The city of Detroit could temporarily close three municipal golf courses this month after the City Council, citing concerns about the bidding process, voted not to approve the contract for a vendor that sought to operate and manage them.
The Office of Contracting and Procurement had led a six-month process to select a company that could manage the city’s Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park golf courses. A short-term management contract ends March 22 with a firm part of Oakland Township-based Vargo Golf Co., which has managed the city courses since 2010.
City administrators had not planned to extend Vargo’s contract, voicing concerns about the conditions of the courses under its oversight.
Council members, instead, on Tuesday in a 4-4 vote with councilman Scott Benson absent, failed to pass a two-year $180,000 contract with North Carolina-based Signet Golf Associates II to oversee the courses, some members questioning the firm’s expertise and the bidding process.
“With Detroit moving forward the way it is moving forward, we don’t need to have those types of embarrassments,” Councilman Roy McCalister said.
Charlie Beckham, group executive for the city’s Department of Neighborhood, had warned the council that rejection of Signet would risk “not being able to open these courses, at least on time.”
Council members called for more openness in the selection of course managers.
“Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and a better more inclusive process with more transparency will be utilized to find the best option to operate the golf courses in an effective and efficient manner,” said Councilman Gabe Leland, who voted against Signet. “We owe it to our citizens to have a contract in place that creates an improved golfing experience, and I didn’t think the contract in front of us today could get us there.”
The Duggan administration has been studying what to do with Chandler Park, Rackham and Rouge Park courses as well as a partly open course in Palmer Park. The city last year hired Florida-based National Golf Foundation to study what to do with the sites.
Signet won a competitive bid for a contract and had plans to hire Detroit residents, partner with the public schools and target minorities, women and children for golf course activities.
During remarks to the council Tuesday, Beckham described a contract with Signet as a “bridge” compact before officials decide on a longer management agreement.
But some council members took issue with the company’s management experience and wondered whether 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.
Signet owner Peter Dejak, who is described on the Sirius website as its construction and agronomy president, told the council his company was not part of the study.
He also said Signet nearly doubled revenue at a North Carolina course through marketing, and said the company could pursue a similar campaign to highlight Detroit’s courses.
“In today’s golf industry, marketing makes or breaks a facility,” Dejak said.
Beckham also said the city is considering selling Rackham, which is located in Huntington Woods next to the Detroit Zoo and has a clubhouse designed by famed architect Albert Kahn. It also has a deed restriction that requires its permanent use as a golf course.
Several council members said they did not want to lose the course.
“Rackham is one of the best money-making golf courses the city has,” President Brenda Jones said. “Why do we always want to sell our best assets?”
Though the management contract did not pass, council members held out hope for a solution.
“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,” Mary Sheffield said Tuesday night. “I am looking forward to the administration bringing forward a solution to open our golf courses by April.”
The vote Tuesday came as the Duggan administration wants to purchase a former Detroit golf course for nearly $2 million and redevelop the property into public land. The city’s Housing and Revitalization Department announced Tuesday that it has asked the council to approve purchasing the blighted 120-acre Rogell golf course with funds from a 2015 federal grant.
Detroit Chief Procurement Officer Boysie Jackson said it’s unclear what will happen to the courses after they close. Jackson presented a plan to make $2.7 million in upgrades primarily to the Chandler and Rouge courses and allow Signet to manage the courses.
In the meantime, officials want to turn land at Berg and Seven Mile into a naturalized public park while improving stormwater management to relieve flooding. The City Council is expected to take up the issue March 20.
“This is critical in meeting a permit requirement to reduce stormwater flows into our wet weather facilities,” said Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. “More importantly, residents and businesses ... have experienced basement backups and street flooding that can be lessened immensely by installing green stormwater infrastructure, which Detroit will see as beautifully landscaped bioretention gardens.”
If the City Council approves, the city would purchase the property from Greater Grace Temple of the Apostolic Faith for $1.94 million. The city sold it to the church for $2.1 million. The church, with its main campus across the street, operated the golf course for about five years.
Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed