Avalon to reopen next year

WARREN – The Old Avalon Golf Course is expected to reopen for the 2014 golf season.

The city administration has reached an agreement with Larry Petrozzi of Lisbon, who is an accountant by trade.

The new management company will be Avalon South Management Co. LLC, with Petrozzi as the managing partner and Bob Zehentbauer the operating partner.

Zehentbauer has been the owner / operator of the Eagle Pass Golf Course, 30757 state Route 172 in Hanoverton, a nine-hole public course, for 17 years. He also has served as a Hanover Township trustee.

Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said during the golf season the city received about 10 written proposals for the operation of the course.

“The process was pretty thorough, because this is not an operation that anyone can just come in and take over,” Cantalamessa said. “There is a particular set of skills required to come in and operate a golf course. “

In its search for an operator, the city expressed concern the organization that takes over would have the financial wherewithal to operate the golf course, because golf is a seasonal business.

The city maintained the course during the 2013 season, in spite of the fact there was no golf this season.

The management agreement with the golf course’s former operator, OAG LLC, was canceled earlier this year over a disagreement between the city and its operator regarding rental payments. At the time, the city said the management company owed it $320,000 in back rental payments.

John Kouvas, whose OAG LLC has operated the public course since May 15, 2006, said the city was notified last year about an estimated $100,000 worth of capital improvements that needed to be done before the beginning of the upcoming golf season.

The initial contract between Petrozzi and the city will be five years, with a five-year renewable option.

“We are still putting the final touches on the final framework of the agreement,” Cantalamessa said. “There is consideration being giving to the outlay of capital that any investor would have had to put into for the outlay of equipment and capital.”

During the first three years, the city is looking to make operating the course as close to cost-neutral to the city as possible. Because of the initial investment, the city may require the operator to provide it enough money to pay property taxes during the early years.

After three years, once it begins making a return on its investment, the city then will require the company to annually pay it an increasing amount of its profits..

Although the course was not open this year, the city maintained it in what Cantalamessa called near playable conditions.

“That takes time, effort and money,” he said. “We recognized that this is a quality of life issue. This is an asset to the community as a whole.”

Cantalamessa said the final contract will be designed in such a way that any large capital improvement costing more than $2,500 – must be discussed with city officials before agreements are signed and money spent.

“In this way we can avoid surprises,” Cantalamessa said. “That is better from a budgetary planning standpoint.”

Zehentbauer said they already have crews working at the course.

“We see this as a great opportunity,” Zehentbauer said. “We want to restore the course to what it originally was years ago. We want it to be a very good, playable course We are working to get the greens in great shape.”

Zehentbauer said the goal is to form a partnership with the community, so they will be working with area youth groups, safety forces and others who want to use the facilities.

“We will be looking at every single option,” he continued. “We’ve already spoken to some leagues that want to return to the course.”

Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, said he is pleased the administration has found someone to operate the course.

“I believe the golf course can be a profitable venture,” Brown said. “It will take someone with the knowledge of how to operate a golf course and the money to make it profitable. This course is a great asset to the city. I’m hoping we can have golf on the surface of the land and get gas and oil from underneath it. That would be the best of all worlds.”

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, was not aware of the agreement, but said he would like the city to be able to obtain monthly reports of the golf course’s operations and the capital improvements that will take place.

Although he would like to see the contract, Councilman Jim Valesky, D-at large, is confident the administration has done its due diligence in vetting the new managers of the course.

“I’m happy, but with reservations,” Valesky said. “I have not seen the contract, but I do put my faith in the administration. It is good we kept the course.”

Councilwoman Helen Rucker, D-at large, said she had talked to Cantalamessa about an alternative group more than two week ago.

“I just hope he explored all the opportunities and I am looking forward for the administration to present its ideas to councilman,” Rucker said.

Several groups presented management and leasing proposals to city council earlier this year.