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A hard driving bargain with few answers for Norwalk

A Norwalk man enjoys Oak Hills Park golf course recently, before the official opening of the season.

By Paul Cantor

NORWALK, Conn. – The Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) is driving a hard bargain with its driving range proposal.

Give us a driving range and you may get some of the $3 million plus dollars you loaned us back.  Don’t and you won’t.

Other forms of this hard either/or bargain being offered to the taxpayers of Norwalk by the OHPA are:  Give us the driving range or you can kiss the park goodbye.  Give us the driving range or the golf course is toast.  Give us the driving range or the city will sell the park to developers.  Give us the driving range or instead of beautifully landscaped open space you’ll end up with McMansions or maybe even a massive mosque.

Nonsense. 

Taxpayers would never allow the city to sell the park to developers.  And the driving range is more likely to add to the OHPA’s financial problems than solve them.  How so?

The OHPA does not have the money to construct the driving range itself.  So it is seeking a private developer to build and operate it.   On top of bearing the cost of constructing the driving range the private developer will be expected to lease the land for the driving range from the OHPA and to provide the OHPA with a share of its gross revenues.

What is the minimum amount the OHPA will accept for the lease of its land?  It doesn’t say.  What is the minimum percentage of the driving range’s gross receipts it is willing to accept?  It doesn’t say.  What is the projected revenue the OHPA expects the driving range will take in?  It doesn’t say.  How many additional rounds of golf does the OHPA expect the driving range will generate?  It doesn’t say.  How much revenue does the OHPA think it will need to obtain from the driving range in order to cover the golf course’s operating expenses?  It doesn’t say

Instead it maintains that since the private entrepreneur selected to construct and operate the driving range will be required to put up a performance bond to guarantee the project will be completed none of these questions matter.  But what if the developer, as is likely, severely underestimates the cost of the project and backs out halfway through it?   Then taxpayers will have to put up additional funds to see it through to completion or, alternatively, to restore the land to its original condition.  What the OHPA is offering taxpayers, in other words, is a heads we win tails you loose proposition.

No one should be surprised, therefore, that golfers who would like a driving range in Oak Hills so they do not have to travel 10 or 20 minutes to practice their swing at Sterling Farms or a competing facility will claim that it is the answer to the OHPA’s financial problems.   But even if they could support their claim with reasonable projections of the income the OHPA might expect to realize from the project (and so far neither they nor the OHPA has made any serious attempt to do so) there are many other considerations that should be taken into account before it can be determined whether the benefit of a driving range in Oak Hills Park would outweigh its costs.

What, for instance, will be the effect of the driving range on the residential quality of the neighborhood in which it is located?   How will it affect the accessibility of the park to people who do not play golf?  What will be its environmental impact?  Can the golf course cover its operating costs without an outside source of income?

These and related issues will be addressed by the Friends of Oak Hills Park in future op-ed pieces.

Paul Cantor, a Norwalk resident, is a member of the Friends of Oak Hills Park.

 

Comments

4 responses to “A hard driving bargain with few answers for Norwalk”

  1. oldtimer

    At some point, before any contracts are signed, we expect some of these questions will be answered. It is hard to imagine anybody agreeing to build a range, run it, and turn a substantial part of gross income over to Oak Hills. If a range is built, it would probably make more sense for Oak Hills to run it and get all the revenue. If it is as good an idea as Mr Virgulak and his board seem to think, financing construction should not be all that difficult.

  2. Joe Espo

    Driving a hard bargain? Reality bites, doesn’t it, Mr. Cantor? If no one plays, Oak Hills doesn’t pay the millions owed the city, because it can’t. Your taxes go up; so do mine and it’ll suck dollars straight out of the education budget. If there’s no driving range, no one plays because there will be no golf course, just a vast abandoned weed-strewn expanse of open land exposed to homeless squatters, drug use, public defecation, tents, garbage and other “Occupy Wall Street” type social ills. It would be the old Ryan Park writ-large, but worse for the reason that the restaurant would make for a superb crack den. How do you suppose that will affect “…the residential quality of the neighborhood in which it is located?” Would you, then, advocate that a giant chain-link fence be built around the property? That will be a sight to behold by the real estate market, wouldn’t it? There certainly will be no money in the city’s capital budget for a fence. There certainly wouldn’t be any money in the operating budget for security and maintenance. No, that will, again, take money away from education and the screaming will begin. What else? How about…gasp…the city having to sell the land to developers for more McMansions on postage-stamp sized building lots? To think of the environmental impact of dozens of new water wells and septic tanks; all that construction and noise? Egads!!!!! So, Mr. Cantor: put a hold on your demagoguery, rectify your sophistry, step back from your rhetoric, and THINK! Expand your analysis beyond the mere political victory of killing the driving range. Ponder the consequences of killing the golf course, destroying the neighborhood and choking the City. And give us a “plan B” for that eventuality.

  3. Suzanne

    Mr. Espo, Not so very creative to exactly replicate a letter with no merit from The Hour as well as here. You have included all of the paranoia and none of the data that is being asked for: all reasonable requests given that the OHPA loan factory has not been Norwalk responsible in paying back what they owe the City of Norwalk.

    That course has run beautifully for years and years – without a driving range. An analysis of the site where the driving range is desired and for which I have seen 1997 plans would require between 4 and 7 million dollars just to prepare a base layer for the rest of the range – this from three different experts with experience in building golf courses and driving ranges. The disparity is due to the depth and size the OHPA decides it “needs” for this debacle.

    Your letter must be a ridiculous joke because all of the alternatives you present using a false premise that the Course MUST fail without a driving range (this, in spite of the fact it has been run successfully since 1967 to Charter requirements) does not answer the basic questions being posted: prove that a driving range will raise the golden revenues this OHPA thinks it needs to keep the course going WHILE denying the fact that this Course did quite well without this bad management.

    It would behoove the OHPA to forget the driving range and focus on what they exist for, that would be to keep a beautiful Course running, successful and with the requisite number of rounds needed to keep it self-sustaining.

    Also, you haven’t been paying attention: plenty of letters in this forum as well as in the Hour and Daily Voice have been written about possible alternatives to an 18-Holes Course. Perhaps they made too much sense for you to consider them.

  4. Dom Bruni

    I looked into buying the restaurant a few years ago. I looked into buying the restaurant a few years ago no one could give me much information about it I did tell my broker that particular restaurant wasn’t going to work because there is enough golfers to support it. I did tell my broker that particular restaurant wasn’t going to work because there is enough golfers to support it that golf course should become something different for the city and its people

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