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3 Detroit municipal golf courses to close in March


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Topgolf — a Dallas-based company that bills itself as a “premier golf entertainment complex” and your “favorite local hangout” — announced Monday morning its plans to open a 65,000-square-foot center in Auburn Hills.

The City of Detroit will shutter three of its municipal golf courses — Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park — later this month after the City Council voted not to approve the contract in a deadlocked vote Tuesday.

Detroit’s Chief Procurement Officer Boysie Jackson said in an interview with the Free Press that council has a seven-day window to reconsider its vote but once that date passes, the city may have to begin the bid process all over again.

The courses are set to shut down March 23, Jackson said, because the city’s current contract with Oakland Township-based DBA Vargo Golf Detroit expires March 22. Palmer Park, which is another city-owned course, is not impacted by the closure.

But Jackson said the city decided late last year to transition Palmer from being an 18-hole golf course into a driving range, due to rising costs and a need for nearly $3 million in capital improvements. A Palmer Park advisory council has been created to help decide what the city will do with the course in the future.

It’s not yet clear if the closure of the three courses is permanent or how long it may last.

Council President Brenda Jones and Council members Roy McCalister, Janee’ Ayers and Gabe Leland voted against the contract. Members Raquel Castaneda Lopez, Andre Spivey, James Tate and Mary Sheffield voted in favor of the contract. Councilman Scott Benson was absent.

Within the past several months, many council members have raised concerns about the selection process and its transparency. And last year, tempers flared at a City Council meeting after some members said they’re worried that two of the four city-owned golf courses  — Rouge Park and Chandler Park — were being unfairly targeted for possible closure.

The Free Press reported in 2016 that revenue from the four courses has dropped in recent years. Revenue in 2016 for the golf courses was nearly $42,000, a significant drop from $104,000 in 2015 and $125,000 in 2014. The funds dropped partially because a portion of revenue went toward settling a $442,000 water bill for the courses.

Jackson said his office led a six-month procurement process that ultimately selected Signet Golf Associates II, Inc., a North Carolina-based company, to operate and maintain the three courses for a two-year, $180,000 contract, according to city documents.

The selection was made after the city put out a request for proposals on Nov. 20 last year to maintain the courses for two years.

In addition to Signet, the city received responses from Billy Casper Golf, Robert James Golf Management, LLC, DBA Vargo Golf Detroit and Kemper Sports Management.

The proposals were evaluated by a committee of 11 city employees from Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, the Recreation Department, Detroit Building Authority and the Office of Contracting and Procurement.

McCalister told the Free Press after the vote that the city’s administration did not inform the council that a closure was on the table. McCalister said he met in private with city officials and was told the contract with Vargo could be extended or the city could restart the bidding process.

“I asked twice about that and they never said that,” McCalister said. “…To sit up here and say they’re going to have to close the courses because of council … to say we’ll have constituents and residents of Detroit think it’s council’s problem … that’s unfair and that gets under my skin. If you’re going to say that (close the courses), then you should have presented that to council, there could have been further discussion but they didn’t do that.”

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McCalister said he doesn’t feel that the contract selection process was transparent, and concerns were also raised by other council members.

“If you’re going to have a fair bid, make sure all parties that are bidding have a chance at a fair bid,” McCalister said, adding that there were issues with proper documentation, unanswered questions from council and other problems.

“They do not have to shut it down,” he said. “They can do a number of things, they could go with the next two bidders.  …They could have answered questions from council.”

McCalister questioned whether Signet was given an unfair edge during the bidding process.

Jackson said, however, that the council was provided with continuous updates throughout the process.

“All companies had the same opportunity on the request for proposals,” she said.”They all had the same advantage.”

And Jackson said with the contract set to expire before the end of the month, the city had no other recourse but to shutter the courses with no agreement in place.

A report given to council last month outlining Signet’s proposed contract said the city would have received all revenues generated from the three golf courses. But Signet would have received 20% of the revenues if they exceeded $2 million, according to the contract.

The city’s current contract with Vargo allows the company to keep all revenue, as well as incur expenses. Jackson said the city also agreed to put $2.7 million in capital improvements at the three courses. Jackson said Signet also agreed to hire Detroiters to work the concession stands at the courses. After two years, the city planned to re-bid the contract in hopes of seeking a longer contract.

“We wanted financial control, we wanted the revenue on a day to day basis,” Jackson said. “We  saw it as a win. We don’t understand why they didn’t vote in favor of it. … The administration and myself are looking for council’s next move.”

McCalister said if the courses remain closed, it will have a “big impact” on the community.

“There are leagues that are starting up,” McCalister said. “I believe the administration knows enough and understands this and what they’re trying to do is put pressure to give this contract to Signet. … It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Contact Katrease Stafford: kstafford@freepress.com or 313-223-4759.


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