NORWALK, Conn. – Blaming the restaurant at Oak Hills Park for all the financial problems faced by the Oak Hills Park Authority is a matter of “spin,” according to a former member of the authority.
Joe Tamburri said at last week’s OHPA meeting that he took references to the restaurant as a “white elephant” as a personal attack.
“Being a member for many years I think I have a feel for what goes on,” Tamburri said. “There’s been a lot of spin and things going on from various individuals and I take a personal note on that. When it comes to that I think we need to talk about that a lot more.”
OHPA member Ernie Desrochers, who is responsible for some of the “spin,” shook his head as Tamburri spoke.
Desrochers said recently that decisions made by politicians and agreed to by authority members had led to the authority’s financial problems.
“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.
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.”
Tamburri is the first person to publicly rebut that claim, which has been oft-repeated since the authority asked for a $100,000 loan to make it through last winter.
“When this financing was put together for the restaurant, the restaurant stood on its own financially, meaning that the lease that was negotiated over the 15 years would have paid for that restaurant to be completed without a cost to the taxpayers or the golfing community or anyone who uses the park,” he said. “Over the last two or three years, we have had some financial problems obviously and some numbers have been floating around. It’s always pointed back to the re-financing that was done. Unfortunately, the restaurant itself took the hit on why we had financial problems.”
But, “There was a financial plan into place to make the restaurant work on its own, so let’s not point the finger at the restaurant for the financial problems the Oak Hills Authority had,” he said.
Oak Hills Park Executive Director Shelley Guyer said later that he believes the restaurant is struggling.
“It’s a tough place to have a restaurant and the rent is tremendously high,” he said.
Guyer said he favors building a driving range at the park because it will eventually generate “direct hard dollars” when the city takes it over. But, “I’m focused on making sure the restaurant is viable,” he said. “The driving range is secondary to me. I want to make sure that restaurant stays open and has a good product.”
October was an excellent month for the course, with numbers well ahead of last year, he said.
“I feel comfortable that I’ve got enough cash to get through the winter, which we haven’t been able to do for the past few years,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s enough money. I still need more revenue because I still have infrastructure issues down the road that I know are going to come up. I want to get the course into a position where I know it’s really on a solid financial ground.”