Controversy has surrounded a push by Oro Valley Mayor Hiremath, Council Members Waters, Snider, and Hornat to raise the Town’s sales tax to purchase the El Conquistador Country Club to become the Town’s new community center.
According to Misti Nowak, Communications Administrator, the Town was first involved in the negotiations for the property at the time property owners MET Life were trying to sell it to Southwest Value Partners investment group.
That deal fell through and for months the public and members of the Town Council heard nothing.
Suddenly there was a rush to act when controversial developer Humberto Lopez and HSL Properties began negotiations with MET Life. Mayor Hiremath and Town Manager Caton shrouded the process in secrecy claiming that a confidentiality agreement prevented them from involving the public until they presented to the Council and the public on December 3.
The rush to decision includes preventing public discussion of the matter. Lopez is scheduled to close his deal with MET Life on the December 18, and after censoring other Council members’ presentations, the Mayor has decided that he will not allow for a call to the audience.
The public’s only opportunity to weigh-in on the matter is by calling or emailing the majority of the Council, who it appears, have already decided exactly what they are going to do.
The majority of the Council will likely vote to raise taxes on the residents of Oro valley to buy a golf course that will guarantee the Town a $1 million per year deficit, according to Council members Mike Zinkin in an op-ed penned for the Northwest Explorer.
Zinkin and Garner noted, “Staff tells the Council that the Country Club only needs irrigation work on one golf course, at the cost of $1.5 million. The Club members, who are members of the Grounds Committee tell us that the irrigation upgrades will cost $6 – $10 million, because work is required on two of the golf courses. Current Club members also tell us that the required cart path restoration will cost around $400,000. These upgrades are a basic requirement to transition the existing courses toward a quality product.”
As for the use of the Country Club’s buildings as a community center, Nowak did not respond to questions as to whether the Town representatives tried to purchase the buildings only and save the taxpayers from becoming the owners of a golf course money pit.
According to Zinkin and Garner, “An analysis of the existing buildings has not been done to determine whether they would meet the requirements of a community center that would be suitable for the Town. The Community needs to decide what they desire in a community center. Contrary to the information on the Town’s web site, there has not been a polling of the Citizens to determine their wishes, however the poll indicates the Citizens do not want a tax increase, nor a golf course.”
While the people’s wishes are unknown, what is known is that Hiremath, Waters, Snider, and Hornat received a combined total of $14,000 in campaign contributions this past election cycle from Lopez and his two associates.
Just this month, the City of Tucson was informed that despite turning over the management of their golf courses to a private entity, who has made considerable investments in the courses, use is down.
The Annual Report on Tucson City Golf Operations, dated December 9, reads in part:
“…..the current market for golf in Tucson is saturated and the number of golfers is not growing”
“Although OB Sports has made great progress in improving the courses, the overall number of rounds is down slightly from the previous year. From FY 13 to FY 14, overall rounds have decreased by 3.7%. Results by course, with increase or decrease from the previous fiscal year, are listed below:
Randolph and Del Urich 91,993 (7.1% decrease)
El Rio 43,353 (no difference)
Fred Enke 38,222 (9.7% increase)
Silverbell 42,377 (9.9% decrease)
One reason why the overall number of rounds is down is the extremely competitive market, with struggling courses offering below-market deals. In addition, some new courses have recently been added to the market, including the new course at the casino.
Residents and Council members alike have many questions. Including why is there a rush into this decision? Lopez is set to buy the property and his deal with MET Life cannot legally rely on a deal with Oro Valley, so what then necessitates the rush?
Zinkin and Garner write that “the Council, need more than 14 days to work on this. Rather than “rush to judgment” on a decision as significant as this one, it would make much more sense to slow down the decision making process, solicit Citizen input, carefully assess whether the purchase of the Country Club actually meets the needs of the community and what the true costs of needed repairs and improvements to the facility are. Make a good decision, as opposed to a quick one.”
According to sources, residents agree and have been contacting the Council members to let their opposition be known in the only manner allowed by a majority of the Council.