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Oak Hills restaurant behind on rent, but golfers are signing up early

Norwalk Oak Hills Park Authority member Elsa Peterson Obuchowski reacts to criticism from Chairman Clyde Mount Thursday in City Hall.

Updated, 4:17 p.m., comment from Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – The Oak Hills Park restaurant is behind on its rent payments to its city of Norwalk landlords, creating a cash deficit when compared to revenues a years ago, Oak Hills Park Authority members said Thursday.

Events at the OHPA’s monthly meeting included a minor dispute over protocol, thoughts on Saturday’s golf course opening and a homework assignment for new member Joe Kendy, the only lawyer on the authority.

Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer presented a finance report.

“Our cash position is not exactly where I would like it to be,” Guyer said. “According to this we are about $10,000 behind where we were last year. That is primarily because of the restaurant. As of today I think it’s two months. … If they were up to date we’d actually have about $60,000 in cash.”

“They said they’d be caught up by April 1,” OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said.

Mount suggested the numbers were low in comparison because the authority was loaned $150,000 from the city last year. But Guyer said the loan had not come in at the time with which he was comparing the figures.

“When we get the March numbers, our cash will be way behind where we were last year because we’re not getting a loan this year. At least I hope we’re not getting a loan this year,” Guyer said.

“Nope,” Mount said.

The chairman pointed out that the accounts payable situation is much better than last year: It was $241,000 last year and $97,000 this year.

“On the P&L (profit and loss) side, we continue to run well ahead of last year,” Guyer said. “On the revenue side, we’re $117,000 positive vs. a year ago. Our expenses are slightly higher. Our net ordinary income is $34,000 higher than where we were a year ago.”

Guyer said sales of ID cards are 68 percent higher than they were a year ago, thanks to a promotion. The early season sign-up was $65 instead of $70. As of Tuesday, there were 605 sold, compared to 345 a year earlier, he said. Those are not necessarily new cards, just people renewing earlier, he said, but “People that I have talked to, a number of them, had not renewed last year but have come back and renewed this year.”

Other comments about numbers and finances included promotions around the number “45,” as it is Oak Hills 45th anniversary. That includes ID cards for $45 on April 5 (4/5) and a $4.50 lunch special at the restaurant that day.

Guyer said the authority had gotten a $2,500 check Wednesday from Groupon, the first result of a marketing campaign through the company. Golfers get to visit the park one time only through Groupon, Mount said. “We’ll get them here and then they’ll come back,” he said.

Course Superintendent Jim Schelling said he expects to be “killed with people” on Saturday, opening day for the season. Guyer said they won’t be able to use carts as it is too wet.

The park’s cashiers will be using touch screens for the first time this year, which makes processing golfers much faster, Guyer said.

The legal committee report was very short: “Welcome!” Mount said to Kendy.

As the meeting ended, the newly appointed member asked for a copy of a statement read at the beginning of the meeting by vocal driving range opponent Paul Cantor. Kendy said Cantor had raised issues he wanted to look into.

Cantor said he was surprised by “the facile manner in which the (proposed master) plan redefines your mission as one of becoming ‘the recognized market leader in providing high quality golf rounds, and practice and golf lesson services’ to a ‘target market.’”

He said, “That, of course, is not the mission you were given by the public. The mission you were given by the public was to see if you could manage a golf course in Oak Hills Park so green fees paid primarily by golfers in Norwalk would cover its maintenance and operating costs.”

Another statement read at the meeting caused a bit of controversy.

New member Elsa Peterson Obuchowski, a member of the Friends of Oak Hills Park, said during the public speaking part of the meeting that she wanted to read a letter for Diane Cece, who she said was ill.

Mount let her do it, stopping her at the customary three-minute mark. Bill Wrenn, a Friends member who is not on the authority, finished reading Cece’s letter, which concerned the process of developing a master plan.

Obuchowski asked if she could read another statement on behalf of someone who wasn’t there, and Mount objected.

“I think it’s inappropriate that you are reading statements,” Mount said. “If you want to get up and talk then you should get up and talk but reading other people’s statements? I find it inappropriate.”

Obuchowski said she had talked to Mayor Harry Rilling about it.

“He told me to do exactly what I did. You can take it up with Mayor Rilling,” she said.

“I have no problem with you reading that as your statement if that’s what you want to do, if you want to talk about it,” Mount said. “But picking and (reading statements) for “people who are not even in the room. … She didn’t even get here to sign up.”

“I understand what you are saying,” Obuchowski said. “I apologize if that was out of line but I didn’t know the correct way to do it. I asked Mayor Rilling and this is what he told me to do.”

Minutes later, Mount had a positive comment for the authority’s members.

“I am beginning to see a very active Oak Hills Park Authority and that is what the park needs. I appreciate that and I just want to thank everybody,” he said.

The meeting ended with an executive session regarding the restaurant’s lease.

“I want to get it on the table,” Mount said. “I want to talk about what we talked about and then see where we go.”

Rilling confirmed Friday that he had talked to Obuchowski. “I said as an Authority Member I felt she had the right to read a statement from a person who was ill and could not be in attendance,” he said in an email.

Comments

11 responses to “Oak Hills restaurant behind on rent, but golfers are signing up early”

  1. piberman

    Why would anyone be surprised ? A new bunch of experienced guys come to town, work hard and are largely ignored by the City’s politerati and leadership. Even by most golfers. And they’re trying to survive by catering. What hasn’t been tried is active City support, e.g. holding meetings there (well some were held, e.g. retirement of the Fire Marshall, some fund raisers). For starters lets have a nice big refrence on the City’s web site to the Restaurant. The politerati do like to eat.

    By the way the newly refurbished restaurant down at the Calf Pasture Park is in the same soup. They’ve been open almost daily even during the winter. Opening up for breakfast at dawn to help the pier guys get going.

    Mayor Rilling here’s your chance. Come on down to Oak Hills. It’s really Norwalk’s best kept secret and the new guys are doing their dondest to make a go of it. How do I know. Because we eat there every chance we can and often have the place to ourselves. Its as important as voting. And we’ve never been turned away because its too busy.

  2. Oldtimer

    Didn’t the present operators of the restaurant have a record of similar behavior in Mamaroneck or Rye before they came to Norwalk ? I recall the authority being warned about doing business with them.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Oldtimer

      No, these are not the same people. That was R.M. Staffing, which briefly took over the restaurant, then bailed after about three months. The RM Staffing principal, Scott Yandrasevich, is currently facing a possible 15 years in prison for his activities at the Rye Golf Club, much of it related to RM Staffing.

  3. Diane C2

    Ask OHPA to provide the restaurateurs business plan, including marketing and advertising; special events target marketing; and golf tournament tie-ins. Lots of luck.
    OHPA is not and should not be in the business of restaurant marketing – they barely manage to do that for the golf rounds. However, the restaurant owners MUST be in a position to market their services.
    How many advertisements, mob sales/coupons, or special holiday packages have you seen in the past 12 months?
    These restaurant people appeared to be in over their heads from day one, seemingly understaffed and overwhelmed, and it is time for OHPA’s “lease negotiations” in executive session to end. It is also time for OHPA to stop performing mediocre vetting of their proposed vendors, for restaurants, and especially for driving ranges and other amenities they may be considering.

  4. 4thepark

    @Diane C2, well said, I agree with you completely.

  5. Paul Cantor

    Here is my statement in its entirety as presented at last night’s OHPA’s meeting.

    KEY QUESTION

    After reading your strategic plan the key question I have for you is:

    Do you see yourself as employees of Total Driving Range Solutions or a body charged with promoting the interests of the taxpayers who own Oak Hills Park?

    It was input from Total Driving Range Solutions not input from the public that you relied on to come up with your strategic plan. So it is not surprising that the plan’s proposed solution to your financial problems is a driving range constructed by Total Driving Range Solutions.

    What is surprising, however, is the facile manner in which the plan redefines your mission as one of becoming “the recognized market leader in providing high quality golf rounds, and practice and golf lesson services” to a “target market.”

    That, of course, is not the mission you were given by the public. The mission you were given by the public was to see if you could manage a golf course in Oak Hills Park so green fees paid primarily by golfers in Norwalk would cover its maintenance and operating costs.

    Unfortunately, however, rather than admit that due to the lack of demand to play 18 holes of golf by the residents of Norwalk there is little likelihood that green fees will ever be able to cover the costs of the course in Oak Hills Park you have taken it upon yourselves to redefine your mission. Now, according to you, your mission is to work with Total Driving Ranges Solutions to market the golf course to others outside the region in an effort to generate the income you need to cover its costs.

    Don’t you realize that you have no right to unilaterally redefine your mission?

    Don’t you realize, furthermore, that your plan to market the course to golfers in Wilton, Westport, Southport, Fairfield, New Canaan, and Darien and elsewhere amounts to an admission that the demand to play 18 holes of golf by Norwalk residents is not sufficient to justify an 18-hole golf course? If there was sufficient demand by Norwalk residents to play 18-holes of golf there would be no need to market the course to well heeled golfers in other communities.

    You are responsible for managing a public park in the interests of the public at large not just a narrow segment of the public whose interests you favor. So the issue for you going forward should be: What is the best use for the land in Oak Hills Park? Clearly from the point of view of all Norwalk taxpayers it is not to be used for a golf course if green fees can’t cover the golf course’s costs.

    Consequently you should not be planning to construct a driving range in the park or conduct a marketing campaign. Rather you should be considering reducing the 18-hole golf course to nine holes and putting the land freed up as a result to other uses appropriate for a public park that don’t require huge expenditures and poisonous chemicals to maintain.

  6. Beth Altman

    If Groupon is so good why are no other Fairfield County golf courses using them? (is OHPA that desperate for $2500) These discounts in time will only hurt the bottom line …and what about the 600 plus who renewed early, only to be told now $45 on April 5th any way for a $20 refund on the 5th ????

  7. Diane C2

    @Mark and Oldtimer: OT, correct on the recall that they were warned. I and perhaps others cautioned the OHPA against doing any business with that “firm”. Fell on deaf ears. Fast forward to last year, and my concerns with the qualifications and viability of the present operator were raised. Alas, their promise “the egg sandwiches will be warm” apparently proved to be intoxicating to the OHPA. My request for qualifications and marketing plans were met with contempt and dismissal by the co-owner, advising that he and his partner “don’t answer to the public” and to “direct my questions to the commission”!
    You can file these escapades under Everything Old is New Again, and please see NoN’s coverage of my open letter to Mayor, Council BET, Finance and Legal, whose silence was and still is deafening:

    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/01/letter-irregularities-at-norwalks-oak-hills-deserve-intense-examination/

  8. Oldtimer

    Mark
    I know the names changed, but isn’t it the same people under a different corporate name ?

    1. Mark Chapman

      Oldtimer,

      No. To the best of my knowledge, these people had nothing to do with Yandrasevich or R.M. Staffing. I was still an editor for The Daily Voice when the Rye situation was discovered and did a lot of background research because of issues with the reporting. When the current folks came in to take over, I spent some serious time online trying to find a link but found nothing.

  9. Diane C2

    Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.
    Wonder if the lease today is actually still with Quattro Pazzi, with the current operators approved as their sub-lease? If that is the case, then Quattro has been financially unable to fulfill it’s lease obligation, and should be required to make immediate, complete payment of the rent in arrears. Let THEM go after their renters for reimbursement.
    Any more “executive sessions” over there to “discuss the lease” should result in the proceedings to terminate the lease, especially before the start of the summer season, and OHPA should work with a qualified attorney to put out a new bid post haste. And the OHPA should use a qualified attorney, a CPA, and a business plan analyst to vet the bidders. Oh yes, perhaps private investigators, too 🙂

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