One of the city’s golf course operators, Bob Thompson, has donated his earnings from two facilities to a single charitable
cause the past 15 years.
Thompson has the contract to run Riverside Golf Course and Riverside Golf Academy, and he donates all the proceeds to St. Mary’s Child Center, a free preschool program serving 200 poor children from around the city.
Executive Director Constance Sherman said the golf revenue accounts for about 10 percent of the center’s $1.7 million annual budget.
The contracts for the Riverside course and Riverside Academy, a year-round training facility, are among the 12 open to bidders under the city’s recent request for proposals.
“Bob is going to rebid, but there’s a lot of fear we’re not going to get the golf courses back,” Sherman said.
St. Mary’s has become dependent on the golf revenue, along with Thompson’s personal support. Sherman said the golf revenue, starting in 1994, is what helped the program add a second location at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1998. St. Mary’s provides transportation, meals and a half-day education to kids ages 3 to 5. They’re often referred from hospitals or social service agencies throughout Marion County.
Sherman said Thompson, a passionate supporter of St. Mary’s since 1984, has been worrying for months about how to make up the revenue—should he lose the contracts. The timing is especially bad for the preschool because many of its large donors, recruited years ago by Thompson, work in construction and development, areas hard hit by the recession.
Thompson’s unusual arrangement with St. Mary’s has not prompted city officials to exempt Riverside from the bidding.
“We hope he puts in a competitive bid,” said Michael Huber, director of enterprise development for Mayor Greg Ballard. “He knows the business as well as anybody else.”
Thompson is a residential developer and golf course owner-operator. His company R.N. Thompson Golf owns four courses in Indiana and one in South Florida.
Thompson said he’s willing to make the $325,000 in improvements the city requires of anyone bidding on Riverside. Nevertheless, he fears he’ll lose out in the competition, which is drawing interest from regional and national golf management firms.
Thompson, 75, is a successful product of foster care, and he feels a strong connection to the disadvantaged kids at St. Mary’s. He first encountered the program when it was housed in a dilapidated building next to St. Mary’s Catholic Church on North New Jersey Street. At the time, the teachers and parents were looking for help with a renovation.
Thompson said he was moved by the sight of two dozen learning-disabled preschoolers working amid hanging wires and puddles of water. He promised them a new building. The result was the current school and headquarters at 901 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.
When then-Mayor Steve Goldsmith opened up operation of the city’s courses to private operators in the early 1990s, Thompson saw landing contracts as a way to ensure St. Mary’s livelihood.
“This is the 15th year, and I’ve had no personal gain from my involvement,” he said.•