Privatization Possible for Blue Hill
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
Officials in Orangetown are busy over the summer holidays reviewing several bids the town received in response to its requests for offers from private operators to take over the administration of its Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River.
Orangetown was the first municipality in Rockland County to own and operate a public golf course when it purchased the Blue Hill facility a half-century ago. The town later acquired a second course a decade ago, the nine-hole Broadacres facility, when it purchased several hundreds acres of surplus property at the old Rockland Psychiatric Center campus in Orangeburg. The golf course, owned and operated by the state for the benefit of hospital staff, came with that purchase.
Both Blue Hill and Broadacres were profitable initially, but gradually started losing money for the town. The biggest expense for both courses were the repayments of the bonds Orangetown issued to acquire the properties. Revenue from players essentially covered operational expenses such as staff salaries and grounds maintenance.
To shed itself of the cost burden, the town began exploring privatization of the courses a couple of years ago. As an experiment, they eventually leased the Broadacres course to a private operator last year, on a trial three-year lease agreement. If the town and the operator, who also runs several other municipal courses around the country under similar arrangements, feel the agreement is beneficial to both sides, it can be extended or eventually be made permanent. So far, the operator has reported back to Orangetown that it feels it is meeting its goals at Broadacres, and hopes to begin making a small profit by the conclusion of the current lease.
Encouraged by that news, the town this year has begun exploring a similar privatization move for the much larger Blue Hill course, which has 27 holes and offers spectacular views overlooking the Lake Tappan Reservoir to the east and the Ramapo Mountains to the west.
Last month the Town Board unanimously approved releasing bid solicitation documents and reportedly received several in response.
This bid is much more complicated that the one for Broadacres, however, since it is broken down into three separate parts, and bidders can respond to any combination of those three they desire. The contract for Broadacres was only for the operation of that nine-hole course.
At Blue Hill, the town has decided that bidders can submit proposals to:
ü Operate the 27-hole Golf Course
ü Operate the lucrative pro-shop located in a renovated stone barn
ü Operate the lucrative restaurant located in a stone mansion
Complicating matters is the provision that bidders can submit proposals on any single category, and two categories, or all three categories. The Town Board would then have to sort through the offers and try and figure out which operator or operators had submitted the best offers.
One person or firm could thus win one, two or all three bids, while another would get the remaining contracts. The Town Board would have to decide if the winner must submit the highest offer in all three categories, or just away contracts to the highest bidding firm in each category.
Bids were returnable to Town Hall on July 28 and are now being reviewed by the town legal, financial, recreation and other departmental staffs and advisory boards.
The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 1, at which time there may or may not be a proposal for the five-member Town Council to approve awarding some or all of the bids.
Golf, Swimming, Soccer
If the town does privatize the entire Blue Hill operation, it will essentially get out of the golfing business, although it technically retains ownership of both Blue Hill and Broadacres, leasing them both to private operators.
In neighboring counties, the counties themselves own and operate public golf courses in Westchester, Orange and Bergen, along with several towns that have their own municipal courses.
In Rockland, the county never sought to operate sports or athletic facilities other than the RCC fieldhouse. Following Orangetown’s lead, however, Ramapo, Haverstraw and Stony Point all constructed their own golf courses, leaving Clarkstown as the only Rockland township without its own facility.
Orangetown is the only town in Rockland without a public swimming pool, leading to tentative negotiations several years ago between the two towns to allow Clarkstown residents to use Orangetown’s golf courses and Orangetown residents to use one or more of Clarkstown multiple pool complexes. The negotiations broke down, however, and were never consummated or even resumed.
In addition to golf and swimming, Orangetown’s next biggest sports crisis appears to be soccer, with multiple private leagues vying for a limited number of soccer fields. That debate has yet to be resolved, with league supporters typically bombarding the Town Board at every meeting in their own favor or against their competitors.