Oro Valley Conquistador Golf Course
Courtesy Photo

After nearly three years of operating its community center, the Oro Valley Town Council is considering fewer holes of golf, dramatically retooling its restaurant and reconfiguring some of its fitness amenities, at an estimated cost of nearly $5 million. 

The council discussed considerations for the property last Wednesday, Feb. 7, during a study session at which town manager Mary Jacobs discussed her conclusions, based on a consultant’s report delivered to council last year by the National Golf Foundation and others. Jacobs delivered her analysis alongside Rob DeMore, president of the Troon Privé Division. Troon is the company contracted to operate the several amenities and the community center, including golf. 

In a memo to council members, Jacobs said she was focused on developing a plan to ensure the community center provided “residents with access to a variety of programs and amenities.” Jacobs clarified that any changes to the facility and its offerings should “maximize opportunities to expand offerings” to Oro Valley residents.

“I think that what the community center brings to the Oro Valley residents goes well beyond just the benefit of having these facilities,” Jacobs said during her presentation. “What we’ve done, is we’ve really focused on enhancing wellness opportunities for our residents. I think you see that in all of the different programs and offerings that are made and have been made.”

The community center has attracted thousands of families to enroll their children in camps, the town now hosts a variety of community events such as movie nights, and activities like tennis have drawn consistent users, Jacobs told council.

While the town manager’s address expressed optimistic conclusions for the facility, Jacobs did note that the town was reaching a point at which decisions must be made to improve the performance of the Community and Recreation Center Fund as a whole. 

The Overlook restaurant “is no longer a viable model,” Jacobs’ memo explains, but could become a financial success if it were relocated downstairs with reduced operations. The restaurant would operate from what is now the Garden Café, which would then function as an open kitchen bar and grill. Jacobs suggested the revamped operation would better cater to golfers and create a space to host events.

Jacobs suggested revamping the current restaurant space to expand the offerings of the community center and its fitness programming. The memo also includes closing a small pool on the property to create open space for programming. According to the town, fitness memberships have increased roughly 30 percent since November 2015, and a variety of classes at the facility are either near- or at-capacity.

“It is time that we really focus on how the community center as a whole, which is this building with all of these other amenities, can grow in its attraction to our residents, and to expand its availability to our residents,” Jacobs told Tucson Local Media.

While Jacobs’ conclusions were based on a comprehensive look at the facility and its operations, great consideration was given to the town’s 45 holes of golf. Last year’s consultant report suggested that Oro Valley reduce its courses to 27 holes, which would require a dramatic reconfiguration of the Conquistador and Cañada courses. The report also indicated that the town should redevelop the “troubled” nine-hole Pusch Ridge facility into a 12-hole, par three course.

The conclusions delivered to council by Jacobs and DeMore go against the NGF suggestion, and instead opt for a 36-hole configuration and the town’s withdrawal from operation of the Pusch facilities altogether. As part of the purchase agreement between Oro Valley and HSL properties, the latter has the option to lease the course and continue its operations, though that discussion has not yet been finalized.

“Our conclusion is to keep the golf course as it is,” DeMore said. “That’s the most prudent expenditure of funds.”

Changes would not come without a price of their own, Jacobs reminded council. Including the $1 million to purchase the property and its amenities, the town has already spent about $2.7 million in capital funding, which includes updating the restaurant and conference room space, replacing a pump station on the golf courses and an energy efficiency overhaul. Further investment, according to Jacobs’ memo, includes roughly $1 million for community center renovations and reconfiguration, $20,000 to eliminate the small pool and $1.9 million each to improve irrigation and reduce turf at both golf courses. In total, Jacobs’ memo includes capital investment of roughly $5 million. Jacobs clarified that any land freed up via turf reduction would not be repurposed.

According to the town manager, the conclusion “will position both the community center and the El Conquistador and La Cañada courses for revenue increases, expenditure savings and program enhancements over the next few years.”

After its first full year in operation, the Community Center Fund—which draws its revenue from a dedicated half-cent sales tax and dollars generated from community center-related programming—operated at a roughly $860,000 deficit. At the close of the previous fiscal year, the fund operated at a $259,000 deficit. Through November (the most recently released figures) the fund is operating at a $364,000 deficit, and is expected to close the year with a $72,000 operating surplus. Last June, council did approve $350,000 from a year-end general fund surplus to shore up a then-estimated $285,000 deficit in the community center fund, and to facilitate a $120,000 loan repayment back into the general fund for the acquisition costs of the property.

The council was presented with Jacobs’ conclusions last week, though no funding mechanism for the required capital improvement has yet to be identified. Jacobs said she would take into consideration council direction, and include the required costs in the Town Manager’s Recommended Budget.

Councilmember Bill Rodman did mention isolating a revenue stream to pay for bonding at the site, which piqued the attention of several in the standing-room-only audience last Wednesday.

After the council session, Mayor Satish Hiremath clarified with Tucson Local Media that bonding for the improvements had not been discussed by council, and that they would await the recommended budget to further analyze funding options—which could include bonding for part of the cost.

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