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Oak Hills seeking $4.45 million loan from Norwalk for golf learning center, related work

Oak Hills Park Norwalk 010-2014-03-29
Jim Downing of Total Driving Range Solutions explains the proposed location of an Oak Hills Park driving range during the recent tour of proposed course changes.

Updated, 2:42 p.m., proposed plan attached

NORWALK, Conn. – The Oak Hills Park Authority is asking Norwalk for $4.45 million to build a “golf learning center,” improve the existing restaurant building and alter the golf course.

The plans are outlined in the proposed master plan, which will be the topic of a May 13 public hearing.

The plan is a collaboration of OHPA members Ernie Desrochers and Clyde Mount and representatives of Total Driving Range Solutions (TDRS), the winning bidder in the competitive process that resulted from a request for proposals (RFP) to build a driving range on the course.  

TDRS is described in the master plan as “the vendor chosen by OHPA to design and develop the Oak Hills Golf Learning Center,” although the RFP offered the opportunity to build a driving range on the course, at operator expense.

Page 56 of the proposed master plan says that the total cost to the city to implement the plan would be $4.45 million. That is described as $247,222 per hole.

On page 72: “The proposed new debt would allow for the construction of the new range and teaching facility and make course and restaurant modifications.”

That page outlines the existing city debt, due to Oak Hills Park improvements, as more than $2.5 million as of June 14.

The proposed new debt to the city would be $2.5 million for the golf school and related improvements, $902,500 for course and park improvements, $225,000 for pro shop and administration improvements and $685,675 for start-up and general conditions. The expected rate of interest would be 4.5 percent.

“The debt structure would assume interest only for the debt during the first year to account for the ongoing renovation,” it says on page 72. Interest only is $151,200. Otherwise, payments are expected to be $356,262.

Mayor Harry Rilling said in a late Thursday email that he had not seen the master plan. No one had approached him with the request for funding, he said.

OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount provided the document to NancyOnNorwalk Thursday afternoon. Neither he nor Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Ernie Desrochers replied to Thursday evening attempts to contact them. Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) also did not respond to a Thursday night email.

Diane Cece, a member of the Friends of Oak Hills Park, spoke to Common Council Planning Committee members Thursday evening and said she had heard the authority wants millions of dollars to enact their plan. Council members did not respond.

Cece decried the process by which the plan had been derived. The plan has not been released publicly and the hearing is less than two weeks away, she said.

“There’s been no public input except in a single public forum that was the worst facilitated public information forum that I have ever attended in my life,” she said. “There’s not going to be the opportunity for public input despite the fact that every other master plan in this city has had multiple public input sessions with the people who are developing the plan. You should know that the person who helped develop the plan did not come in via a request for qualifications or a request for proposals. That that person came in as – already the vendor of choice for the driving range. You should also know that this will be the first master plan for a public park that didn’t include an advisory committee made up of the stakeholders … From our smallest parks to our largest parks, this has been the protocol,, but because it is not an ordinance and because it’s not a regulation, the Oak Hills Park Authority feels that they only want to adhere to the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law.”

It’s about much more than a driving range, which had formerly been advertised as something that would be funded by the developer, she said.

“If you allow this to come before you in this manner and it is accepted in this manner then this opens a slippery slope for then on how we conduct all public input in the city,” she said. “I don’t think we should set that example. I don’t think that this committee should accept something that comes to you from a route that is not transparent and clearly blocks out the public.”

OHPA Master Plan for Public Comment

Comments

23 responses to “Oak Hills seeking $4.45 million loan from Norwalk for golf learning center, related work”

  1. Clyde Mount OHPA Member

    Nancy,
    The request to answer your two simple questions was just read this morning, since it was sent at 9:30 last night. And with water in my basement, I was not in the state of mind to be reading and responding to emails that late at night. It was already a very long day!

    The first answer is the watermark is wrong. It will be corrected before we post it on our website to be accurate. I was excited to send this out so that is my mistake and since I have seen and read this so many times, it became white noise to me.

    Second, on the funding, per our lease, we are not only required to come up with a master plan, but unlike the other master plans of the city, we also have to give ideas on how we would fund it. As you may or may not know, the Cranbury Master plan calls for 4.3 million dollars, but those funds come directly from the city at the cost of tax payers. Our plan is asking for the city to loan us the money to build the facilities and we will pay the money back, at no cost to the tax payers. Only those who use the golf and tennis centers pay for the park.

    We have yet to approach the City for funding as this is not an accepted plan as of today. It is our vision of the park. If we can get the vision accepted, then the next logical step it funding.

    I am just amazed how no matter how good this plan is, this site always looks to create controversy. I guess that is your job, but I think if you really read the plan, you should be happy with what we see as the next steps in creating another great park for the city of Norwalk.

    Nothing great comes at zero cost!

  2. Anonymous

    A colossal waste of City money. If golf is that huge of a priority and the development plan is so great, let’s let private developers take the risk and reap the reward. The City has enormous challenges ahead of it on many levels that are more deserving of finite resources.

  3. LWitherspoon

    @Clyde Mount
    What is the relationship, if any, between this $4.45 million loan and the building of a driving range? What will happen to the driving range if the City does not approve the loan?

  4. Sara Sikes

    Who can believe that the loan would be repaid after the City waived repayment of the $50M owed by the Maritime Aquarium?
    If they want a driving range, let the vendor get a loan elsewhere.

  5. Joe Optimistic

    Let’s get this straight, borrow another 4.5m on top of the 2.5m they already owe the taxpayers and are having trouble paying back. 7m owed to Norwalk!

    I read in the minutes of the last meeting that the Chair of the Finance Committee said that the OHPA financial situation looked strong, but they are showing less money in the bank then last year! How is this a strong position?

    “If you build it they will come” is that a risk the City and the taxpayers really want to take with this?

    Enough is enough, there are a lot better ways to spend 4.5m of taxpayer money in this town then risking it on the minority that plays golf. 2.5m was already risked and you see what happened with that.

  6. Taxpayer Fatigue

    Clyde, I applaud your efforts to try to help Oak Hills. Unfortunately this plan is forever tainted. OHPA held a public hearing where sitting commissioners ridiculed and made fun of citizens speaking in the public participation section of the meeting. Stakeholders were excluded from input into the plan. The plan was developed by a vendor with their own agenda for profit motives. And from day one, OPHA said construction of the driving range will not cost the city any money – now you want $4.5M? OPHA needs to to start the process over from the beginning, include the public and yes, even the stakeholders that you don’t like and do it in a fair and transparent manner. You also need to establish a track record by substantially paying off the $2.5m loan you already have from the city before you ask for more. If OHPA is not up to doing these things, then let’s dissolve it and fold the park back into Parks and Rec.

  7. Suzanne

    No. Just no.

  8. Bob

    From what I have read so far it sounds like you people are very ignorant when it comes to understanding some of the finer things in life and for that I am sorry for you. You would rather spend money on building more drug and sleaze infested parks like the ones we have in Norwalk now, instead of investing in something that has meaning and purpose. Have any of you ever heard of the first tee? well in case you haven’t here are a few ways golf can benefit our community.

    What are the top 10 reasons why young people should play golf?

    10. Enjoy the outdoors: Young people should play golf because it is an opportunity to spend a few hours in the fresh air. While playing golf, kids and teens can experience all types of fauna and flora.

    9. Develop lifelong friendships: You never know who you will meet on a golf course and interaction with others allow young people to develop social skills.

    8. Practice personal responsibility: Sometimes the ball doesn’t always bounce your way, but regardless of the outcome, there is no blaming your teammates for what happens.

    7. Have a safe place to play: The golf course is a safe place and facilitates mentoring relationships in a safe environment.

    6. Manage your emotions: Golf closely parallels real life as one experiences the highs and lows of the game. This range of experience from birdies to triple bogeys rewards a young person’s ability to keep each shot in perspective, manage one’s emotions, maintain a positive outlook and focus on the shot at hand.

    5. Appreciate diversity: Golf is a game that can be played for a lifetime by anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, size or skill level.

    4. Prepare for business: Golf is a sport that helps prepare kids and teens for careers in business and other professional arenas.

    3. Learn etiquette: Young people should play golf because it is based on characteristics that are missing in our society. Golf places an emphasis on etiquette. In golf there is no judge or referee; instead, players govern themselves and fellow competitors.

    2. Spend time with family: Golf is a game that encourages family participation.

    1. Wellness for life. With the youth obesity epidemic in our country, golf is a sport that helps young people get off the couch. When you play golf, walking the golf course and carrying your bag, a 150-pound person burns 350 calories and walks more than 10,000 steps.

  9. Debora

    4.5 million is a lot of money to borrow so someone can exercise. The Authority reports that half a million people have used the course over the last ten years. If each of them wrote a $10 check to an “Oak Hills Park Conservancy” Foundation, they could done this plan for cash. And the revenues from interest on such an endowment would be exempt from the rent requirement paid to the city.

  10. Suzanne

    Ten points listed above? Baseball.

  11. Bruce Kimmel

    For the record: Last night I had a Planning Committee meeting, from there I went to the Restaurant at Oak Hills for the dinner sponsored by the Norwalk/Nagarote Sister Cities project. Got home very late, did not check email. I returned home a little while ago from NCC, where I was teaching and just saw the email about the Oak Hills $$$ request to the city.
    .
    I received the plan today, electronically, but the pages were out of order, so I could not answer the question I received last night from NancyonNorwalk; it seemed as if they had left out the economic analysis, when in fact it was mistakenly placed at the end.
    .
    I will say, however, that this is the first I have heard about a financial request to the city. While I am inclined not to support the request, I will have to read the plan, and have my questions answered, before forming a more definitive opinion.

  12. Piberman

    How could any conscientious citizen object to this careful well thought out proposal to benefit a few privileged residents at taxpayer expense ? What’s another 4.5 million loan on top of the 2.5 million still unpaid ? This is Norwalk where modest income taxpayers are only too happy to fund the highest city salaries in CT. We certainly expect the finance wizards, Council grandees Hempstead and Kimmel and above all Mayor Rilling to vigorously support this utterly absurd financially preposterous proposal.

    Maybe our celebrated politicos could walk Calf Pasture Beach and meet and observe the “real Norwalk citizens” using our most illustrious City park by the thousands and thousands. Without putting a hand out in the public trough. On a good spring/summers day more residents find joy at Calf Pasture than at Oak Hills over an entire year.

    That our politicos continue to encourage more subsidies for Oak Hillls further evidences Norwalk as a failing city – one that discourages potential residents from buying homes here – homes that have no realistic prospects of gaining value.

    So let’s have the Council and Mayor give Oak Hills the “thumbs up” and give even more residents incentive to move from our mismanaged City where our piliticos enjoy golf rather than attending to the basic needs of their citizens.

  13. Bob

    Suzanne

    Please let us know where we can go watch a family playing baseball, from the young kids all the way up to the grandparents… That would be very enjoyable to watch. For the record a family carrying baseball bats down at veterans park does not count as a baseball game. 🙂

  14. Julie

    So, lets get this straight. No money for downtown underprivileged youth programs but another multi million dollar (loan) to the uptown privileged guys, for golf redesign? GTF outta here, really? Heads up council members, we are watching.

  15. Suzanne

    Bob, you have asked the wrong person. I am one of twelve. Me and all of my relations including, yes, grandparents and cousins often walked to the local elementary school to play softball. Golf? Not so much. More of a foursome sport.

  16. Finally the City has proposed something I’ll use on a regular basis! It works out to about $220.00 per household.

  17. Oldtimer

    The arithmetic in their plan is wrong. At 4.5%, interest only on 4.45million is well over 200,000. What does that say about the rest of their numbers ?

  18. Jack R

    Does anyone know why Parks and Rec doesn’t help in the maintenance of oak hills?? Take a look around the city to see what a good job they do at vets, the beaches, Taylor, etc. you would think that as a city park they would have a hand in the maintenance to save some dollars.

  19. Bond James Bond

    I’ve been residing in your city for some time, and I’m beginning to get the feel of it.

    Has anyone considered a field for polo? Quite exciting with all those horses bashing around after a little ball.

  20. Debora

    Because the OHP Authority was formed under the city charter specifically to run the park (including the golf course.) Other than securing the loans to purchase the park land and build the golf course etc, it is supposed to be independent and self supporting. Parks and Rec is funded out of the city budget.

  21. Debora

    Here is the link to the charter

    http://www.ecode360.com/27054913

  22. EastNorwalkChick

    @Bob, drug and sleaze infested parks? Apparently you’ve never been to Cranberry Park, Taylor Farm Park, Fedor Farm, the Beach, there are many more smaller ones too numerous to name. All run by Parks & Rec, all well maintained, all heavily used by Norwalk residents, not a one of them sleazy, nor drug infested…..you need to get out more.
    .
    And it is also apparent that you never played softball or baseball as a kid….

  23. Peter

    It was a mistake that Oak Hills was ever given over to golf. It should be returned to the public as a multipurpose Park!

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