for-profit restaurant in St. Paul was wrong. As businesses, we all have to build and operate our businesses with our own money. Providing scarce tax dollars to one business and not all food and beverage operators is not a fair or smart practice for our governments.”
The government of Alberta had provided $350,000 for the project, and the Town and County of St. Paul had contributed $100,000 and $50,000 respectively, while the town also backed a loan for the golf course to access the majority of the rest of the funds needed to build the $1.4 million clubhouse.
So far, 12 out of 18 restaurants in town have signed the petition, but Millar notes that only owners of businesses were approached, rather than managers of franchises, since owners are “the ones putting their cash on the line.” The petition has yet to be formally presented to local MLA Ray Danyluk, he notes.
Millar feels the golf club is accepting public funds as a not-for-profit organization and then “jumping to the other side of the tracks” by operating as a for-profit business by staying open through the winter while the golf course is closed.
As a golfer, he also questions why the golf club put its efforts into building a new clubhouse rather than improving the golf course itself, saying, “People go to golf courses for one reason – to golf.” Even if the restaurant was to become a “cracker-jack” moneymaking operation, he says, “it wouldn’t increase the (play) of the golf course.”
However, President of the Golf Club board George Parrott says that if the restaurant were to become more than a break-even operation, the money would be put into improving the grounds.
“We’re trying to be self-sufficient. We don’t want to be a burden on the taxpayers,” he said, adding that the golf course is a great service to St. Paul and people who come from elsewhere to play to the course, and that the club runs and manages the golf course with “little input” from the town. In response to the petition’s request to the Government of Alberta not to grant any more tax dollars to for-profit businesses, Parrott said the golf club had no intention of requesting additional funds.
“We have a tradition of looking after things ourselves and we want to keep it that way.”
While he couldn’t say exactly when the decision to stay open through the winter was made, Parrott notes that the restaurant had been fielding requests from people to hold Christmas parties there, and from its members to stay open through the winter. The local Cross Country ski club also requested use of the course to make trails and to use the clubhouse to store skis and equipment during the winter months, which also weighed in favour of staying open year-round. By staying open, the restaurant can retain its staff and not have to worry about the time or expense involved in rehiring and retraining staff in spring.
“All we’re trying to do is keep our heads above water,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt anybody. We’re just trying to stay alive.”