Following a $43,000 operating deficit last year, a golf course architect will conduct a study of the municipal golf course to determine what improvements are needed to bring the course back into profitability. Meanwhile, a former golf course employee has sued the third-party operator that manages the golf course for alleged age and gender discrimination.
The city of Brigantine, N.J., is moving forward with a study that could help decide the future of its struggling Links at Brigantine Beach as its current third-party operator faces a lawsuit alleging age and gender discrimination, the Pleasantville (N.J.)-based Atlantic City Press reported.
Declining usage, economic recession and mounting infrastructure costs contributed to a $43,000 operating deficit last year at the municipal golf course. That prompted City Council, which approved its purchase in 2002, to approve a master plan to determine what improvements are needed to bring the course back into profitability, the Press reported.
Stephen Kay, the golf course architect tasked with the study, said he planned to visit the course this week to begin work on a master plan. He’ll also meet with a committee of golf course officials and players to receive input on the kinds of changes they think are needed, the Press reported.
“To me, it’s a big group effort,” Kay said. “I’m not a dictator; I’m there, as an expert, to hear everybody’s ideas.”
General Manager Nathan Robbins said the committee doesn’t have any official powers but is representative of a spectrum of players of different age, gender and skill levels. Other officials, such as the city engineer, will consult on drainage issues and how the golf course fits into the larger city infrastructure, the Press reported.
The golf course issue re-emerged this summer as a debate centered primarily on how many repairs are needed and who would pay for them—either a bond the city would be responsible for or a third-party contractor entering a long-term lease, the Press reported.
In August, Kay’s firm was awarded a $15,000 contract to outline what repairs are needed and how much they would cost. The study won’t tell officials how to fund the projects but will give them a few examples of what other municipalities have done. Brigantine also has funded a new roof on the clubhouse and requested bids last week for mowing equipment that was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy, the Press reported.
“We’re getting things back to where we can operate the facility in the manner it needs to be operated,” Robbins said. “And we’re looking forward to the process with Stephen.”
A municipal bond ordinance is one possibility, but Kay said that can be difficult if the golf course remains unprofitable. Grants from federal and state sources are another. Meanwhile, some municipalities, including New York City, have sought concessionaires who front the initial capital improvements in exchange for a long-term lease agreement, the Press reported.
“Generally, the majority of capital investment is in the first five years,” Kay said. “That gives (the concessionaire) 15 years to recoup the money they invested.”
However, Kay said, municipalities must be flexible in working with third-party operators, or else the partnership won’t be successful, the Press reported.
“It needs to be flexible in how they write the request for proposal, so they get good companies putting in proposals,” Kay said. “Good companies aren’t going to come in with one hand tied behind their back. They need to know this is a win-win.”
The goal is to have the final study ready by January, the Press reported.
Meanwhile, a former golf course employee has sued Meadowbrook Golf Club Inc., the third-party operator who manages Brigantine’s golf course, for alleged age and gender discrimination, the Press reported.
According to the suit, Robbins told Debra Lynn Ruttler, who had served as the banquet manager since 2008, in December that she would not be needed until after the new year. When Ruttler, then 59, returned in January, she was informed she was being replaced by the golf professional’s wife. Ruttler helped train the new banquet manager, who was 30 years younger, the Press reported.
Then Robbins began taking some of the most profitable bartending shifts, which Ruttler had been working, according to court documents. The suit alleges other unnamed older female workers also were demoted or terminated in January, the Press reported.
In the suit, Ruttler demands back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and legal fees, the Press reported.
David Strand, the attorney for Meadowbrook and Robbins, said his clients vigorously deny the allegations, but declined to comment further. Robbins said he could not comment, based on advice from counsel. David Azotea, Ruttler’s attorney, did not respond to requests for comment. A scheduling conference is set for October 22, the Press reported.
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