BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Sports was on the mind of the Orangetown Town Board Tuesday as the operators of two private athletic facilities pitched proposals to the Town Board; one to operate the financially beleaguered Broadacres Golf Course under a three-year contract and the other to construct an indoor-outdoor athletic training center a few blocks away, both in Orangeburg.
Both proposals met with enthusiastic responses from the four council members who were present for the presentations at a workshop meeting, and both are expected to be back on the agenda for formal approval at the council’s next business meeting Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall at Orangeburg and Dutch Hill Roads.
In other business Tuesday, the board also scheduled a public hearing for that same evening to consider changing the functioning of the town’s Historic Areas Board of Review, to reduce both its membership and its virtual total authority over what can be built or altered within the towns two official historic districts, Tappan and Palisades.
The HABR is one of four appointed boards in Orangetown (the others being the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Architectural Review Board) that govern land use within unincorporated areas of the township. Details of the changes have not yet been made public, but comments by council members have indicated they want to reduce the board from seven to five members, and reduce its power over development in the two districts.
Last summer the board published requests for proposals (RFP’s) soliciting bids from private companies interested in taking over the operation of the town’s financially troubled nine-hole Broadacres Golf Course. The solicitations were fairly wide open, allowing bidders to propose buying the course, leasing it from the town, or operating it with the town in a joint venture partnership.
After reviewing the responses, the five-member Town Board selected Appliedgolf of Millstone Township, NJ as the one appearing to offer a plan most like what the council had in mind. Officials of the firm were invited to attend Tuesday’s workshop meeting and present their plan to the board.
Councilmen reacted favorably to the plans submitted by company president Dave Wasenda, who said the firm currently operates 12 golf courses in seven states, including six in New Jersey, one in Putnam County and others in Indiana, Florida, North and South Carolina and Massachusetts.
Wasenda said all 12 courses were suffering from various problems when they sought his company’s help in turning them around, both operationally and financially. All 12 are now operating at a profit, and the entrepreneur told the board he was confident he could do the same for Broadacres and Orangetown.
Orangetown owns Broadacres, which it purchased from New York State a decade ago when the state began downsizing its Rockland Psychiatric Center campus in Orangeburg.
Initially a short course for doctor’s relaxation, it was later expanded to include other hospital employees and eventually even patients and the general public. It is located within the huge RPC campus, behind the now-closed Catholic chapel, nestled against the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Its main entrance is off Convent Road in Blauvelt.
The course has been losing money for Orangetown ever since the town took it over. For the past couple of years the Town Board has been considering various options to cure that growing annual deficit which this year is expected to total about $321,000 according to Town Finance Officer Jeff Bencik.
One option is to sell the facility to a private operator, or a developer, but this was ruled illegal because the state sold it to the town as “dedicated open parkland,” which cannot be used for any other purpose.
Orangetown successfully got around that restriction this fall when it had special legislation introduced in the state legislature in Albany, permitting the town to “alienate” the site from its parkland status. In return, the town had to promise to re-designate a similarly sized parcel of other land it owned at the RPC campus near the Lake Tappan Reservoir as replacement parkland, which can never be developed.
The five-member council still hasn’t decided what to do with Broadacres on a long-term basis, but for the immediate future they appear determined to lease the course to a private operator in hopes of stemming the financial hemorrhage the course has become. Under the terms of a proposed lease, Appliedgolf would lease the facility for two years, with an option to extend to a third year if both sides agree the arrangement is mutually beneficial.
Appliedgolf would take over complete control of the golf course and would operate it, using its own employees. They would split all profits with the town 50-50. Wasenda said he expects the course to lose money the first year, 2014, but to hopefully break even in 2015 and finally turn a profit by 2016.
Orangetown in the meantime would save a bundle of money because it would have no salaries and benefits to pay for employees to operate the facility, and Appliedgolf would pay for all expenses. Queried about the current employees, Wasenda said he has gotten highly favorable reviews of current manager Joseph Wrafter and the course superintendent, and plans on offering them both jobs to continue in their current positions for Appliedgolf.
Wasenda described Broadacres as a good nine-hole golf course that could be easily made profitable by better marketing.
His company specializes in turning around troubled courses through its Appliedgolf Marketing subdivision, the president said, noting that he has personally been involved in 35 such conversions in his decade with the firm. Their goal is to make the courses profitable and then return them to their client partner, in this case Orangetown, he explained, adding that they do not want to become the permanent owner-operators since they are “turnaround specialists.”
“Our specialty is re-branding and re-positioning distressed golf courses,” Wasenda told the council, adding that Broadacres is a perfect fit for their style of rescue operation because it is an excellent course in an excellent location and should be easily marketable.
He said firm experts would spend their first year at Broadacres observing the operation as they run the facility, and then spending the next year making whatever upgrades they feel are appropriate to broaden its appeal and marketability. By the third year, they should be making a profit, and will either return the course to the town to run again, or continue operating it under a new lease agreement, depending on how the current Town Board in 2016 feels, the president explained.
Wasenda also offered some observations about Broadacres based on several staff visits. The course appears well run and well maintained, but has outdated and obsolete equipment, he noted. It is also lacking in clubhouse, refreshment, office and other facilities, which may be keeping attendance down. He said upon taking over, Applied Golf would seek new golf carts, mowing equipment and other amenities, and would “tweak” days, hours and tee times to get more players on the course and a financial shot in the arm.
He added that he would not raise playing rates at Broadacres, which he considers “very fair” for the area, but would concentrate on gaining new customers to increase revenues. His company specializes in golf advertising and has its own media subdivision, he noted, adding that he would immediately start offering discounts to players at the firm’s 12 other courses, several of which are within a two-hour drive.
In response to questions by Councilman Paul Valentine, Wasenda said Appliedgolf would continue the town’s existing permit, group and league playing but would take over the scheduling to relieve the town of that and most other responsibilities.
Valentine also noted that members of the town’s golf course advisory committee have visited some of Appliedgolf’s other nearby courses, played them and spoken with management, staff and players there, and have been generally impressed with what they found. Two members of that committee were present at Tuesday’s meeting but offered no comments, even after being solicited at least twice by curious council members. They also had no questions, saying they were merely “observing.”
Town Attorney John Edwards said a proposed lease with Appliedgolf would be ready for the council to vote on at next Tuesday’s business meeting, if they feel so inclined. At least two councilmen indicated they favored the agreement while the other to withheld opinion pending further information. Councilman Denis Troy was absent.
Wasenda listed his firm’s closest facilities as Putnam County Golf Course in Mahopac, Hawk Pointe Golf Club in Washington Township, NJ, Knob Hill Golf Club and Country Lanes Bowling Center both in Manalapan, NJ, and Clearbrook Golf Course and Regency Golf Club, both in Monroe Township, NJ.
In the other sports related discussion Tuesday, the owners of Varsity House in nearby Old Tappan NJ appeared to pitch a plan to construct an indoor and outdoor private athletic training facility for area high school and college students, teams and institutions on a vacant four-acre parcel of land in Orangeburg.
Known as the Columncille Property, it is located on the east side of South Blaisdell Road, between a pizza parlor and the New Jersey border. The owner said they want to construct a 10,000-square-foot metal frame warehouse-style building on the site, with a small outdoor miniature playing field that would be floodlit for use up until 9 p.m.
The firm specializes in contracting with local secondary schools and colleges to provide athletic training for sports teams and players, especially in football, soccer and similar strenuous sports where injuries can occur. The training includes not only playing but also safety and injury avoidance, protection and treatment.
It began a few years ago with a contract with Northern Valley High School, because New Jersey schools typically only offer gym classes two or three days a week, as compared to the usual five days in Rockland County districts. Varsity began offering training the other days, its president said, and has rapidly expanded since then to several other nearby districts.
It now has a similar contract with Pearl River High School to train its varsity athletes, and hopes to provide similar services soon to Tappan Zee and Nyack High Schools, among others in the area. Most training would be provided inside the building, the owner said, while the field would be used in good weather during playing seasons. There will be no outdoor speakers or other sound, no visiting public, and only small select groups of students or teams at the facility at any given time.
They said the facility will not be open to the public and will not be a membership-style “gym” in any way. It will only be used for individual students who are on high school or college athletic teams, or the teams themselves, contracted by their respective schools. The facility specializes in therapy training, injury prevention and injury treatment, and is only by appointment, with no walk-in customers.
“We augment the training programs offered by local school districts and colleges,” the president explained, “all geared to teaching students how to prevent accidents and how to treat those accidents if they do occur.”
The proposed site has been vacant land for at least a half-century or more, company and town officials noted, and was previously part of the farming operation of the old Rockland State Hospital, which preceded Rockland Psychiatric Center. There are no residences nearby, except for one house in New Jersey, and the area is zoned LIO for light industrial-office use. Tennis is listed as allowable in that zone, according to Orangetown Building Inspector John Giardiello, but no other athletic-type facility.
Before he can issue the owners a construction permit for the facility, Giardiello said he would need approvals from both the Town Board and the town Planning Board. What is needed is a use variance, he added, and not a change of zone.
Town Board members appeared impressed with the proposal Tuesday, and gave the owners permission to appear again next week for formal approval. If they get it, they can then proceed to the Planning Board for site plan approval, and eventually the permit.
Also on the agenda next Tuesday are four resolutions for the Town Board to approve new contracts with the four hamlet libraries in Orangetown, so they can receiver their operational funding from the town for calendar year 2014.
If the board approves the contracts, the Blauvelt Free Library will get $710,173, the Tappan Free Library will get $675,068, the Orangeburg Free Library will get $488,118 and the Palisades Free Library will get $374,282. The Pearl River, Nyack and Piermont Public Libraries are also in Orangetown, but get their funding through public referendums each summer conducted by the respective school districts in which they are located.
The Town Board meeting is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall at the corner of Orangeburg and Dutch Hill Roads in Orangeburg.