To: Compass Inbox
From: City of Amsterdam 4th Ward Alderman Stephen Gomula
I sent a version of this letter to Mayor [Michael] Cinquanti and the other members of the Common Council last week and I would like the public to know my feelings on this issue as well prior to the upcoming vote on Tuesday February 16.
Mayor Cinquanti and fellow Common Council members,
I am writing to express my opposition to the proposed sale of the [Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course] clubhouse to the Executive Group. This isn’t a topic that I have approached lightly and I have definitely lost some sleep over this decision.
I want to start by saying that I do not play golf. I used to be a casual golfer but since my back surgery six years ago I have not played, so my interest in this matter is only for the benefit of my constituents in the 4th Ward and all city residents.
As we all know, the golf course itself has been a polarizing topic for a long time. In fact, it is the reason I became involved in city politics in the first place. I was of the mind, like many city residents, that we should just sell the entire course and be done with the issue. At the time three years ago, our budget deficit seemed insurmountable and it was the only logical step. But since that time I have come to a different conclusion and feel the Arthur Carter Municipal Golf Course is one of the most valuable commodities the City of Amsterdam owns.
When I was initially advised of this proposal by the mayor in December 2020, the thought of entirely eliminating the golf course debt sounded enticing. But after consulting with numerous people, including council members, city employees, residents, non-residents, and of course golfers and those who do not play, I have since changed my mind and have come to view the golf course as an asset to the city that is severely under-marketed and not used to its fullest potential. Without getting too far into the history of the course, I will just say that it was designed by Robert Trent Jones, one of the most renowned course designers in the world. While this may not mean much to non-golfers, it is immensely appealing to golfers and this is one of the areas we can use to better promote. I feel the golf course needs to be marketed as vigorously as any festival or other recreational activities we offer in the city.
I realize that only a small portion of City residents utilize the course and for the past few years it has been a great burden on those who do not play, but we need to market it to those from outside the city and make it a destination. This can have a trickle down affect to the rest of the city from increased visits to local restaurants already hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, increased occupancy at area hotels and even future construction of more hotel space and of course the most important benefit, lower taxes for city residents.
We also hired a golf professional in Kevin Canale who has a proven track record of success and making golf courses profitable throughout the capital district. Unfortunately, he has not been allowed to fully utilize his talents and vision for our Muni and bring it back to prosperity. I believe Kevin could better realize his plans with assistance from the city’s Recreation, Tourism and Marketing Dept and also the Office of Community and Economic Development. These departments are full of experienced professionals who work tirelessly and are doing an amazing job especially with the limited resources and constraints brought on by social distancing. Though for some reason it seems that not all city departments have been working together. I’m not sure why this is but we need to give these departments the tools they need to succeed and achieve the common goal of the betterment of Amsterdam. Mismanagement of the course by past administrators with little to no scrutiny has led to our current situation. Kevin has plans that will reduce or eliminate these mistakes and reverse course (no pun intended) and allow the golf course and clubhouse to be successful assets.
Which brings me to the reason why I am not in favor of selling the Clubhouse. This facility is not only a vital part of the course, but it can be a sorely need event space within the city limits. There are very few spaces within the city for events and the proposed reconstruction of the clubhouse would make it a premiere full-service destination for weddings, parties and civic organizations that are currently only available outside the city limits. If sold, the immediate return on funds, including insurance payments from the flooded building will free the course from debt. I know this is what many may want, including myself but I feel this will only be a sort of instant gratification and will hinder any growth in the future. I do not believe the city should be in the restaurant business. This is a slippery slope, especially when we get involved with liquor licenses and liability issues. So I am in favor of leasing the clubhouse and all of its operations to a qualified vendor.
I feel that this processed has been rushed and little attention has been given to the future of not only the golf course but to the City of Amsterdam. Yes, as previously mentioned, this immediate infusion of funds will eliminate the golf course debt but it will also eliminate any opportunities for a working relationship that will benefit the city long term.
I also have some questions regarding the cancellation of any contracts that were in place to rebuild the clubhouse and if there will be any future legal ramifications to the city. I am leery of the numbers that have seemed to change with this proposal. We began with an initial offer of $200,000 and now we are down to $50,000. This is the amount they will be charging our most recent clubhouse vendor to lease, which we could charge. I am concerned that down the road, this buyer will only flip this property and sell it to someone who does not care about the course or the growth of the city itself.
This is not a slight against the Executive Group, rather it is to the sale in general. The Executive Group has been busy working on some exciting growth in Amsterdam and I look forward to their future expansion.
I feel that this decision should be put up as either a public bidding process or as a referendum to be voted on by all city voters.
I believe that selling the clubhouse, not just to the Executive Group, but to anyone would do a disservice to the City of Amsterdam much like the creation of the Amsterdam Mall.