2018-03-01 / Front Page

$2.9M golf clubhouse is picking up traction

Councilors expected to continue debate, might vote Monday

The view looking west from Conanicus Avenue at the proposed two-floor clubhouse for the golf course. The view looking west from Conanicus Avenue at the proposed two-floor clubhouse for the golf course. Despite objections from the golfing community, the majority of town councilors Monday expressed interest in a two-floor clubhouse estimated to cost $2.93 million.

Councilman Gene Mihaly made a motion to support the proposal, although it proved to be premature because the meeting was advertised as a work session, which doesn’t allow a vote. The council did, however, say it will make a decision by mid-April, which the administration indicated was the deadline in order to have a referendum ready for the financial town meeting in June.

“We really need to make a decision in the next month or two,” said Mike White, vice president of the council.

Town Administrator Andy Nota expects Monday’s meeting to have the discussion on the agenda. During that session, the councilors could agree on a bond amount that would be presented to voters in June.

The two-floor proposal, presented by architect Bill Burgin, was one of two blueprints unveiled during the special session. The other plan for the Conanicus Avenue property was a single floor that measured 3,579 feet, similar to the proposal vetted by the public during four meetings in 2017. It included a 1,100-square-foot multipurpose room for public meetings and holiday parties. That proposal is estimated to cost $2.1 million.

The grander plan includes 2,751 square feet on the first floor with an additional 2,991 square feet upstairs. The second level would include a multipurpose area, similar to the first proposal, along with 700 additional square feet for a meeting room and porched-in seminar space. According to Kristine Trocki, council president, these areas could be used by the fire department and chamber of commerce for Christmas parties.

While Town Administrator Andy Nota said there has been no in-depth discussion about a management structure, Councilwoman Mary Meagher spoke about the town, specifically the parks department, overseeing operations of the second floor. The lower level would be operated by the lessee of the golf course, currently the Mistowski family, which currently pays $175,000 annually to lease the property from the town.

Meagher said she was confident town staff could manage a public-private enterprise.

“Look at what we’ve done at Fort Getty,” she said.

Councilman Blake Dickinson wasn’t as convinced, pointing to rumored tension between the administration and certain groups, including the library board, fire officials and members of the senior center. Before the management discussion delved further, however, Nota cautioned the audience these decisions are complicated and in their infancy.

“It’ll take some time for the community to digest,” he said.

Suggested by Meagher during a meeting in October, this was the first time a detailed two-story plan has been presented to the public. Both proposals call for the clubhouse to be moved north toward the tee box of the first hole. The parking lot would remain similar in size with 115 spots.

The audience was primarily golfers, a group that has repeatedly expressed no desire to share the space with the public. Joe Mistowski, who has operated the course since 1986, was among that contingency.

“I’ve never been in favor of a new clubhouse,” he said.

Given the two plans, however, Mistowski preferred the two-story option because a single floor would be a “nightmare” for operators. He was referring to golfers and the general public co-habitating on a single level.

“It’s the better of two evils,” he said.

Mistowski’s biggest concern, which he has reiterated throughout the process, is spending millions of dollars on a clubhouse when the course itself is deteriorating, especially the greens. Also, he said interest in the sport is diminishing, making it a challenge for future lessees. He said traffic on the Pell Bridge, because of deck work that is scheduled to last for eight years, caused his revenue to drop 22 percent in June.

“The Goldilocks phase is over,” he said.

Nota also cautioned the councilors about this fact. “The bottom may fall out of golf and the operators may not be able to pay their lease,” he said. “We hope this never happens.”

Chris Powell, who chaired the conservation commission for 26 years, reminded the town that voters unanimously approved purchasing the golf course, not a recreation center, during a meeting that lasted just five minutes. He was involved in the original efforts 30 years ago to secure that property.

“People wanted to buy the golf course as a golf course,” he said. “That was a tremendous gift. That’s what people wanted. Let’s not ever forget that.”

Nota, however, said the deed doesn’t stipulate golf. According to the language, the grantor “desires to reserve the property in its present state in perpetuity for the benefit of the general public and more particularly conservation, open space and related public recreation,” which can be defined by the town council “from time to time.”

Mihaly and Meagher indicated strong support for the grander plan, while Trocki also said she preferred that proposal. Dickinson, the lone Republican, said he prefers the leaner plan because there might not be overwhelming interest when the town advertises for operators next year. From his conversations, he said businessmen have told him the margin is too small.

“The market will bear what it will bear,” he said.

As for White, he suggested the $3 million could be split between the course and clubhouse by “building one floor and saving the $850,000” for fixes to the greens.

“I’m leaning toward the two-story option, but I’m shy about spending that extra million if we could put it somewhere else,” he said.

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