NORWALK, Conn. – A “better business deal” was selected by the Oak Hills Park Authority Thursday evening – serious negotiations will begin with Jim Downing to put a driving range near the golf course’s cart barn.
The bottom line for neighbors of the park and environmentalists: The woods behind the restaurant at the park will not be cut down if negotiations work out. There will be no blasting, no driving range noises behind the now-quiet neighborhood and the migratory birds will still have their place to stop and rest.
A plus: a new master plan for the park may be part of the deal.
The authority – which sought and received a $150,000 loan from the city to get through the winter – found itself at the center of increased controversy last year when it began investigating options for a driving range. Members said a range would bring in much-needed revenue. They said they thought those woods would be a good location, but included in their request for proposals (RFP) a willingness to consider other locations.
Downing was one of two bidders who responded to the RFP, proposing to put a range near the teaching green. Tad King of King Golf International proposed a driving range in the woods.
Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers and committee member Clyde Mount said Downing’s offer is a better deal.
“It’s a long way from being done, but I think it’s to the point where we have a business model that we can live with for the park,” Desrochers said. “We think for the park it best serves its finances. It’s going to provide the highest net revenue to the park.”
The authority voted unanimously to begin formal negotiations with Downing’s Total Driving Range Solutions to begin the process to put in a driving range.
Details were few, as they have been throughout the process.
“It’s a typical RFP process when you don’t tell everybody what’s going on,” Mount said. “… You have to understand that we’re not being quiet because we want to be quiet. We’re being quiet because that’s how an RFP process works. That’s the way it is.”
But the two men let out some details: The city will have an option to buy Downing’s driving range in five years. King’s range would have been available for purchase in 15 years.
“It’s a success and the city is good enough to raise the money, there’s an option there,” Desrochers said.
Downing has agreed to pay “a reasonable percentage of the gross, versus a fixed amount,” Desrochers said.
Downing’s architect, who has much experience designing golf course, will provide the city with master planning services, Desrochers said.
“One of the things that we’re going to do is take a look at our master plan, update it and develop alternative uses for the park,” he said.
Mount said he would have fought to put the range in the woods if he thought that was a better deal, but it wasn’t.
“His proposal takes us much closer to what we see as an acceptable deal that will be most beneficial to the course while not hurting the environment,” he said. “… It’s going to have a little impact on play. We’re a little worried about that. But we have to move on it. We have to finally say OK, we’re going to try to go this way or that way.”
Very few trees would be knocked down if negotiations with Downing succeed, he said. Some barns and other things will be moved.
Desrochers began his remarks with an angry rebuttal to many things that have been said to opponents of the proposal to use the woods. His comments included a recap of the park’s finances.
“When the Oak Hills Park Authority was formed, there was $3.1 million in debt that the city bonded for the city to use on the park; $900,000 was for drainage improvements; $1 million was supposed to go for the construction of the restaurant; $1.2 million was supposed to go for the construction of a driving range,” he said.
The authority’s financial problems go back to those decisions, made by politicians and agreed to by members of the authority then, he said.
Instead of spending $1 million for a restaurant, authority members dropped their driving range plan and spent $2.2 million on the restaurant, he said.
“The debt service on $2.2 million that wasn’t adjusted yet is $190,000 a year,” he said. “The most you were going to get from the restaurant was about 90 grand a year. We’re already in the hole about 100 grand before we get started.”
The current driving range plan is likely to resolve those problems, he said.
“If you look at the market value of the rent and you look at the net income that a driving range would generate, the net operating income, depending on whose projection you believe, are anywhere between $400 and $500,000 a year,” he said. “Four and a half percent, 20-year schedule, that is the bond rate that we’re paying on the restaurant, and the other items is $235,000 in debt. So basically, we have 1¾ to two times debt service coverage.”
NORWALK, Conn. – It looks like the trees at Oak Hills Park are not going to be chopped down to install a driving range.
Oak Hills Park Authority ad hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers announced Thursday evening that he and Clyde Mount are recommending the location proposed by Jim Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions, which is near the first tee at the park. The proposal from Tad King Golf International to build in the woods at Oak Hills is being not being pursued at present.
Desrochers said the Downing proposal is a better deal for the city. There is a potential that the city could own the range in five years, he said, as opposed to 15 years with the King proposal.
The committee voted unanimously to begin serious negotiations with Downing.