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Golf course contract settled after year of debate; City subsidy of about $10.51 per player will remain in place, course to stay ‘dry’

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The Roswell City Council voted 10-0 Thursday night to leave the management contract for Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River with a local firm, after more than a year of discussions on how to reduce the city's costs to operate and maintain the 144-acre course. (Submitted Photo)

After more than a year of debate and discussion, the Roswell City Council has decided to leave the management of the municipal golf course in the same local hands, seemingly foregoing grandiose plans for wedding ceremonies on the signature hole and other long-discussed, revenue-generating ideas such as alcohol sales.

Last fall, Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh suggested that the area around the 14th green of the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River could be used as a venue for formal events such as weddings, providing a new revenue stream for the city. City golfers expressed strong opposition, saying guests could damage the course and would interrupt golfing. (AJ Dickman Photo)

The City Council voted 10-0 Thursday night in favor of an agreement with H. Carlton Blewett for him to continue managing the Nancy Lopez Golf Course at Spring River through Sept. 30, 2021. Blewett has managed the golf course’s day-to-day operations for more than seven years and prevailed over corporate firms that had presented proposals to both manage day-to-day operations at the golf course, as well as provide maintenance.
The city’s contract with Blewett, originally set to expire March 1, was extended until Sept. 30 while the long process to evaluate proposals played out.
City manager Joe Neeb said an out-of-state firm’s bid to manage the golf course scored the highest of all proposals received by a city evaluation committee, but he said the proposal from KemperSports of Northbrook, Illinois, created problems.
“We took the scenic route to get here, and we’re finally coming to the fruition of all of our hard work on this golf course management agreement,” Neeb told Mayor Dennis Kintigh and the City Council.
Neeb said he reached the terms of the four-year golf course operations agreement with Blewett on Tuesday. The new agreement, with the same fee structure as the current agreement with Blewett, takes effect Oct. 1.
“When you authorized me to start the negotiated agreement process, of course we were working with KemperSports, which was the top (company) from the evaluation committee,” Neeb said. “What we found, was when we were discussing with Kemper the negotiations, what they were proposing to do was very different from our current service model of how we’ve been operating the golf course. And that made it a little more challenging. So there was a potential impact to our general fund in order to cover certain costs within that agreement.
“While Kemper is a very qualified company and everything, the change in the service model would have caused us to potentially have impact to our general fund. And as you’re well aware through our budget process, our general fund has very little room for those kinds of adjustments. So that ended up with me bringing the second company within the evaluation committee, and that’s our current provider, Mr. Carlton Blewett.”

Cost reducing effort

More than a year ago, the city solicited proposals from firms interested in managing the golf course, in an effort to reduce the golf course’s costs to the city. Suggestions such as hosting weddings on the signature 14th hole of the golf course were met with strong opposition from local golfers, who also expressed concerns that a corporate entity might also raise green fees.
City officials said the goal of a new golf course contract was to reduce the golf course’s annual costs by 20 percent in two years, from $363,771 to $292,016. The golf course reaped about $276,000 in revenues in the 2015-16 fiscal year, when it was budgeted about $648,000 for maintenance, resulting in a net cost to the city of about $372,000.
The issue of city vs. corporate maintenance became an issue when the proposals of some firms included maintaining the 144-acre golf course that is open year-round. City employees currently perform the groundskeeping and facility maintenance.
Negotiations with firms begun anew when city elected leaders said they were only interested in an operations contract that would not displace city groundskeeping personnel.
The city currently reaps all of the greens fees at the course, membership fees, event fees and facility rental fees, and 22 percent of golf cart rentals.
“To cover costs associated with providing golf management services, Blewett will keep the bulk of the cart fees,” states a city news release issued Friday. “He will also retain the revenue from the pro shop, golf lessons, and other services such as concessions, although if alcohol sales are eventually established at the golf course, the revenue sharing for that will be negotiated.”
Blewett’s company, HCB Enterprises, collects 78 percent of golf cart rentals, all fees for lessons, the driving range and putting green, and revenues from the sale of merchandise and concessions.
The revenue-sharing terms of the new agreement are the same as Blewett’s current contract, Neeb said. The agreement requires a PGA golf pro to be maintained on staff. Blewett will be allowed to continue in his position as golf course pro should he choose to do so.
“The agreement includes an annual city evaluation of Blewett’s performance in managing the course as both parties are committed to providing a high quality level of service,” states the city news release. “The agreement outlines the city’s expectations, which include the highest and best use of the course and the revenue it generates. The expectations further call for Blewett to establish partnerships with schools, youth organizations, nonprofit entities and charitable groups and boost participation in golf tournaments and local school golf programs.”

New ideas

City Councilor Jeanine Corn Best said she would like to see the golf course incorporate a UFO theme and initiate mentor programs with the PGA and local youth.
“I would also like to see a lot of females brought in, because, I don’t know how to say this nicely, I’ve heard that sometimes we don’t look highly upon females on the golf course, and we need to change that scenario,” she said.
Neeb said about 60 percent of the golf course’s costs are funded by the city’s general fund, while 40 percent is funded by user fees.
City Councilor Steve Henderson said the whole idea of a new golf course contract was to reduce the city’s costs.
“We’ve been at this almost a year, and the exercise when we started was to see if we could lower our costs in this operation some way,” Henderson said. “When I ran the numbers back a year ago or so, it was costing us $10.51 for everybody that teed up at our golf course. In other words, that’s the amount of subsidy that the citizens of Roswell were paying for golfers to play golf.”
Neeb said Henderson’s numbers were correct.
“So, I would say anything that we can do to improve, to reduce those costs, we ought to look at it very carefully. I’m hopeful that our new vendor will be aggressive in trying to identify some of those ways,” Henderson said. “If it looks like the liquor license idea will bring revenue to the city, and what the benefits and the costs are going to be, we need to look at that. We need to look at whatever is available to us to bring that $10.51 down.”
City Councilor Barry Foster agreed costs to the city must come down. He suggested tiered green fees, with city residents paying lower rates than county residents, and state residents paying less than out-of-state golfers.
Foster said only two public golf courses in New Mexico make a profit.
“It is a quality of life thing for us to have a golf course and to have places where people come in to retire,” Foster said. “I know friends from Albuquerque when they come here, they’re just amazed that we can go out and play golf without calling them five days in advance. I think it’s a good thing that we made this agreement, but I do think there are ways that we can maximize more income from it.”
“Agreed,” Neeb replied.

Background

In May, the City Council voted 5-3 against a recommendation from city staff to award the golf course contract to KemperSports.
Best, Henderson and City Councilor Natasha Mackey voted in favor of awarding the contract to KemperSports, while Foster and city councilors Tabitha Denny, Caleb Grant, Jason Perry and Savino Sanchez Jr. voted against awarding the golf course management to KemperSports.
Three firms, KemperSports, HCB Enterprises and Milestone Management of Roswell, had submitted proposals to manage the golf course.
Project manager Kevin Dillon told the City Council in May a city committee weighted the three proposals, with a heavy emphasis on the interview portion of the proposals.
Dillon said the five-member committee gave KemperSports a total of 129 points, with 112 points for HCB Enterprises and 99 points for Milestone Management.
Based on the scoring, Dillon said the committee recommended awarding the contract to KemperSports.
The evaluation committee was formed in November to solicit and review proposals to manage Roswell’s municipal golf course, following the City Council’s rejection in October of the initial proposal from KemperSports to both manage and maintain the Nancy Lopez Spring River Golf Course.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission appointed Parks and Rec Commissioner JaneAnn Oldrup to the evaluation committee after criticisms that the prior evaluation committee lacked golfers.
On Oct. 13, the City Council voted 6-1 to table the first proposal from KemperSports, with several city councilors stating an intent to officially reject it at a future City Council meeting. If it had been approved, city staff would have moved forward with negotiations, cost analysis and contract terms for finalization.
At a subsequent special City Council meeting, Dillon said there was no further need for City Council action because the bid from KemperSports had been rejected by city staff.
KemperSports, HCB Enterprises and Milestone Management were three of the five companies that initially submitted proposals to assume management of the municipal golf course. KemperSports received the highest score from a committee of city officials at that time as well. Other firms initially interested were Oliphant-Haltom Golf of Madison, Wisconsin, and Landscapes Unlimited of Lincoln, Nebraska.
The golf course, named for Goddard High School grad and retired LPGA tour player Nancy Lopez, was established in 1930.
Editor Jeff Tucker may be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 303, or at editor@rdrnews.com.