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OHPA OKs $21K study to confirm – or deny – Norwalk driving range feasibility

tees off Friday on the Oak Hills Park first green. Behind him is the area that a driving range would be built, in the Oak Hills Park Authority master plan.
Norwalker Jimmy Miller tees off Friday on the Oak Hills Park first hole. Behind him is the area that a driving range would be built, in the Oak Hills Park Authority master plan.

NORWALK, Conn. – The National Golf Foundation has been selected to analyze the feasibility of a golf school – a.k.a. the driving range – at Oak Hills Park.

The Oak Hills Park Authority on Friday voted unanimously at a special meeting to endorse the choice they said was made by Director of Management and Budgets Bob Barron. NGF was one of two competitors who responded to the request for proposals (RFP) that was put together by Barron and Purchasing Agent Gerald Foley.

OHPA will pay $21,000 for the analysis, which will go straight to Barron.

Both NGF and Golf Property Analysts were interviewed Monday, OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount said.

“They were both very qualified. I think both could have done a good job,” Mount said. “But one of the main concerns was the RFP was not a clean RFP from the folks from Philadelphia. There were some discrepancies in there, some boilerplate things that shouldn’t have been included. (Barron) felt that, because of that, he was worried about the type of report he would get. See, when you’re doing an RFP you put your best foot forward. They made simple mistakes. … That was his main concern with that particular firm.”

“Both of the firms that responded to the RFP were very qualified, but NGF had more direct experience, the lowest price, some great references, and the most professional presentation,” Barron said in an email. “Specifically, NGF provided five driving range or practice facility projects that they have worked on in recent years and I was able to reach three of these clients for references and they all strongly recommended NGF.  Golf Property Analysts’ bid came in at $22,000 and NGF’s was $21,000.”

There were no questions asked by OHPA members meeting in the office at the park, or participating by phone.

Mount said the other concern was that OHPA had used National Golf Foundation data in forming its master plan.

“That was a little bit of concern, but I think we’re all past that,” Mount said.

Golf Analysts would probably have used NGF data in its study anyway, Mount said.

“Barron made the selection thinking that are going to be best suited for what he wants to have to make case, or not make a case,” Mount said.

“Please make your readers aware that, although the OHPA is paying for this consulting contract, that the RFP was developed by, and the RFP responses were reviewed by, and the vendor selection was made by city personnel,” Barron wrote. “And, at the conclusion of NGF’s consulting research, their findings will be delivered to me. These findings will influence my recommendation to the Mayor on whether or not the OHPA’s capital request for the development of the driving range should be included in his recommendation for city capital projects for the upcoming FY 2016-17.”

The report should be delivered in early December, which is perfect, Barron said, as that would be right before capital budget requests need to be made.

Comments

16 responses to “OHPA OKs $21K study to confirm – or deny – Norwalk driving range feasibility”

  1. Avid Golfer

    Does anyone really think the National Golf Foundation, a group obviously that exists to promote the game of golf, will come back with anything but an extremely rosie report saying the city of Norwalk should absolutely spend 3+ million of taxpayer money on an unneeded golf accessory.

    when the range is finally completed and you are driving to oak hills hitting tons of pot holes and past the schools where the teachers are under paid and through the parts of town where there are shootings and not enough police officers, I’m sure you will be happy that you got a chance to practice your 5 iron.

  2. TReynolds

    I can’t wait to practice my 5 iron . . . and all the other clubs in my bag.

  3. Paul Cantor

    Avid Golfer is spot on.

    With the support of Mr. Baron and members of the Common Council the OHPA is spending $21,000 it should be using to pay back money loaned to it by taxpayers for confirmation by an organization dedicated to promoting driving ranges that a driving range in Oak Hills Park will make money.

    And that despite the fact it is only because the Authority could not raise the money from the private sector to construct the driving range that it is seeking the “study.” What the OHPA is paying for, in other words, is an endorsement it bills as a “study” for a large commercial driving range it bills as a “golf learning center”.

    Next up is an appeal for a $4 million dollars loan from taxpayers to construct the driving range. And this despite the fact that taxpayers just gifted the Authority $1,500,000 to upgrade the course.

    Of course the willingness of members of the Common Council and Mr. Baron to support this misuse of the money of all taxpayers to promote the interests of a small relatively well off minority is scandalous.

    The purpose of the driving range, according to the Authority, is to help cover the difference between the cost of maintaining the golf course and user fees. But the fact that user fees don’t cover those costs makes it clear that the demand to play golf is insufficient to justify devoting all the land in Oak Hills Park to a golf course. It is not a justification to construct a driving range,
    especially a driving range that will undermine the residential quality of the Oak Hills Park neighborhood.

  4. Wineshine

    One would think that those concerned here, with all the facts and figures they’ve managed to uncover since this subject has come up, would have also come to the conclusion that the average golfer at Oak Hills is not part of some elite “relatively well off” minority.

  5. Avid Golfer

    @TReynolds:

    Exactly my point, you are another selfish golfer that only cares about himself.

    Me, me, me, I want, I want, I want…

  6. Yvonne Lopaur

    @ Wineshine
    Anyone who regularly spends four + hours in a rented cart on a golf course with expensive bags and golf clubs is relatively well off. And Norwalk residents who play golf represent only about 10% of the population.

  7. Avid Golfer

    if the range is built and it if it does not support the income that is projected to meet the obligation to the taxpayers on the 3-4 million dollar note, are the golfers of Oak Hills prepared to pay an extra $4-$5 per round or more to generate the funds to pay back the note or will the City have to extend the payments out 40 years similar to what was done with the all the other debt they owe?

    the golfers should think long and hard about this one because YOU should be the the ones taking the risk that this will work not the non golfing taxpayers.

  8. Suzanne

    You know, Avid Golfer, I think you are correct about who should be taking the financial risk should the driving range or course itself fail. This is no longer a public facility available to all of the public. By extension, all of the taxpayers to which this park is unavailable should not have to pay for it.

    I think an agreement should be made, especially if the monies are extended to OHPA from the Capital Budget to pay for the driving range: a solid re-payment schedule with real consequences for noncompliance, NOT extensions, and, should the scheme fail or limp or require additional funds, those should come from those who get to use it – the whatever percentage of people who have the time and money to play the sport. NOT the taxpayer in general.

    Honestly? I think Oak Hills is a beautiful course that does not meet its financial obligations. I would rather have it used for the benefit of ALL of the public OR have the public that is privileged enough to use it pay for it. Let my tax dollars go to city schools or infrastructure or a City Planner and revamped Zoning Code.

  9. Wineshine

    @ Yvonne- One can outfit themselves with a set of clubs and bag for well under $500. That’s a one-time purchase.

    One can “regularly spend four + hours in a rented cart on a golf course” for around $44 at Oak Hills. Hardly a rich persons’ sport, huh? Lose the cart, and we’re down to $28. I call this a bargain for four and a half hours of outdoor enjoyment.

    A study of national averages shows that 9.6% of Americans play golf, so at 10%, if that’s true, we Norwalkers actually make a good case for having a course in town.

    The median income for golfers is said to be around $95,000/year. Heck, just about every Norwalk city employee can afford the game!

    Yvonne, your stereotypical image of golfers is severely distorted. I won’t hazard a guess as to how that was formed, but I can tell you that the golf course is one of the last bastions of civility on earth. In no other sport to players penalize themselves. The etiquette of golf is far more strict than that of restaurant patrons, drivers, beach-goers et. al.

  10. cc-rider

    Once again, Paul Cantor trots out the half truth about the original RFP range proposal. The private sector was smart enough to not go for OHPA’s moonshot chance of getting someone to build a range for them and then hand it back over after a set amount of leased years. I would build a range in this area in a heart beat if I could find an big enough slice of land. Topgolf is the hottest thing in the golf business right now.

  11. Suzanne

    Wineshine, I love golf but please don’t distort the Fairfield Gold Coast County facts for reality: that $500 goes for food for most people and, for most people, four hours out of their day is for working, not playing on a beautiful green in a park like setting. A lot more people go hungry and have to hustle to get a job that supports them than plays golf.

    Fairfield County is probably one of the few places in the country where golf is not counted as an elitist sport.

    It is important, I think, to remember that Oak Hills and the experience of it is a privilege for those who have the time and money, not a right and certainly not to be expected for most people.

    I don’t disagree with the etiquette thing although I have heard my share of colorful language and seen more than one club fly on the green. Although rare in my experience, such exhibitions of competitiveness and “drive” could easily be compared to the tantrums one sees with the NBA or MLB.

  12. Kevin Di Mauro

    The City of Norwalk should perform its due diligence by also having a traffic study done to determine how this business venture will impact the AAA residential area near Oak Hills Park.

    Wineshine’s comment that “just about every Norwalk City employee can afford the game” only adds insult to injury, because he also states the median income for golfers is around $95,000. What about all the people who aren’t city employees and don’t make $95,000 per year and don’t play golf and still must pay taxes to finance this GAME?

  13. Diane C2

    Couple of interesting notes to add:

    Bob Baron has been “on loan” from the City of Norwalk’s Finance Department to OHPA since 2011. Is the Finance Director tracking the hours and expenses for this? How many tax-payer paid hours has Mr. Baron spent working for and with OHPA? Exactly how much has OHPA paid the City for this resource? As an Authority, isn’t it true that they are to be self-funding, operating outside of the use of any city resource?

    Also, and more importantly, why was the vote on awarding the consulting contract held as a Special Meeting, on a Friday, in the middle of the workday, when, according to the article, even some OHPA participants could not be present in person?

    The Bid Closing Date was September 3 and the Authority met in regular session on September 17. Why wasn’t the matter of the recommendation taken up then? Why did they not meet with the firm representatives until this past Monday. Or, as they will meet again on October 15th, why not wait until that meeting?

    Special Meetings should be reserved for only the most urgent of matters, where time is of such essence that any delay would cause irrepairable harm or undue excess expenses. I doubt this was the case in this matter….holding a meeting on a Friday, in the middle of the afternoon, with little or no notice is not only NOT transparent, but falls right into the widely-accepted “under the radar” tactics that all city agencies operate under with impunity.

  14. Wineshine

    Suzanne, you’re probably right that many people would choose to use that $500 for family needs, but how much do those people spend on scratchers, or alcohol, other things you could easily find frivolous? Please don’t distort what the reality of the populous is by suggesting that there are nothing but hard-working families out there just trying to get by and are making all the right decisions. You know that’s idealistic and just not true. How many people shell out thousands of dollars every year for Giants and Jets season tickets? Those aren’t the elite few sitting in the stands every week. Is it fair to penalize those who choose to recreate on a golf course because a majority don’t? I know your intentions are always good, but you’re tragically mistaken when you say that FF Co. is one of the few places where golf isn’t an elitist sport. It’s just plain inaccurate. Just go on Google earth, zoom in on most public courses and take a look at the surrounding neighborhoods. Take a ride by the OH parking lot and look at the cars parked there. Take a look at a parking lot at a private club. You’ll see the difference in a second.

    Kevin, those who earn below that level are spending their money as they see fit. Just as are those who earn at or above that level.

    One thing we can all agree on, no one will ever, ever comment here, “Gee, I see your point. I should have looked at it from your side”.

  15. Suzanne

    Wineshine, I think people see your points but that does not mean they have to agree with you.

    It is ironic that socioeconomics comes up in the context of a $21,000 study for a golf course. The latter is, in the rest of the world, a symbol of elitism. It is a far cry from a game of pick up ball in an empty lot of any stripe: baseball, football, soccer. No trappings like golf required and thus no expense required. (You do know that Fairfield County is ranked second highest in household median income in the UNITED STATES, right? That is a fact – Google sitings, I am afraid, are not.)

    What I think might be missing in your perspective is the idea of choice for that $500. Most people in America do not have a CHOICE about how to spend it – it goes for necessities because it is needed and hard earned. Golf, if watched at all, is a television sport for rare spare time just like the dream of going to a major league baseball or football game. It just isn’t in the cards to CHOOSE to spend $500 on recreation when families are hungry.

    Norwalk has a very active Person-to-Person “pantry” near the police station that is there and active for a reason: people need food, clothes and their kids need a good education.

    I will repeat to you something about which we agree: I love golf and I loved playing it. But, I am well aware that it is not a priority for my tax dollar: I would rather see people who need to work or need work or children who need an education reap the benefits of even that $21,000 before this golf course gets it.

    I place the need for this money squarely on the management of the course and the OHPA: the course is supposed to be run by charter and self-supporting. In other words, those who can afford to should pay for it and that, unfortunately, does NOT include every Norwalk citizen, especially those with great economic needs.

  16. Tom Reynolds

    Let’s all sing the song from “Frozen”

    Let it go, let it go
    Can’t hold it back anymore
    Let it go, let it go
    Turn away and slam the door!

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