I t's the unofficial end of summer, and Old Avalon Golf course has not had a single golfer.
Thus, the 2013 season is coming to a close without the city earning a single dollar, or even a penny, from the course. In fact, the shuttered municipal course at 9794 E. Market St. has cost Warren at least $65,000.
Councilman John Brown Jr., D-3rd Ward, believes the administration has maintained the golf course in such a condition that with a few upgrades, residents could have been golfing on it all summer long. Photo by Raymond L. Smith
The fate of the golf course is no clearer today than when the administration decided not to renew the contract of OAG LLC, whose owner, John Kouvas, has operated it since May 2006.
The administration claims OAG LLC had not paid its rent in the amount of $320,000 in several years. Kouvas claims he was not required to pay based on repairs that his company had made.
Kouvas and OAG LLC have since sued the city for more than $25,000 in damages, including the fact they were deprived from operating the course this year.
The administration, in the meantime, has attempted without success to convince City Council to provide it authority to lease or sell the course.
Councilman Jim Valesky, D-at large, a vocal opponent of selling the course, said he believes it can make money for the city.
"We have lost any opportunity to earn money from the course during 2013," Valesky said. "The only thing that can be done now is to prepare for the 2014 golf season. However, this should have been done when the city decided not to renew Kouvas' contract."
Safety-Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said the administration is negotiating with up to five potential operators for the 100-plus acre property.
"We are trying to come to an agreement for a reasonable rent," Cantalamessa said. "We recognize that whatever company comes in here will have to make a considerable investment, not only of basic golf equipment - carts, mowers and items - but also chemicals to maintain the course.
"Based on the cost of getting started, we initially are willing to be flexible on the rent," Cantalamessa said. "Not to the point where it is free. We are looking for a company capable of being here for a long time."
Although saying the city is doing everything it can to find an operator, it is still waiting to see whether council will give it the OK to sell or lease the property, which has natural gas deposits beneath it.
"We are looking to do what is best for the property both above the ground and below it," Cantalamessa said. "We will continue to do what is in the best interest of our residents and to our partners in the oil and gas industries."
Several council members balked at the idea of selling the course. They said they believe if they give the administration the green light to explore selling the course, it could be sold without them having any further input.
"They are trying to blame the City Council for the inactivity in addressing this," Valesky said. "It is the administration's job to make sure the course operates. Selling the course would be the easy way out."
Several groups have spoken to the administration and City Council about managing, leasing or buying the course.
"I'm not aware whether the city has continued talking to those interested in the course," Valesky said. "I'm not saying all of their ideas were viable. None of them may have been viable. However, the city should have maintained contact with them.''
Valesky said the only thing that has been done this year is the city has spent money to maintain the course.
So far in 2013, the city has paid about $34,800 to the owner of Northwood Golf Course to cut, fertilize and maintain the area of the course that requires the use of specialty equipment, according to city Auditor Dave Griffing.
City employees have been used to cut the fairways and the roughs. The city also has had to put all of the course's utilities - water, sewer and electric - in its name. Water department employees were sent over to the course to check its water lines.
On top of that the city also is paying $31,080 in property taxes.
Like Valesky, Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, does not believe the city should sell the golf course, describing it as the most valuable property in Trumbull County, based on the amount of acreage, its zoning and the potential income that can be earned because of the natural gas that may be under it.
"There are communities in this area - Youngstown and Sharon - that provide public golfing at low costs for their residents," Brown said. "There is no reason why we should not be able to do the same."
"I'm very impressed with what the city has done to take care of the course," Brown said. "I've walked the course and - from a non-professional point of view - the course's grass seems to be cut properly. People could be out using this course right now. There is no reason why this should not be a profitable venture."
Brown, however, admits there is some work to be done. Greens are browning out, grass growing in sand traps, one of its bridges needs maintenance work and a sign in the parking lot is rotting.
Councilman Dan Sferra, D-at large, a longtime council member and a multi-term mayor, introduced the legislation that would have given the city the authority to sale the golf course.
"There is nothing that can be done this year," Sferra said. "At this point, I'm not planning on reintroducing it. I think the administration is planning on finding someone to manage it in 2014."