The Town of Oro Valley officially became the owner of an operating restaurant last week, but before it even opened, The Overlook has been the center of political conflict.
In December, the town council voted 4-3 in favor of purchasing the El Conquistador Country Club for $1 million, a deal that included a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for the since-completed renovations to turn the club into a community center.
The town bought the property from Tucson-based HSL Properties, which acquired the Hilton resort with the intent of splitting off those entities and selling them to the town for $1 million paid over three years. The market value of the property had initially been appraised at $3.25 million.
After the purchase agreement was signed in late April, an Oro Valley citizen’s group initiated the recall of the four members who voted to approve the purchase: Mayor Satish Hiremath and council members Lou Waters, Mary Snider and Joe Hornat. All four will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot, defending their seats against five challengers.
The incumbents have been vocal throughout their campaigns in defending the purchase, repeatedly saying that citizens have been asking for a community center and gathering place since the mid-'90s.
However, challengers Steve Didio, Ryan Hartung and Shirl Lamonna have all argued that by the town owning the The Overlook, it’s directly competing with privately-owned businesses in Oro Valley.
"I don't believe that by the town owning a restaurant that we will put other restaurants out of business," Hiremath said. "If that was the case then we wouldn't have as many restaurants locally as we do now, would we?"
The town is operating the facilities with Troon, an international management company that handles golf destinations such as the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa.
In addition to the Overlook, Troon is also handling golf and tennis operations, said Misti Nowak, communications administrator for the town.
The restaurant, formerly called La Vista, was previously part of the Hilton El Conquistador country club, 10555 N. La Cañada Drive. In the process of turning it into a community center, the town performed significant renovations to the restaurant space, replacing carpets with dark wood floors, installing new booths and reconstructing ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 5,282 square-foot restaurant features high ceilings and a loft-like view overlooking the golf course and surrounding Santa Catalina Mountains. About half of the space is taken up by the bar, which has five flatscreen TVs which broadcasted sports games during a restaurant preview earlier this week.
The team brought on Executive Chef Robert Kaslly, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate who most recently managed the culinary program at the active adult living community Restaurants at SaddleBrooke. His menu features classic American dishes with a gourmet touch, like warm steak salad and pepper jack chicken with calabacitas squash blend.
The most expensive item on the menu is the Traverse city filet mignon with Boursin cheese croquette for $25. But most items are sandwiches and salads between $9 and $12 apiece. The restaurant closes at 6 p.m. most nights, with dinner service Thursdays through Saturdays until 8 p.m.
Overlook also runs happy hour specials from 3 to 6 p.m., a Thursday build-your-own pasta night for $13 and Sunday brunch. The restaurant is open to the public.
Tom Meade, who runs the food and beverage program at the restaurant, says The Overlook stands out from other local businesses and offers something new.
"We have the best views in town," he said. " ... The restaurant is part of the community center, so you can literally come in and take a swim and hit the locker room and come upstairs and enjoy braised beef tacos for lunch."
Meade adds that large size of the restaurant makes it a perfect choice for large parties and banquets.
During the restaurant preview earlier this week, Hiremath praised the council for its work in opening the restaurant. "Today is only just the tip of the iceberg," he said. "Wait to see what we have next."