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Oro Valley approves rec center, golf, tax hike
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Oro Valley approves rec center, golf, tax hike

At Wednesday night’s 5ƒ-hour Town Council meeting, an executive from the company that will operate the El Conquistador golf courses presented ideas for getting young people interested in the game. “It’s not all doom and gloom,” Scott Van Newkirk said of the golf industry.

Oro Valley residents will get a long-awaited recreation center for a low price, but they’ll also get a sales-tax increase.

In a 4-3 vote late Wednesday night, the Town Council agreed that the town will pay $1 million over three years for El Conquistador Country Club, with its 45 holes of golf. The town plans to turn the 31,475-square-foot club building into a community center and contract out the golf course operations.

This deal is part of a plan for Tucson-based HSL Properties to buy the Hilton El Conquistador resort. The company would immediately split off the country club and golf courses and sell them to the town for a third of the appraised market value.

The 1980s facilities need about $5.5 million in renovations over five years, town projections show.

To pay for the projects, the town will raise its sales-tax rate to 2.5 percent from 2 percent. The council approved the tax increase in a separate 4-3 vote.

Those in the majority — Mayor Satish Hiremath, Lou Waters, Mary Snider and Joe Hornat — made good on campaign promises to explore a community-center option for the town. The minority — Brendan Burns, Mike Zinkin and Bill Garner — said they didn’t have enough information to make a good decision.

The 5ƒ-hour council meeting Wednesday night was standing-room only, with about 200 people in the audience and about 40 who wanted to address the council.

The town received about 350 calls and emails from town residents, which were split evenly among supporters and those opposed to the project.

Most of the concerns centered on the town getting into the golf business.

“As you read about the golf industry, it’s pretty easy for people to establish that it’s a doom-and-gloom industry, and I’m here to say it’s not all doom and gloom,” said Scott Van Newkirk, an executive from Troon, the company that would contract with the town to operate the golf courses.

Same-store results for Troon’s Arizona portfolio show revenues are up 9 percent and net operating income is up 28 percent, Van Newkirk said.

He presented ideas for marketing the golf courses and getting young people interested in the game.

The National Golf Foundation says the number of people who golf fell 12 percent since 2000.

“There’s not a silver bullet that’s going to bring players back. It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Van Newkirk said.

The property could be saved by the town’s investment, some residents said.

In the past 10 years “there hasn’t been a nickel invested by the three owners we’ve had,” and the club has lost 150 members, said John Gorman, a 20-year member of the El Conquistador country club and president of the men’s golf association.

The deal on the table has “tremendous upside and negligible downside,” and with the proposed improvements, membership and daily play numbers would improve, he said during the public comment period.

Other residents opposed the project.

Steve Knapp, speaking for the Sun City Oro Valley board of directors at the call to the audience, criticized the council for choosing “to present the El Con purchase to the citizens with an unreasonably short notice, a lack of transparency, and a vote in less than 15 days.”

The financial estimates provided by the town are “contrary to Sun City Oro Valley’s recent actual construction and golf course operation experiences,” Knapp said. The Views Golf Club in that neighborhood is running a deficit and is supported by homeowners association dues, he said.

Residents of the 2,488 homes in Sun City Oro Valley will be paying both dues to subsidize their own golf course and a sales tax to subsidize El Conquistador courses that are in direct competition, Knapp said. The neighborhood board voted to oppose the project.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@tucson.com or 573-4251. On Twitter: @BeckyPallack

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