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Detroit — Three municipal golf courses are expected to be open in time for the golfing season but under new management after city council narrowly approved a $180,000 contract with a North Carolina-based company.

The council voted, 5-4, to allow Signet Golf Associates II to oversee Chandler Park, Rouge Park and Rackham golf courses for the next two years.

The contract approval came after city officials announced last week that the courses would close Friday after a management contract with the Oakland Township-based Vargo Golf Co. ended.

During last week’s meeting, council failed to pass the contract with a deadlocked vote and some members questioning the firm’s expertise and transparency of the bidding process.

City spokesman John Roach said the golf courses will now open at their regular time, which is typically in mid-April.

Councilman Scott Benson was absent last week but attended Tuesday’s meeting, casting the fifth “yes” vote. He was joined in support by Council President Pro-tem Mary Sheffield and members Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, James Tate and Andre Spivey.

Council President Brenda Jones and members Roy McCalister, Gabe Leland and Janee Ayers voted no.

Jones criticized the city for not including Detroit’s golf advisory board in the decision to select Signet.

She noted that the advisory board did not believe Signet was the most qualified bidder.

“I don’t know why we put people in place if we are not going to listen to the advice that they give us,” Jones said.

Sheffield said while she agreed with some council members’ concerns about the selection process, it was important to pass a contract Tuesday to keep the courses open.

“It’s not the best contract,” Sheffield said. “ But at the end of the day we do have a situation right now where we can see golfers not being able to golf this season.”

Ayers said she remains concerned with a potential conflict of interest because a Signet associate, Sirius Golf Advisors, was involved in the National Golf Foundation study on city courses, possibly giving the company an advantage over others bidding on a contract.

“That in itself leaves too much open space for impropriety in my opinion,” Ayers said.

The Office of Contracting and Procurement led a six-month process to select a company that could manage the city’s Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park golf courses.

City administrators had not planned to extend Vargo’s contract, voicing concerns about the conditions of the courses under its oversight.

Owner Robert Vargo went before council Tuesday and thanked the council members who rejected Signet. He said Signet should not have won the contract.

“The fair and just system will be challenged,” Vargo said. “I will guarantee that because this was a sham.”

Vargo said the city would have saved money by renewing his contract. His company already has the equipment and expertise for running operations at the courses, Vargo said.

There will also likely be a delay in alcohol sales at the golf courses this summer because it takes at least three months to transfer the liquor license, he said.

“My staff worked to make sure those courses were in good shape,” Vargo said. “It would have been a seamless transition for the city.”

Peter Dejak, owner of Signet, said in an interview with the Detroit News last week that he plans to engage the local community with the golf courses and promote a “Golf Detroit” logo.

“We’ve met with a lot of local groups and they are very excited about working with us,” Dejak said. “Our goal was to create that Detroit identity and also work on improving the golf courses and building up revenue.”

Signet currently owns two golf courses: Redbridge Golf Course in Locust, North Carolina and Tempest Golf Club in Gladewater, Texas, Dejak said.

Signet has been able to double the revenue at Redbrige through marketing to more people, he said. “With our smaller company we are very hands on,” Dejak said.

Glenn Pulice, a member of the city’s golf advisory board, said he believed the city was not transparent with its selection of Signet.

Signet, he said, was not the most qualified bidder because other contenders managed more golf courses of a similar size and scope as those in Detroit.

“The city acted before I could give any input,” said Pulice, a 31-year PGA golf professional. “It has not been fair, it has not been transparent.”

nterry@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-6793

Twitter: @NicquelTerry

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