Letter: What is going on?

Sequence of events:

1. August 16, 2012.  At a meeting of the Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) its chairman, Robert Virgulak, requests permission from the Authority to take steps to determine the feasibility of building a driving range in Oak Hills Park. He notes that the OHPA does not want to add to the more than $2 million it already owes the city and is struggling to pay back so it will require the driving range be financed by the firm selected to construct and operate it.

2. October 11, 2012.  At a meeting of Norwalk’s Finance Committee its director, Thomas Hamilton, points out there has been a major reduction in the number of rounds played at Oak Hills and across the country.

3. December 5, 2012, Mr. Virgulak, according to a story in The Hour, claims “a driving range is needed so the golf course will survive. Without that additional revenue, there’s no way.  We need another source of revenue and the only one that makes sense is a driving range.”

4. December 19, 2012.  Nancy on Norwalk reports that Thomas Vorio, the Oak Hills golf course’s superintendent, says that numbers show a driving range is not the solution to the OHPA’s financial woes.  Mr. Vorio also claims that the OHPA driving range committee is aware of those numbers.

5. February 2013. The OHPA issues a request for proposal for the development, construction & operation of a new outdoor Golf Driving Range Facility at Oak Hills Park Golf Course.  The request mandates bidders indicate:  1. how they plan to finance the project, 2. how much they will pay the OHPA in the form of rent for the land on which they plan to situate the driving range and 3.  the percentage the driving range’s gross revenues they will share with the OHPA.  Its request also stipulates “the proposer must have at least five years of operational experience.”

6. June 12, 2013.  NancyOnNorwalk and The Hour report that after twice extending the deadline to reply to its RFP to construct and operate the driving range, the OHPA only received responses from two firms:  Total Driving Range Solutions of Norwalk (TDRS) and King Golf International, Inc. of Westport.

7. August 15, 2013.  The OHPA selects TDRS’ proposal and Mr. DesRochers, the chairman of the OHPA’s Driving Range Committee, claims the Authority will receive a “reasonable amount of gross revenue” from TDRS.  But Mr. DesRochers does not specify what that amount will be.  Nor does he indicate how much rent TDRS will pay for the land on which the driving range will be situated.

8. May 2, 2014.  NancyOnNorwalk reports that the Oak Hills Park Authority has come up with a Master Plan that calls for the City, not TDRS, to finance construction of the driving range. The Master Plan was developed by Clyde Mount, the current chairman of the Authority, Ernie DesRochers, and TDRS.  It calls for the city to finance construction of the driving range.

9. May 15, 2014.  I ask Mr. DesRochers whether the reason the Authority is now calling for taxpayers to bear the risk that the driving range will not cover the cost of its construction is because the private sector was unwilling to take on that risk. But instead of answering that question he replies with the non sequitur that the Authority came to the conclusion that it should own the driving range. That, as the former OHPA chairman Robert Virgulak pointed out, is a complete flip-flop. “Whoever the developer was that was going … to build the range was going to pay … a ground lease and … part of the gross proceeds to the authority,” he said according to a May 7 story in The Hour.

So a recently established local firm led by an individual with no experience building and operating a driving range is selected to come up with the financing from the private sector to do just that. But it can’t come up with the more than $3 million in financing it needs from the private sector. Therefore, it gets together with two members of the OHPA and comes up with a document billed as a master plan to get taxpayers to finance the project. And neither the mayor nor a single member of the Common Council asks, “What is going on?”

What is going on?

Paul Cantor


6 responses to “Letter: What is going on?”

  1. Joe Optimistic

    Nothing really to say…the last paragraph hits the nail right on the head.

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    For the record: We have all been looking into these issues. Personally, I have many concerns about the Authority’s ability to pay the annual debt service, which, by my reading of the “master plan,” could exceed a half million per year.

  3. Suzanne

    Paul, thank you for clearing the air on this often divisive and confused subject by delineating the timeline and comments of the key players. You have raised an excellent question in a public forum that desperately needs to be asked. I appreciate it as I hope every taxpayer does.

  4. Joe Optimistic

    Mr. Kümmel: if ALL or our elected officials have been “looking into these issues” don’t you think it’s about time at least one of them takes some sort of stand on the subject either for or against? To my recollection not one on the common council or the mayor (new or previous) has made any public comment on the subject of the driving range or oak hills park.


    Thank you Common Council member Bruce Kimmel for replying almost immediately to NON’s request for comment a couple of weeks ago regarding the OHPA plan. You stated you had obtained a copy of the so called master plan prepared by OHPA. The financial outlook was at the last page, and although you would probably disapprove of the plan, you would like more time to review it.

  6. Beth Altman

    For an issue that has been in the public eye for so long with no response from any public official does raise suspicions on what back room deals are going on. Come on Mayor Rilling, council members, with millions at stake here and years of silence time has come for a press release now not later.

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