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The shame of it all

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To the Editor:

The Oak Hills Park Authority has a bridge it wants to sell taxpayers.

The bridge is really a sales pitch for $2,413,500 in taxpayer-subsidized loans to construct a large, double-decker, 36-bay commercial driving range and upgrade each of the 18 holes of the golf course.

The OHPA calls the sales pitch a “Master Plan.”

Bruce Kimmel led off the discussion of the so-called “Master Plan” at last Tuesday’s Common Council Meeting by declaring he was “impressed” by the financial analysis behind it.

Financial analysis?  What Mr. Kimmel was referring to was an assumption based on the projections of Total Driving Range Solutions’, a firm that couldn’t come up with a loan from the private sector to finance the driving range, that it would generate more than $500,000 per year in revenues.

No matter that as the sales pitch itself notes, “National Golf Foundation (NGF) research indicates that, between 2005 and 2012, the number of rounds played nationally has decreased by 16 percent.  No matter that the number of rounds played at Oak Hills decreased by 25 percent between 2006 and 2013. No matter that the Griffith E. Harris driving range in Greenwich and the Smith Richardson driving range in Fairfield struggle to make ends meet or that Joe Felder, the pro at Griff Harris, claims ranges are a dying business.

What mattered most was the dozens of emails Mr. Kimmel claimed he received in support of the plan. Really, Mr. Kimmel? Dozens? Well certainly there are a few dozen golfers in Norwalk who would like a driving range in their back yard if the rest of us would agree to pay for it. But did all of them write to Mr. Kimmel? And was one of them Common Council member Richard Bonenfant?

“I’m definitely happy that you’re putting forth a driving range,” Mr. Bonenfant told OHPA Chairman Clyde Mount at the meeting, because I would like a place to warm up and hit a few ball and get loose” before I play. “So I will say that I think it will help your business an awful lot.”

Hmm.  The golf course is a business? And the OHPA is the Board of Directors? And the chair of the OHPA is the CEO? And since the business has been losing money for years and has had to restructure millions of dollars in taxpayer loans that are still outstanding taxpayers should lend it more money?

Well sure, according to Common Council member Jerry Petrini.

“In any business, now and then, you always have to put a capital infusion in, to make things change to keep on going for the future,” he said. “And with that said, hopefully…you guys are well on your way to being in the black and having to put reserves, and do the things. And hopefully, you can then start offering scholarships.”

Scholarships? Where in the sales pitch is there any mention of scholarships? Best to move on to the Great Lawn. Common Council member Shannon O’Toole Giandurco, who used to serve on the OHPA, said she can’t wait to move on to the Great lawn and watch movies.

The Great Lawn along with a Nature Learning Center, rose garden, and fitness center is part of the window dressing being used in the OHPA’s sales pitch.  The “Master Plan” indicates all of them will be located in the limited space where restaurant patrons now park.  Perhaps they will be situated one on top of the other. But then where will the movie screen be located?  And additional parking for driving range patrons?

Did Council members Doug Hempstead, Richard Bonenfant, Jerry Petrini, Glenn Iannaccone, Michelle Maggio, Shannon O’Toole Giandurco, Bruce Kimmel and John Kydes even read the sales pitch before they decided to vote to approve it?   If so, whose interests were they looking out for?

Paul Cantor

Comments

11 responses to “The shame of it all”

  1. EveT

    Shady Beach uses an inflatable movie screen for family movie night. It’s completely portable, like the band shell(s) used for outdoor concerts at Calf Pasture Beach and Norwalk Green. It is only set up when a movie is going to be shown. No reason to think Oak Hills would not do the same.

  2. TomReynolds

    I think it is a great idea for any PARK in Norwalk to consider movies and alternate activities. Oak Hills is, first and foremost, a golf course, but this session of the OHPA is very forward thinking and trying to accomodate anyone who wants to use the park.
    I just wish people would realize that each park in Norwalk has its own specific activity. Oak Hills’ is golf. Calf Pasture is beach, etc.
    Also, taxpayer “subsidized” LOANS are a win for the city. They get more money back in interest than they dish out. I don’t know why anyone would complain about that. Unless they just like complaining.

  3. Casey Smith

    YAWN!!!

  4. Kevin Di Mauro

    “They get more money back in interest than they dish out”. Who are THEY ? I never get any money back. I wish I did. What a joke.

  5. DeeeeMoooo

    Tilting at windmills: nature trail preserved; great lawn, nature center, rose garden all inserted into the plan; traffic impact minimal; maintenance shack inspected and passed; $1.5M grant from state; golf course back in the black; debt being serviced. And yet we’re 100% unhappy? But none of this has anything to do with a bias against golf. Rriigghhtt…

  6. Tom Reynolds

    “THEY” is the city.

  7. Tom Reynolds

    If you “friends” of Oak Hills had attending the fundraiser Mayor’s Golf Tournament on Sept 22, there was much discussion about raising enough money from the event one day to support local scholarships. See? the OHPA is trying to do good things for, and with, the park. Your goal seems to be a desire to punish this new OHPA (6 new members in the last 11 months)and make the entire park fail.
    On another point, golf is down nationwide about 11% (mostly due to the economy of the past 6 years). Golf in New England is down about 8% over the same period. Oak Hills is UP 7%. Pretty big swing over the competition.

  8. Yvonne Lopaur

    DeeeeMoooo
    Please explain how great the great lawn would be if it was situated in the area behind the restaurant in Oak Hills together with a nature center, rose garden, fitness and parking lot. Please also explain the reason you didn’t point out that we shouldn’t have worried about the traffic from the Mosque because it wouldn’t be anything like the traffic that the OHPA hopes to generate with its large commercial driving range. Then maybe you could also explain the reason the OHPA keeps dissing the restaurant. There was a restaurant before that fits the description of what the OHPA now says it wants. Was the Authority forced to demolish that restaurant in order to construct the one they now say was a big mistake?

  9. Kevin Di Mauro

    @Tom Reynolds

    Could you be a little more specific as to who “THEY” refers to rather than just stating “the city”.

    If you are referring to the city’s property owners and tax payers such as myself, I’d like to get some CASH back in return for my so-called business investment or at least a TAX REDUCTION rather than just a free walk in the park and tax increases year after year.

  10. Yvonne Lopaur

    DeeeeMoooo
    Please explain how great the great lawn would be if it was situated in the area behind the restaurant in Oak Hills together with a nature center, rose garden, fitness and parking lot. Please also explain the reason you didn’t point out that we shouldn’t have worried about the traffic from the Mosque because it wouldn’t be anything like the traffic that the OHPA hopes to generate with its large commercial driving range. Then maybe you could also explain the reason the OHPA keeps dissing the restaurant. There was a restaurant before that fits the description of what the OHPA now says it wants. Was the Authority forced to demolish that restaurant in order to construct the one they now say was a big mistake?

  11. Suzanne

    I am glad for Oak Hills that it is up 7% in play. It has been an exceptional year weather wise for the course. This is all good.

    Perhaps these revenues could be put toward “rainy day” funds, like winter, service the existing debt and remediate the toxic oil on site. Also, some of those environmental tests mentioned to make the Master Plan a truly responsible and complete document could be paid for with that 7% increase.

    I do not think it responsible to approve a Master Plan without all of the data intact. This would include the expected number of paying participants at the proposed driving range on a daily basis and the traffic this would add to Norwalk streets. Every large development has to do it. The OHPA should consider a traffic study (a real one) a requirement to be shared with all citizens.

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