UPDATE: Normandy Oaks Gets Another Shot

The Royal Oak City Commission approves a motion to make a thorough analysis of the site and work to make a long-term plan.

UPDATE: The Royal Oak City Commission voted to keep Normandy Oaks Golf Course, one of Royal Oak's two nine-hole municipal golf courses, open while an ad hoc committee explores the future of the green space.

The club's operator, Royal Oak Golf, LLC, had an operation loss of more than $96,000 last year.

"There are a lot of questions I want answered," said Mayor Mayor-Tem David Poulton at Monday's commission meeting. "If there is just this one season of losses, I can't see suggesting closing it...it seems reactionary to me. I'm concerned we're being asked to make a quick decision on this issue. If it's so important, the golf season ended last fall, why are we just talking about it now?"

Poulton recommended the city make a thorough analysis of the site and work to make a long-term plan.

[Take the Patch Survey: Tell Us Your Ideas for Normandy Oaks Golf Course]

By a 7-2 vote, the commission approved Poulton's motion to direct staff to renegotiate the contract with the current operator, Royal Oak Golf LLC, continue the operation of the golf club for another year, establish a sub committee to study and address the future of Normandy Oaks and direct staff to make the golf course more "inviting." (Commissioners Sharlan Douglas and Mike Fournier opposed the motion.)

"I think with staff sitting down with the operator something can be done," Poulton said. "We'll do it for a year. We'll come back and we'll analyze the situation. It's important for the city." 

Mayor offers background on decision to close

Negotiating a new contract may not be "a win-win for everybody, but hopefully it won't be a lose-lose for everybody," said Mayor Jim Ellison. 
The mayor offered background to address remarks made in public comment, including, "Where did this all suddenly come from?"

"This is an administrative function," Ellison said. The golf course manager, Joe Spatafore, has been in contact with Director of Public Service Greg Rassel and Recreation Director Tod Gazetti, according to the mayor. 

"Most dialogues happen internally, as is should," Ellison said. "After a long discussion with Mr. Spatafore and all the information they had, staff came forward with a recommendation that we shut the course down...and they made that recommendation to us at the strategic planning session in January."

"Our staff has spent, I'm confident, a considerable amount of time talking with the vendor as the months have gone by and the years have gone by," said Commissioner Sharlan Douglas. "While we're hearing about it for the first time, this is something that has been discussed at length among staff."

Ellison pointed out his concern wasn't the timing of the closure issue, but rather the absence of a plan for the future.

"I think it's tough to make a decision without knowing what we're going  to do in the long-term with the course," he said.

What's next?

A renegotiated contract with Royal Oak Golf LLC will come back to the commission for approval. Assuming that a new contract is agreed upon, the golf club will be open this season.

In the meantime, staff will come back with a recommendation to structure a committee to evaluate the future of the Normandy Oaks and determine what tasks are needed. That recommendation also comes back to the table. If approved, members will be appointed and a timeline set in place to gather community input and come up with ideas, which could include continuing to use the property as a golf course or repurposing all or a portion of it.

"Clearly we don't have an operator issue...so we have a structural issue," said Commissioner Mike Fournier. "We have evidence that says...all the Normandy Oaks play could play at Royal Oak Golf Course. That tells me we have an underutilized golf asset let alone an underutilized asset for other members (of the community) that may want to see it repurposed."

Fournier pointed to a study by the  National Golf Foundation that indicates in the last 20 years, rounds of golf are down 26 percent on public courses.

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc argued that Normandy Oaks is a public asset that is being used "for a very narrow public purpose."

An option would be to sell off a portion of the property and repurpose it for "something the public would really value and get you incredible usage out of, as opposed to having two nine-hole golf courses where one (course) could very clearly meet the demand," DuBuc said.

Selling the green space or any portion of it for something other than a recreational purpose would require a vote of the people.

"I would certainly be willing to consider beginning the process of issuing an RFP talking about what else we might do with that spot and how much money we can generate from the potential sale of a portion of it," DuBuc said.  

Previous report, Feb. 15: City Manager Don Johnson told commissioners in January he recommends closing the golf course this year.

Johnson made his announcement at the Jan. 18 strategic planning session as part of his presentation on parks and recreation goals and planning. The financial viability of the golf course is simply unsustainable, he said.

"If we open, we'll probably have to subsidize it," Johnson said. 

Losing money

In a memo to commissioners, Greg Rassel, director of the Departments of Public Service and Recreation, noted the golf course's operator, Royal Oak Golf, LLC, had an operation loss of more than $96,000 last year.

Earlier this month, the Parks, Recreation and Senior Advisory Board voted to recommend that Normandy Oaks remain open for the 2014 season and that the contract with Royal Oak Golf, LLC be renegotiated. 

"The board opposed closing the course and instead is asking the commission to subsidize Royal Oak Golf, LLC by eliminating its contractual rent payment, which is $50,000 for 2014," Rassel said in his memo. "Even with free rent, the company would have lost money in 2013."

Administration is recommending the golf course close and that the green space be mowed every two to three weeks. The property could easily be repurposed for disk golf, cross country running and cross country skiing with very little investment, Rassel said.

Sell it?

The long-term decision the city has to make is whether or not to sell the property. 

In 2013, the commission established a policy that requires all money from the sale of any park or recreation property to go into the park improvement fund, which can only be used for improving or acquiring parks, Rassel said in his memo.

"The plus is there is probably the potential to bring in from its sale enough to complete everything in our our parks and recreation master plan," Johnson told commissioners at the January strategic planning session.

The recreation master plan has a $6.7 million wish list, which includes a splash park and community center with a pool. The value of the golf course is somewhere in the neighborhood of $14-18 million, according to Johnson.

Normandy Oaks cannot be sold without taking the question to voters.
Mike Ripinski February 15, 2014 at 08:57 AM
Please note; The Parks, Recreation and Senior Advisory Board only voted to recommend keeping the course open this year. We did not recommend to eliminate the $50,000 fee or "rent". There was discussion on the subject of relief for the current operator but no recommendation was voted upon.
Laura Harrison February 15, 2014 at 10:15 AM
They can vote to close it, but they can't sell it without a ballot vote. If the commission votes to close it, what is the plan?
Mike Ripinski February 15, 2014 at 11:07 AM
We are on the same page Laura. There needs to be a plan and transparency.
Ray February 15, 2014 at 11:48 AM
"Commissioner Jeremy Marle said he was on the fence on this issue" at the Inter Club Council. Really? Didn't realize the Inter Club Council was a place to discuss politics or for politicians to give their views on items that will be voted on. Thought it was for service clubs to discuss service to the community.
Joey K. February 15, 2014 at 12:52 PM
“Ray”- It’s funny when you try to knock someone who is serving the community for speaking at a meeting that is there to, as you put it, “discuss service to the community.” Try harder next time, “Ray”
Joey K. February 15, 2014 at 01:02 PM
Mike & Laura- Some options are discussed in the article. "The property could easily be repurposed for disk golf, cross country running and cross country skiing..." "its sale enough to complete everything in our our parks and recreation master plan." So, keep the course open? Close it and find an alternate use? Sell it and complete everything in the Master Plan? What do you prefer?
Mike Ripinski February 15, 2014 at 01:14 PM
@ Joey - I prefer to keep it as a golf course. However I am a realist. If it is to be closed and kept as green space we can wait one more year and the city gets the income and saves the expense of closing it while doing some more due diligence. If it is to be sold, then say so up front and tell us it will be on the fall ballot. Either way there needs to be a plan in place before it is closed.
Ray February 15, 2014 at 01:50 PM
Ok "Joey K" here you go from the Club Council Bylaws; "The Royal Oak Inter-Club Council is a community coalition of volunteer and professional service groups whose autonomy and diversity are recognized. The purpose of this organization shall be to provide regular communication among members through a forum for the exchange of ideas and information and to provide a structure through which their effectiveness may be increased." Says nothing about politics and last I heard the city commission wasn't a service club or professional organization.
Judy Davids (Editor) February 15, 2014 at 02:12 PM
Good point, Laura. I added the golf course cannot be sold without taking the question to voters to the article.
Judy Davids (Editor) February 15, 2014 at 02:16 PM
As for Mahrle's comments to the Inter-Club Council, EVERYONE that attends the luncheon is invited to speak for one minute, similar to a Chamber coffee event. For clarification, the comments included in this story are pretty much all he said. He did not make a presentation, nor was there a discussion about Normandy Oaks.
Laura Harrison February 15, 2014 at 05:00 PM
the resolution is to close the golf course and maintain it as a open green space, or follow the Parks & Rec board recommendation and maintain 2 golf courses. Question, the course is fenced in, so if the golfing is closed, will the gates be kept open to allow the residents to use the open green space?
Debbie Campbell February 16, 2014 at 09:10 AM
Mr. Ripinski—after following the various Parks stories/comments on Patch for weeks I’m left with the following impressions: --- 1)Manager Johnson makes decisions in a vacuum without input from the Parks and Rec Advisory Board (or any other citizen board for that matter)-- 2)--Manager Johnson is on a crusade to sell Normandy Oaks and he doesn’t want or need “advising” from a citizen Board –he ONLY wants the Board to be lock-step with his decision to sell the property and join his crusade—Johnson needs a unified front and lots of “spin” over the summer to convince residents to vote to sell the property on a fall ballot-- 3)—The golf course will be closed and Manager Johnson/Rassel have no intention of maintaining the Normandy Oaks acreage for disc golf and cross country skiing/ running—Instead the property will be left locked up as an unkempt unusable jungle eyesore over the summer–(Maybe the city will mow it once to park cars there for Art, Beats and Eats for a season) but other than that the property will be used as a sort of “sad park poster child” in Johnson’s campaign to convince residents to vote for it’s sale this fall— --At any rate—Manager Johnson only wants Citizen Advisory Boards to shut-up and get out of his way--
Jennifer Ward February 18, 2014 at 07:50 AM
Have you been by there Debbie? It is already sort of the 'sad park poster child'. Or at least a 'sad golf course poster child'.
Debbie Campbell February 18, 2014 at 09:07 AM
I drive by the course regularly and I see contiguous acres of mature trees and green— In a built out city such as RO this vast area of un-built land will not present itself again—It is a rare and valuable asset—All community members must be allowed input and be part of the planning process regarding how this land will be used—I am pleased Commissioner Poulton was able to rally support for an inclusive transparent process regarding Normandy Oaks moving forward-
jet February 18, 2014 at 11:04 AM
Fail. EVERYONE who is complaining about saving the golf course, has obviously never been there. the course is terrible, not well kept and blah layout and not worth keeping as a golf course. Save all the land for a "green space" or park? then what? now you fatso's are going to go cross country skiing or running on a boring flat piece of land? yeah right. Sell it all, build a sweet rec center/gym and water park. That's pleasant ridges selling bullet point is their rec center.
Jennifer Ward February 18, 2014 at 11:23 AM
Like I said...not a great golf course, not much to look at as you drive by, and very much under used. I'm not suggesting it become another sub division. But as a golf course, in its current configuration and condition, it, well, fails.
Ray February 18, 2014 at 11:33 AM
Here's what I don't get. If the vendor operating the golf courses is so great, why are they in such poor shape and underutilized? Something's wrong with administration's story.
l.c. February 18, 2014 at 07:15 PM
this would keep the younger crowds away from video gaming & provide recreation for others ; https://www.imba.com/blog/andy-williamson/february-great-lakes-news
Rick Karlowski February 18, 2014 at 07:59 PM
Commissioner Poulton asked some very good questions - How is it that for 5 years the operator made money, or at least did not complain about a loss, then suddenly last year lose $100,000? The operator is supposed to be giving regular financial reports - when did the losses start and why no requests to close Normandy before this January? It may be that the best use of the land is not as a golf course, but the timing, particularly the sudden rush need for a decision on whether to open the course in 2014 is very disturbing.
Bob February 19, 2014 at 08:54 AM
You got that right Karlowski. The process behind the curtain at city hall has become stinkier and stinkier. This city manager keeps trying to slide his agenda, unchecked, right under our nose. Regarding this course, I don't see the need for two golf courses in this city. Given that, I would rather see most of the property remain park land.
Bill Shaw February 19, 2014 at 10:16 AM
Can the same question be asked regarding the city's unfunded liability? With the change in GASB reporting beginning this year, when will the city, and school district, begin putting this item on the public table? I understand the $100,000 deficit over the golf course, but why not the same rush over $170 million dollars in UAAL? Soon the Royal Oak School District will start to grapple with UAAL by the state teacher/worker deficit. Bob, you asked about process, is there one? The city priorities, long-range plans, and financial crisis(s) seem to be out of control! With pending UAAL, road maintenance, and costs of social services I fail to see any relationship to the city strategic plan. Again, I feel this plan does not meet any criteria as being "strategic" and I've voiced this concern for the last five years. The city still has some major contracts out that have expired 7 1/2 months now. How can you put your budget together. What is the status of the negotiations? Maybe it would be good, once in awhile, to share with the residents and taxpayers and let them know the city's financial position. Maybe it's just easier to discuss the future of a city golf course. Priorities, priorities, priorities!


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