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National Golf Foundation’s ‘Light Up the Boondoggle’ analysis

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To the Editor:

Light up the Oak Hills Park Authority’s proposed 36-bay double-decker driving range so it can be operated late into the night every day of the year and, in the unlikely event it can be constructed for no more than $3 million, it stands a chance of generating enough revenue to cover its costs.

That in a nutshell is the conclusion of the analysis the Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) paid the National Golf Foundation (NGF) $21,000 to carry out. Now the OHPA will use the NGF’s conclusion to try to convince the Common Council to loan it the money it needs to construct the driving range.

But in fact the NGF’s study makes it clear that the Common Council should turn down the Authority’s request for a taxpayer-subsidized loan to construct a driving range.  First there is the issue of the lights.

Always in the past the OHPA has promised it would not operate its proposed driving range past dusk (see, for example, www.norwalkct.org/documentcenter/view/4409). Why? Because a large commercial driving range operating at night with lights would have a devastating impact on the residential quality of the AAA-zoned West Norwalk neighborhood in which Oak Hills Park is located.

However, according to the NGF’s analysis, unless the driving range is operated until at least 9 p.m. almost every day of the year, it will not generate enough revenue to cover the cost of its construction. Indeed, “lighting for night use is viewed as critical to the proposed addition” because “much of the demand and ultimate use of the new facility is projected to be at night.”

Yet even if the driving range were allowed to operate late into the night every single day of the year, there is no guarantee that it would be able to cover its costs. In other words, even in the best of circumstances the NGF study makes clear that from a strictly financial point of view a driving range in Oak Hills Park is, for at least four reasons, an exceedingly risky proposition.

First, “the specific location is not ideal for a commercial driving range” because it is not “located near, and visible from major roadways.”

Second, “significant rock outcroppings” on the proposed site would make the cost of constructing the driving range more than double the one to one-and-a- half million dollars that the NGF usually finds to be sustainable.

Third, the number of people who play golf has declined dramatically both locally and nationally.

Fourth, it would have to compete with the more conveniently located Sterling Farms driving range in Stamford.

Finally, touched upon explicitly or implicitly in the NGF’s study are three additional considerations that argue against constructing the proposed driving range.

First is the negative impact relocating “some existing elements of the golf course” will have on golfers. For example, “a portion of the range structure will likely be ‘in play’ to some degree on the first hole of the golf course.”

Second, is the cost to the environment and wildlife of the 100-foot netting that the driving range would require.

Third is the fact that that most of those who would benefit from a driving range in Oak Hills Park are white men from Norwalk’s wealthier surrounding communities, while those who would bear its costs would be the taxpayers of Norwalk.  Indeed, as the NGF study points out money, testosterone and Caucasian ancestry are all factors “correlated with higher golf participation.”

Paul Cantor

NGF Norwalk Final Report 120115

Comments

17 responses to “National Golf Foundation’s ‘Light Up the Boondoggle’ analysis”

  1. Yvonne Lopaur

    @ Paul Cantor

    Below are some things you left out. All the quotations not otherwise attributed are from the NGF’s Financial Analysis.

    PARKING: 55 of the 150 parking spaces in Oak Hills are reserved for the restaurant building that was constructed with a $2 million loan from taxpayers. If the driving range is constructed those spaces will no longer be for the exclusive use of restaurant patrons. As the NGF Analysis put it: “On occasions where [stet] both the golf and restaurant businesses are full (e.g. during a banquet or non golf party), there are concerns about having enough parking.” Hence the addition of a driving range that would host “additional non-golf and non-restaurant patrons” just might drive the restaurant out of business since there would no longer be enough parking spaces for its diners. Kill the restaurant and you kill the $6000 per month the Oak Hills Park Authority receives in the form of rent from the restaurateurs making it even less likely that the Authority will ever make good on its taxpayer subsidized loans.

    THE PRO SHOP: If there is to be a driving range the NGF Analysis says the pro shop will have to be moved into the building that houses the restaurant. As Amar Haorari, co-owner along with Vincent La Forte of Oak Hills’ Restaurant on the Green put it, “When we acquired the business, we paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to acquire it — a catering facility and a restaurant. Now what they want to do is subdivide the building. It’s going to collapse my business.” Again, kill the restaurant and you kill the $6000 per month the Oak Hills Park Authority receives in the form of rent from the restaurateurs making it even less likely that the Authority will ever make good on its taxpayer subsidized loans.

    TREES: Because of its use of harmful chemicals and its enthusiasm for taking down trees in Oak Hills Park the OHPA has failed to obtain Audubon certification indicating that it is an “eco-friendly” course that meets “required standards for protecting water quality, conserving natural resources, and providing wildlife habitats.” Now in order to construct a driving range it not only would need, as you noted, to put up 100 foot nets, but it also would need to cut down more trees because as the NGF’s analysis indicates “a significant portion” of the site selected for it is covered by them.

    ROCKS: “The portion of the OHGC [Oak Hills Golf Course] site that is proposed for the new driving range shows uneven topography and significant rocky outcroppings,” that will “require some type of netted covering to prevent extensive damage to range balls” that would otherwise land on them. Damaged balls that need to be replaced would add to the operating costs of the driving range.

    ROADS: As the NGF’s study indicates access to the driving range would be “via Fillow Street, which is a minor roadway (one lane each direction) … During the NGF visit the consultants found the roadway infrastructure to be less –than-ideal for the operation of a commercial driving range.” Furthermore, children attending one of the three schools within half a mile of the driving range’s access road would be threatened by the increased flow of traffic.

    NON FINANCIAL COSTS. One of the many non-financial costs of the driving range is that it will prevent children from sleigh riding on the hill in the park they have used for that purpose year after year.

    BOTTOM LINE: The driving range should not be built and NO MONEY FROM THE $1,500,000 GRANT TO THE OHPA FOR IMPROVEMENTS IN THE PARK SHOULD BE USED TO TEAR DOWN THE CART BARN AND PRO SHOP OR MAKE ANY OTHER CHANGES WHOSE ONLY PURPOSE IS TO MAKE ROOM FOR IT SINCE IT IS AS LIKELY TO ADD TO THE OHPA’S FINANCIAL PROBLEM AS IT IS TO ALLEVIATE THEM.

  2. Tom Reynolds

    This is the same dribble that you people have been posting for years. Let it go.
    I’ve read the report. You obviously don’t see (or understand) the parts that say things like:

    “Oak Hills Park GC has features and amenities to be a successful public golf course. The facility enjoys a good location within a robust regional golf market, with support for existing and proposed amenities demonstrated to be very strong.”

    “The overall condition of the golf course property is good, but there is a need for upgrade to make both the golf course and potential driving range addition more appealing and thus more marketable.”

    “The changes proposed in Phase I of the OHPA Master Plan will help improve property condition and make the facility’s operation more efficient, providing a good base for the proposed new golf range addition.”

    “A new driving range/learning center added to OHGC will have strong and immediate market impact.”

    “. . . this (Oak Hills’) proposed new range is to be located within one of the strongest regional golf markets in the U.S., so it is expected that “standards” for total project cost could be extended and still equate to economic sustainability.”

    SEE. I can pick and choose what I want from the NGF study to get my point across, too.

  3. Jim Perkins

    @Tom

    How did you get to read the report? Are you on the OHPA? I have looked to find the report online to read but it’s not posted anywhere. I only get bits and pieces in the news reports.

    I’m sure you will say “no, but I know a lot of people on the OHPA” but it sure sounds like you are.

    The taxpayers of Norwalk should NOT pay the bill if the golfers want a range. The golfers SHOULD pay for it with increased greens fees, cart fees and membership ID cards if they want it so bad.

    Please let your “friends” on the OHPA know this.

    Thanks

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Jim Perkins

      I thought NoN had posted a link to the report while we were on vacation. I am attaching the report to Paul Cantor’s letter and to the Dec. 18 post in which we reported the study.

  4. Tom Reynolds

    “no, but I know a lot of people on the OHPA” 🙂

    But it was posted online. Research. I don’t just make statements for the sake of it like some people do.

  5. Karl

    Question for Paul Cantor ” Do u have a hobby ? ” If not get one , everyone is sick of u rehashing the same Bah Bah Bah !!!!

  6. Paul Cantor

    @ Karl

    Unfortunately the city created the Oak Hills Golf Authority and time and again only appointed to it individuals who favor the interest of golfers over all others. Hence, those individuals refuse to recognize that:

    1. Due to the lack of demand to play 18 holes of golf they have had to rely on increasing amounts of taxpayer subsidies to survive and,

    2. There is no justification for forcing taxpayers to subsidize an 18-hole golf course for the benefit of the few for whom golf is a favorite activity.

    Now you may consider that statement along with my letters and other posts as blah blah blah or, in Mr. Reynolds words, “dribble” but my hope is that others will see them as an attempt to contribute to resolving an important issue in a manner that will improve the well being of all Norwalk taxpayers.

    Finally, please note that I don’t hide behind a first name only moniker. And I don’t rely on ad hominem attacks to make my points.

  7. cc-rider

    Paul- your “points” are all over the place- ie. what happened to shrinking the course to 9 holes? The consistency in your message comes the fact that it is entirely anti-golf. You clearly dislike the sport and that the golf course exists in your neighborhood. It would be refreshing to have you openly admit this instead of pretending to be a pseudo govt. watchdog who curiously happens to only comment about a singular issue in Norwalk. Your own “not in my back yard” self interests are no more noble than OHPA’s.

  8. Paul Cantor

    @ CC-Rider

    In general I don’t respond to ad hominem attacks such as yours, Tom Reynolds, and Karl’s but I am making an exception today.

    I still think the nine hole solution is something that might be looked into.

    I do not dislike the sport of golf. In fact I admire those who are skilled golfers and I thought Vinny Grillo
    and his father were a class act.

    As I have pointed out before in response to personal attacks: my father, grandfather, wife and best friend played golf and I have worked as a caddy and hit balls at a driving range.

    But what does any of this have to do with the validity of the points raised in the letter above?

    As Tom Reynold’s pointed out, the NGF’s analysis states:

    “The overall condition of the golf course property is good, but there is a need for upgrade to make both the golf course and potential driving range addition more appealing and thus more marketable.”

    What is the reason it needs an upgrade? The reason is that user fees didn’t cover the cost of maintaining the golf course. Why didn’t user fees cover the cost of maintaining the golf course? That is the question you need to answer.

  9. Tom Reynolds

    How do you prove that user fees don’t cover the cost of running the golf course? Have you looked at the financials each month? Oak Hills’ user fees absolutely cover the cost of the course. What burdens the park is the albatross on the hill that the city built (for $1 million over budget), then passed the cost on to the OHPA. The amount required to pay down the debt on that is what the problem appears to be. So you are wrong by stating that the user fees are an issue.

    Also, the Grillo’s did more harm to Oak Hills and Norwalk than you may think, but that is an argument for another day.

  10. Paul Cantor

    You ask: How do you prove that user fees don’t cover the cost of running the golf course?

    “Oak Hills Park Authority incurred a deficit of $107,672 for the year ended June 30, 2014 which raises substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.” Walter J. Enblert, Jr., Certified Public Accountant, Independent Auditor’s Report.

    You state: What burdens the park is the albatross on the hill that the city built (for $1 million over budget), then passed the cost on to the OHPA.

    The city didn’t build the restaurant building. The OHPA borrowed money from the taxpayers of the city to build it on the grounds that by leasing it out the Authority would recover the cost of its construction and then some.

    Now the Authority is claiming that without an outside source of revenue it cannot survive. In other words it recognizes that user fees do not and will not cover the cost of maintaining the golf course. But a driving range, as I have pointed out in the letter above, is as likely as the restaurant to add to its financial woes.

  11. Jim Perkins

    @tom

    If the user fees are paying the costs on the facility then what the NEED for a range? If that’s the case then it’s just a selfish WANT by you and the rest of the golfers with no regard for the majority non golfing taxpayers of Norwalk.

  12. Tony P

    Frankly, I love all the folks pretending they care about the ‘taxpayer’ – especially when they cite the ‘non-golfing’ taxpayer – I don’t use the beaches as a taxpayer, but still pay for it; I don’t use the library, but I’m sure my taxes go there; I don’t use any of the athletic fields, or Fodor Farm, but my tax dollars go there; I don’t use the schools (no kids), but I KNOW my tax dollars go there as well – you can’t cherry pick what and where your ‘tax dollars’ go – fact of the matter is, Oak Hills is an amenity, one that most other towns don’t have, and one that I’m sure helps attract residents – just like all the other amenities I don’t use but surely pay for. The NIMBY-ism from a few certain neighborhoods in totally out of control, and now is masquerading as some kind of tax payer watchdog –

  13. Karl

    Amen !!! thank you Tony P !!!!!!!

  14. Jim Perkins

    @tony

    How about putting a Norwalk funded year round amusement park at vets park, that should be fun too and attract a lot of people to Norwalk.

    If you want a range then you as a golfer should pay for it with increased green fees. Why is that too much to ask? Then all the risk of a losing operation falls upon the people that want it. Have the OHPA go out and get a loan from a bank, seems pretty simple doesn’t it Tony?

  15. Paul Cantor

    @ Tony P and Karl

    Karl, you write: “I don’t use the beaches as a taxpayer, but still pay for it.”

    The beach in Norwalk is a public park. Public parks are public goods whose benefits from the point of view of all taxpayers outweigh their costs.

    A golf course is not a public good. The cost of the golf course in Oak Hills Park greatly outweighs its benefits from the point of view of all taxpayers.

    Perhaps if you go to

    http://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2015/12/consultant-oak-hills-driving-range-financially-feasible-if-costs-are-contained-space-is-sufficient/#comments

    and read the letter from Yvonne Lopaur and Roger Sparks in the comments section you will gain a better understanding of the difference between public goods that call for public provision and private and club goods that do not.

    As an article by Raymond Keating in the Foundation For Economic Education put it (http://fee.org/freeman/fore-watch-out-for-government-golf/)

    “In the end, there is no justification whatsoever for government involvement in the golf business. Even if one subscribes to the idea of market failure, certainly none of the criteria for such failure—i.e., monopoly, public goods, external costs, or inadequate information—exist in the case of golf courses. The only reasons for the existence of government golf courses are patronage (another opportunity for politicians to dole out jobs), special-interest pressures (some golfers want cheap golf, courtesy of the taxpayers), and government revenue (politicians believe they can make money with golf facilities).”

    Again, golf courses are club goods that are provided by the private sector. The beach is a public good accessible to all Norwalk taxpayers.

    You state “You can’t cherry pick what and where your ‘tax dollars’ go.”

    That makes no sense of all. It is important for policymakers to use cost/benefit analysis to determine how our tax dollars are spent. The cost of the golf course clearly outweighs the benefits from the point of view of the 90% of taxpayers who don’t play golf. It cost them millions of dollars and eliminates the possibility of their utilizing the land on which it is situated for the many activities they favor.

    What about libraries and schools? These are both goods with enormous positive externalities. You and I benefit, for example, when all children are educated despite their choice of parents. But most taxpayers do not benefit from subsidizing every round of golf played by the 10% minority of primarily relatively well off men among them who favor the game.

    You write that the golf course “is an amenity, one that most other towns don’t have.” The reason most other towns like New Canaan don’t have golf courses is because the public officials in those towns refuse to pander to a special interest group of golfers even when they may themselves be golfers and even when they realize it may cost them the votes of golfers. Instead, they put the welfare of all those they represent ahead of the welfare of any special interest group no matter how well organized or vocal.

  16. Tom Reynolds

    Dribble, dribble, dribble.

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