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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.