Quantcast

Oak Hills driving range would earn money for Norwalk, OHPA says

NORWALK, Conn. – The newly presented Oak Hills Park Master Plan differs from what was originally predicted – a driving range paid for by a developer with no cost to Norwalk – because the thinking on the topic evolved, Oak Hills Park Authority (OHPA) Chairman Clyde Mount said Thursday.

The plan outlines substantial changes to the park at an expected cost of $4.5 million. That includes a significant change in the cost of building a driving range, although the authority said when the process began more than a year ago that would be financed by a private developer.

Mount and Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie Desrochers confronted a squall of predictable resistance at Thursday’s monthly meeting, where Diane Cece criticized the process of developing a master plan and long-time critic Paul Cantor zeroed in on the finances.

Paul Cantor talks to the Oak Hills Park Authority Thursday. "I think your master plan is an affront to the taxpayers of this city," he said.

“You said in the past that the driving range was going to be financed by the developer,” Cantor said. “You completely flip-flopped.  Could (winning bidder) Total Driving Range Solutions not get the financing it needed? … Will you pay them to construct and operate the driving range? Will tax payers bear the risk if it’s not generating the income needed to cover the cost?”

“The main reason that we have, in your words, ‘flip-flopped,’ but have presented a different avenue is that we believe the city should own the range,” Mount said. “We believe Oak Hills Park should own the range. We believe it‘s better for the park, that it’s better for the residents of this city to own the range than to turn it over to somebody for a 20-year lease. That’s our belief as the Oak Hills Park Authority. We think it’s the prudent decision. You may disagree; the whole city may disagree.”

The Request for Proposals, drawn up when Bob Virgulak was OHPA chairman, specified a 10-year contract with the winning bidder.

“We were asked to put together a plan; we did,” Mount said. “We got far down the road and said wait a minute, it makes more sense for us to own it. We can make more money. We control it. We can do more teaching. We can sell more balls. We can do more promos that are both buckets of balls and golf. That’s why. It’s not a flip-flop. It’s a change and we are presenting what we think is the best plan, not what was decided by maybe another chairman before us that that was how we were going to do it.”

Criticism also came from within. OHPA member Elsa Peterson Obuchowski said she could not make it to the May 22 public hearing – rescheduled from May 15 – and presented four comments and a question.

For one thing, Obuchowski asked that the language that would protect the woods be firmed up to ensure nothing would be built there in the future. Then she, too, asked about the financial arrangements.

“I don’t see in there where the master plan draft states how much money is going to be paid to Total Driving Range Solutions, whether it’s in the form of a flat fee or a percentage of the construction costs or some other arrangement for them to be paid,” she said.

Desrochers had told her in an email exchange that those things would be negotiated at prevailing industry rates, she said.

“It seems to me that what we are doing is asking the city to put up $4.5 million and then Total Driving Range Solutions would then negotiate how much they are going to be paid. They’d already know how much money we’d have,” she said.

“Part of the problem with any construction project is you don’t know exactly what it is actually going to cost until you actually get your final bids based on your final working drawings,” Desrochers said. “In order to get your final working drawings and everything you would probably have to be into this thing for a few hundred thousand dollars.”

Everyone involved had been asked to come up with a best guess estimate, he said.

“We don’t want to be in situation like the restaurant, when it was budgeted to be built for $1.1 million and they ended up spending $2.5 million. We want to avoid that at all costs,” Desrochers said. “With regard to what Total Driving Range Solutions would be paid if they were to develop this thing, we haven’t gotten that far yet. We are just working over total industry standards of what it would be. It is the best guess.”

Oak Hills Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer offered a clarification.

“The city is not going to give us money until we have contract in place that has the finite numbers in it so they know exactly what we’re looking for,” he said.

After the authority approves the master plan, which will take place after public input, the plan goes to the Planning Commission, Desrochers said. If the Planning Commission approves it, the plan goes to the Common Council. If the Council approves the plan, that wouldn’t mean it was approving the expenditure. That would come later, he said.

Oak Hills takes in $1.5 million in fees yearly, he said. All of the city’s other parks combined took in $900,000 last year, he said. The Veterans Park master plan is expected to cost $13 million to implement, he said. The Cranbury Park master plan is expected to cost $4.3 million to implement.

“But in our master plan, unlike the other ones, we have to actually go through and economically justify the numbers that are done. That’s why there are the 16 to 17 pages in there of economic projections,” he said.

In the last three years the city has spent $4.5 million to $6 million on open space and recreation, he said.

After the meeting, Desrochers told NancyOnNorwalk that Total Driving Range Solutions would have a construction management contract if the city finances the driving range. The city stands to make much more money if it owns the range, though there is more risk involved that way, he said.

“One of the things we tried to do in all the projections is to be as conservative as possible,” he said. “What we tried to do with the range is to have it stand on itself by just golf balls and not count on other revenue sources like you would get from teaching and that sort of thing. Because if you do it properly, you can put yourself in the position where you could pay for it and then make a lot more money on top of it. I mean, that’s what they do in Stamford.”

The plan is somewhat misunderstood, he said.

“Everybody thinks it’s just a driving range, but it’s not. It’s a complete golf school,” he said. “So there are golf balls you would charge to hit and then there’s lesson revenue that you would generate out of there.”

Comments

11 responses to “Oak Hills driving range would earn money for Norwalk, OHPA says”

  1. cc-rider

    If the city is paying to build the range, why would they need Total Driving Range Solutions at all?

  2. MODERN MAN

    Stop depending on tax payer dollars to fund the entertainment activities of a minority group.
    The OHPA should raise the money on their own through charity drives, etc.
    Get the money first and on your own. Then show the public what you would like to do on the city property.

  3. Suzanne

    “We got far down the road and said wait a minute, it makes more sense for us to own it. We can make more money. We control it. We can do more teaching. We can sell more balls. We can do more promos that are both buckets of balls and golf. That’s why.”

    What’s to prevent the OHPA from doing exactly the activities as described above with a lease agreement? If the OHPA devises some scheme to cover capital costs, how is this less expensive and more profitable than for a developer to build the range with minimal capital expenditures to the OHPA and with a lease agreement to pay over time? Any financial information forthcoming about this?

    “Oak Hills takes in $1.5 million in fees yearly, he said. All of the city’s other parks combined took in $900,000 last year, he said. The Veterans Park master plan is expected to cost $13 million to implement, he said. The Cranbury Park master plan is expected to cost $4.3 million to implement.”

    These are false examples: these parks are run by the City of Norwalk. Must this be repeated again without the above smoke screens: The OHPA CHARTER states that the GOLF COURSE must be SELF-SUPPORTING. The other parks have no such arrangement. They are PUBLIC PARKS available to ALL citizens of Norwalk and the public while the golf course at Oak Hills is available ONLY to GOLFERS. See the difference? Please?

    Every Master Plan, if it goes through the correct process as stipulated by the City, must justify expenditures. No park goes through improvements without this. It is called a budget.

    Why is a member of the OHPA having to ask for financial arrangements for the driving range in a public meeting? Why aren’t all members informed of these plans?

    “Because if you do it properly, you can put yourself in the position where you could pay for it and then make a lot more money on top of it. I mean, that’s what they do in Stamford.”
    The plan is somewhat misunderstood, he said.”

    Has anyone, anyone on that OHPA committee or the OHPA in its entirety spoken with Paul Grillo, manager of Sterling Farms, about the real numbers for the driving range in Stamford? What the upkeep costs are, the fee service, etc? I have. The big bucks OHPA keeps talking about just aren’t true. It’s called GROSS revenues vs. NET revenues.

    Please, OHPA, quit repeating the same false information and find out the truth. It would clarify just what direction you should be going in rather than trying to develop “pie in the sky” numbers based on the “industry.” There are other people out there who build driving ranges, all over the world. They know how much a driving range costs and they also know what variables exist to change those costs.

    Why are you, inexperienced and not builders of driving ranges, trying to come up with numbers that are shaky at best? I assume the OHPA members all have a profession other than building golf courses, driving ranges, etc. That is what they are expert at. Pleaes, get the facts appropriately: talk with professionals.

    I am not sure why the video above is presented with this article other than to be provocative. It has nothing to do with the rest of the text and is confusing. Where was the Nature Center mentioned?

    Was soil remediation discussed in regard to the leaking tanks on site at Oak Hills? This affects financial outcomes, doesn’t it, for the OHPA as a whole and, thus, would affect overall outlays for the driving range? Another expense, another item not covered as required by Charter.

  4. “We believe Oak Hills Park should own the range. We believe it‘s better for the park, that it’s better for the residents of this city to own the range than to turn it over to somebody for a 20-year lease. ”

    DUH.
    (Not to mention that the public had this point of view from the very get-go when OHPA board tried to persuade the public with this outlandish concept)

  5. Suzanne

    Hi Lily Deacon, I don’t disagree with you BUT I am wondering now about the “big ask” of the City to fund this after the OHPA claimed it would cost the City nothing with a lease agreement. I guess, as with many management decisions the OHPA has made, their approach to financial matters, marketing and development are getting harder and harder to swallow. It’s like the Keystone Kops.

  6. Debora

    This comparison to the cost of other city parks is specious and should stop immediately. The City runs those parks, so the City pays for those parks, and they are understood to be taxpayer supported (and available for everyone to use, mostly free of charge). Oak Hills is run by an Authority and is structured to be self-sustaining if run right. Something like 90% of the park is only of use to golfers and tennis players and costs money to use. If the OHPA wants to vote to dissolve itself and turn the park back over to the City to run, THEN the city would take on those costs.

  7. Piberman

    The contuning refusal to present any detailed financial plan that can be examined by citizens is assuming comical dimensions. And embarrassing to the City’s reputation. Long past time for the Mayor and Council to get involved. Unless Oak a Hills is just too challenging for their financial abilities. Full steam ahead !

  8. Yvonne Lopaur

    Once again at the Oak Hills Park Authority meeting last night a question Mr. Cantor has posed again and again was avoided. Why has Total Driving Range Solutions (TDRS) not been able to obtain a loan to finance construction of a driving range in Oak Hills Park? Instead of answering that question OHPA member Mr. DesRochers disingenuous response was that the OHPA has changed its mind and now wants Norwalk’s taxpayers to finance the driving range. Clearly the OHPA was forced to “change its mind” because TDRS, one of only two firms that bid on constructing the driving range, couldn’t get financing for it from the private sector. So now the OHPA wants taxpayers to bear the risk of financing it. But that is something the Authority again and again promised it never would ask taxpayers to do. Always its contention had been that the driving range was such a profitable venture that the firm that it selected to construct it would have no trouble getting a bank loan to finance it. But since that turned out not to be the case it now is asking taxpayers to bear the risk of financing it. That, as Mr. Cantor put it, is a total flip-flop. And yesterday’s meeting made clear that flip-flop is primarily the work of two members of the OHPA: Ernie DesRochers and Clyde Mount. They, in other words, are the ones driving the drive for the driving range. Hence, as Mr. DesRochers struggled and failed to answer the question of what is the reason TDRS couldn’t come up with the financing for the driving range the rest of the members sat silently. Now the OHPA has scheduled a public hearing for May 22 to discuss Mr. DesRochers and Mr. Mount’s so called Master Plan. Hopefully, therefore, others will join me at that meeting to protest it. No one is faulting golfers for wanting a golf course. But everyone should protest that an Authority with the mandate to represent the interests of all of us has redefined its mandate to being to promote the interests of a tiny minority at the expense of all of us. If you agree with me please contact me at [email protected] or 646-400-2403. We need to join together to demand that members of the Common Council and the Mayor put an end to the OHPA effort to use our taxpayer dollars to finance construction of a money losing driving range to complement its money losing golf course.

  9. Piberman

    Our Mayor and Common Council have no problem funding the highest salaries for public workers of any City in the state for workers who mostly live elsewhere. Why is there a problem using City funds for gophers many of whom also live out of town ? The Mayor’s silence on Oak Hills sends a clear message – full steam ahead. Ditto for the Common Council. The Authority has the full confidence of both the Mayor and Council. So to whom should you protest ? The tooth fairy, of course. After all this is the “New Norwalk”. Where the people serve the government. So sit back and watch the Master Plan unfold in all its glory.

  10. Yvonne Lopaur

    @Piberman I agree with your view, but I do not want to stand and watch. I will go to the public hearing and use 3 minutes time to put up fight. Why don’t you join me?

  11. Diane C2

    Have the Oak Hills Park Authority members asked the following 3 questions in recent history?;

    First: Can we build a driving range here? (feasibility)
    Secondly: Should we build a driving range here? (viability)
    Finally: May we build a driving range here? (acceptability)

Leave a Reply


Recent Comments