Rick Bakovka and the town of Rome, Wis., gambled on Sand Valley Golf Resort in 2015, and that bet has paid off for all involved. Now Bakovka and Rome appear ready to double down.
The news Sept. 5 was that Tom Doak and the Keiser family – who first teamed up to build Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in 2001 – would reunite to develop a fourth course at Sand Valley. Doak’s concept is for a 6,000-yard course filled with par 3s and drivable 4s – an alternative to the resort’s two regulation-length courses and the par-3 course.
A day after that news broke, Bakovka, president of the Central Wisconsin Regional Economic Growth Initiative, met with Rome’s five-member Community Development Authority to discuss a new round of financing to support Sand Valley’s expansion.
In 2015, Bakovka helped arrange a $13 million state loan to fund development of the resort’s Mammoth Dunes course and lodge. That loan was set up as a tax increment financing (TIF) district, with Sand Valley’s property taxes used to repay the loan.
The TIF expires in 2020, and Bakovka is eager to go back to the state to secure an additional $7 million to fund the Doak course.
“When the pan is hot, you make your meal,” Bakovka said.
Bakovka arrived at the Sept. 6 CDA meeting with a four-page memo detailing just how hot Sand Valley is and how important it is for the town to continue to support the project.
Bakovka has described Sand Valley as the region’s biggest economic-development project in the past half century. It has provided an economic lifeline to a region that was devastated by the closure of dozens of paper mills along the Wisconsin River around the turn of the century.
Sand Valley’s impact has gone far beyond simply generating revenues on land that previously was exempt from property taxes because it was managed forest land.
In his memo to the CDA, Bakovka said room taxes have increased 400 percent since 2015 and will exceed $300,000 this year, with Rome collecting $90,000 of that money. (Seventy percent of the money is allocated to the visitor bureau.) Virtually all of that money is attributable to Sand Valley. Bakovka said it is equivalent to 90 $200,000 homes being built in a year in Rome, a town with only about 3,000 residents. Room taxes will continue to rise as Sand Valley’s lodging grows from 113 beds to 185 beds by June 2019.
The town also has collected a record amount of sales taxes in eight of the past 12 months, according to Bakovka’s report.
The ripple effects are being felt elsewhere, he said.
He alluded to rising housing demand and housing values with the addition of more than 500 jobs. He also noted that the South Wood County Airport in Wisconsin Rapids, a 20-minute drive from the airport, has received $9 million in state and federal grants to repave runways and taxiways, and create corporate hangar space and a pilots’ lounge. That’s a response to all of the private aircraft that have been arriving with golfers bound for Sand Valley.
“Without Sand Valley, it is unlikely we would have gotten that,” Bakovka said.
He said CDA officials want to see Sand Valley’s 2018 financials this winter before seeking the additional money from the state. Three CDA members were not on the board when the original TIF was approved in 2015, so Bakovka still has to make his case for the additional financing.
“There’s still a little politics that goes on,” he said.
But he is determined to support the resort’s continued growth, and after the Sept. 6 meeting, he said town officials appeared to support those plans.
“As well as Sand Valley is doing, the likelihood of them being successful at engaging a bank or a private financing institution to borrow an additional $7 million would be very difficult,” Bakovka said. “The easiest route is to continue the partnership with the town of Rome and use the town’s leverage in the state-financing market to gain that money for (the Doak course).”
That course, much like Mammoth Dunes, was the result of a protracted competition for the commission. Michael Keiser Jr. said family members have walked routings with Doak, Mike DeVries and Gil Hanse over the past year.
“All of them were the leader in the clubhouse at some point,” Keiser said. “Each of them really dazzled us with their routings.”
Doak initially had targeted a piece of land elsewhere on the property, but the logistics didn’t work. The breakthrough, Keiser said, came when Doak agreed to develop a routing on a parcel of land that was not large enough to accommodate a 7,000-yard-plus course. The land is located near the practice range and the final holes of Sand Valley’s first course. The working name for Doak’s course is Sedge Valley.
“(Doak) said, ‘I want you to consider something that I’ve always wanted to do,’ ” Keiser said. “He’s been writing about this for 30 years. He described something that was so dedicated to fun that it completely ignores the conventions of par and distance.”
Meanwhile, Keiser said he plans to have architect David McLay Kidd begin construction by next year on a six-acre putting course, part of which will be located to the right of the first fairway of Kidd’s Mammoth Dunes layout.
“(Kidd has) thought a lot about (putting courses), and I don’t know that many other people have,” Keiser said. “And he has some really cool ideas to raise the bar.”
A putting course can be built quickly and should pad the resort’s top line. The Punchbowl, the Keisers’ putting course at Bandon Dunes, is free to play but reaps a windfall in beverage sales. Gwk