City Council impasse means 3 Detroit golf courses may closeDetroit Free Press — Katrease Stafford Detroit Free Press
March 13--The future of three City of Detroit municipal golf courses -- Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park -- is unclear after the administration announced plans Tuesday to shutter them following a deadlocked City Council vote on a management contract.
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 would have to begin the bid process all over again.
The courses would 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.
That's because the city decided late last year to transition Palmer from being an 18-hole golf course into a driving range because of rising costs and a need for nearly $3 million in capital improvements, according to Jackson. 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 whether the closure of the three courses is permanent or how long it may last.
Council President Brenda Jones and Council members Roy McCalister, Janeé Ayers and Gabe Leland voted against the contract. Members Raquel Castañeda López, Andre Spivey, James Tate and Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield voted in favor of the contract. Councilman Scott Benson was absent.
Multiple council members could not be reached for comment after the vote.
Within the past several months, many council members have raised concerns about the how the vendor was being selected and the transparency of the process. And last year, the City Council and administration tangled over a separate $98,000 consulting contract for seeking ideas to potentially repurpose Chandler and Rouge into a residential development, industrial park space and other purposes.
"I know that my colleagues and I have been advocates for an enhanced golfing experience in Detroit and I stand committed to improving and retaining ownership of our assets," Sheffield said via text message. "I am looking forward to the administration bringing forward a solution to open our golf courses by April."
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.
In addition to Signet, the city received responses from Billy Casper Golf, 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, the 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 (close the courses), then you should have presented that to council, there could have been further discussion but they didn't do that."
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 and unanswered questions from council.
"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."
Jackson said, however, that the council was provided with continuous updates throughout the process.
He said with the contract set to expire before the end of the month, the city has no other recourse but to shutter the courses.
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.
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. He 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."
Glenn Pulice, a 31-year PGA golf professional and member of the city's golf course advisory board, told the Free Press, he and some other board members felt the city should have chosen either of the two national firms -- Billy Casper Golf and KemperSports Golf Management. Pulice said board members believed the two companies were better suited to manage the courses because they've handled ones of similar size and scope.
"The courses are not going to shut down -- this is just a grandstanding ploy," Pulice said. "For the last three golf seasons, the administration has created chaos and that chaos is standard operating procedure. The tactics are deception, stall tactics, rush tactics and intimidation."
Pulice, who made a presentation before council's vote, said he felt the advisory board has been kept in the dark at times and that their input was not taken seriously by the city.
"We were always given information after the fact," Pulice said. "On Nov. 17, we found out tor the very first time the RFP (request for proposal) was going out. It was already made. ...The process was not transparent, it was actually the exact opposite. There are two qualified companies that myself and (four) other appointees all recommended. Detroit is at a very critical stage in its Detroit golf life. ... We have to do what's best for the golf courses."
Contact Katrease Stafford: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4759.
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