A master plan for the old Van Buskirk Golf Course in south Stockton got the go-ahead from City Council this week, but the project’s completion is likely many years and hundreds of millions of dollars away.
Stockton City Council unanimously approved a repurposing master plan at its meeting Tuesday for the former municipal golf course which was closed down by Council more than three years ago.
Stockton City Councilmember Kimberly Warmsley, who grew up in south Stockton, reminisced about walking past the golf course everyday as a child on her way to the bus stop. Back then it was one of the most beautiful courses in the city, she said.
Today, the course sits fallow and is a ghost of its former self.
“To see (Van Buskirk) in its current state, it’s heartbreaking,” Warmsley said, but expressed her excitement at the possibilities this new plan represents. “To see this proposal, and what it will bring to the community is heartfelt.”
The new proposed layout reimagines the old course as a multi-purpose recreation hub, including a BMX track, skate park, basketball courts, dog park, event center and community garden, as well as areas that could serve as potential flood control space and wetland restoration.
Even some fairways have been kept on the master plan’s recreational menu for training purposes and a possible golf academy.
But city staff and the design consults brought in by the city to research and draft the Van Buskirk plan said that coming up with a locked-in timeline for the complete renovation of the course is tricky.
Steve Noll, principal at Design Workshop, told council that many factors contribute to how fast a project like this gets done, such as funding sources and community partnerships.
“I usually try not to put any dates and times, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Noll said.
The project will also take hundreds of millions of dollars to complete and then Stockton will be challenged with how to fund the upkeep once it’s built, city officials said. City Manager Harry Black noted that the city will pursue grants and other funding opportunities but said the importance of transparency and being prudent.
“The key is this is a vision, this is a goal, this is a target,” Black said. “But at the same time, we need to be realistic with respect to high expectations as well.”
In 1957, the Van Buskirk property was deeded to the city of Stockton by Charles and Bertha Van Buskirk under the stipulation that it be used as a public park or for other public recreation less it return to the couple’s heirs.
The 214-acre parcel of land sits between Highway 4 and Interstate 5, encompassed by Houston Avenue to the north and levees of the San Joaquin River and the French Camp and Walker sloughs to the south. The old municipal golf course, which takes up 192 acres of the property, operated for about 60 years before being fully shut down in August 2019. The east end of the site currently boasts a community center and park.
After being denied state funds to renovate Van Buskirk, the city put out a request for proposals for a strategic reuse plan in January 2020, ultimately awarding the contract to the international design company Design Workshop.
Feedback from the state “identified the benefit and need for a strategic reuse and design plan with additional outreach and engagement for the Van Buskirk property to guide the City in planning, partnerships, and potential funding sources for this facility,” according to agenda documents.
A series of meetings with the community and other stakeholders were held over a more than 12-month period to gain input on how VanBuskirk should be repurposed, city officials say. The results of those discussions were incorporated into the final plan.
If Council accepts the Van Buskirk master plan, the design will be used for promotion, to apply for funding and “finalize the necessary environmental documents,” according to agenda documents. A final master plan is slated to be brought back before Council for approval in September.
Kris Farro, city director of community services told council that approving the master plan gets the funding process started even if all the planning work hasn’t been finalized.
“This document is critical to us as it allows city staff to present a tangible project when soliciting grants and financial support for this project,” Farro said.
Both Farro and Councilmember Dan Wright also noted that repurposing Van Buskirk will likely be done in phases, with different portions of the project being completed in chunks as the funding is allocated.
“It is a big, hairy, audacious goal,” Wright said. “And if we get it done, it’s going to be a jewel for this city.”