Detroit calls mulligan on golf course management plans
Detroit — The City Council on Tuesday will be asked to approve a short-term agreement that would restore management to Detroit’s four shuttered golf courses and have them up and running this spring in time for league play.
The courses — Palmer Park, Chandler Park, Rouge Park and Rackham — have been in a holding pattern and closed since the city’s five-year contract with Oakland Township-based Vargo Golf expired in November.
With the league season fast-approaching the second week of April, Detroit Corporation Counsel Melvin Butch Hollowell said the administration decided on a one-year contract extension to keep Vargo in charge. As a result, the administration has nixed a pending 10-year proposal with a new company that established itself last year with the goal of renovating, improving and operating the courses over the next decade.
“We have a warmer than usual weather pattern. People are getting ready to play,” Hollowell told The Detroit News. “Changing horses at this stage in the game probably isn’t the best course of action. Right now, our focus is on operations for this year.”
Officials had embarked on two separate requests for proposals from contractors seeking to manage and operate the Palmer Park, Chandler Park, Rouge Park golf courses in the city and Rackham in Huntington Woods. The courses have been shut down since Vargo’s contract ran out.
Hollowell said a one-year extension with Vargo is the “best course of action” with the tight timeline for the start of the season. A representative for the company on Monday confirmed Vargo is in talks with the city but declined to provide further comment until an official agreement is done.
Initially, when the city put out its request for proposals, it sought companies that had a minimum of five years’ experience in managing golf courses and received just one proposal from Vargo.
The recreation department then adjusted specifications for the minimum bid and four other proposals came in, according to a report generated by the council’s policy staff.
Earlier this year, Motown Golf Management was selected for a 10-year deal that promised about $8.1 million to Detroit between lease revenue, various upgrades and grant and scholarship programming.
The deal with Motown, a company formally established in November, was moved out of the council’s Neighborhood and Community Services committee on Thursday and had been slated to go before the full council for a vote on Tuesday.
Council member Mary Sheffield, who chairs the committee, said she and several colleagues raised concern over the length of the proposed contract, advocating instead for a five-year deal with annual renewal options. There were also worries over the young company’s lack of management experience, she said.
The proposal ultimately moved out of committee without a recommendation to the full body for approval or denial. It’s unclear whether the contract would have gained majority approval.
Sheffield said she will likely support the administration’s request to have Vargo handle operations for the next year.
“At this point, I do want the courses to open,” she said. “It’s easy for them to slide in and finish out the season because they have been there.”
A contract review compiled by council’s policy staff notes that Motown submitted the best overall assessment of the existing conditions at the city’s courses and most comprehensive plan to improve them. It also submitted the “largest and most detailed capital improvement plan,” the report says.
Also, the report raises concern over Motown’s lack of management experience, whether the new business would have the capacity to invest as promised and hire adequate staff prior to the anticipated April opening of the courses.
Motown Vice President Jason Pearsall said he received an email Friday afternoon informing him the bid to manage the courses was being canceled. Pearsall said the group, which is operating home-based offices out of Warren and Detroit, has “been working on its plans for nearly a year and most have dedicated our lives to it.”
“I don’t know what we could have done any differently. I think we really submitted a tremendous proposal,” he said. “We are just disappointed.”
Hollowell said the city will solicit proposals this year for management, operations and capital upgrades for next season.
Vargo’s contract hadn’t been renewed previously because the city wanted to see if it could get a better deal for operating the courses, Hollowell said.
“...We always reserve the right to go out for proposals, and we’re going to do that again,” he said. “We think we can get better proposals, and that’s the objective.”
The next step, Hollowell said, will be to restart the request for proposal process with a broader net. Rouge and Rackham are in premier shape, but the other two courses, he said, need irrigation and maintenance work and repairs to fairways, sand traps and greens.