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Burbank to look for new operator of DeBell Golf Course

Burbank to look for new operator of DeBell Golf Course
Burbank will be accepting proposals until July 12 for a new operator of the DeBell Golf Course. (File Photo)

Burbank officials have decided that more change needs to be made at the DeBell Golf Course.

In late May, the city issued a request for proposal for the city-owned golf course to look for a new operator that officials hope can breathe some new life into the struggling facility, said Judie Wilke, director of parks and recreation for Burbank.

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Those who are interested in taking the helm of DeBell, which is tucked away up in the Verdugo Mountains off Walnut Avenue, have until July 12 to submit proposals to the city. On Thursday, officials will give prospective operators a tour of the facility.

“It’s a different direction that we’re headed, with respect to the oversight of the entire golf course,” Wilke said. “We are in the process of addressing an exit strategy with the current operator. We do not have all the details on that, but we hope to have that resolved very shortly.”

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Scott Scozzola, whose family has been operating DeBell since 1971, has done all he can to keep the fairways green at the golf course.

However, the last decade has not been kind to the 5,633-yard, par-71 course located up on a hillside. In 2009, Scozzola opened a renovated clubhouse to try to attract more customers, but it wasn’t enough.

In addition, the quality of the course suffered because of the drought and the popularity of the sport had been in a consistent decline since the public learned about professional golfer Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs, Wilke said.

So, in May 2017, the City Council decided to eliminate the golf enterprise fund from the city budget and modified its agreement with Scozzola to give him more time to turn the course around. However, Wilke said it is time to look for a new operator.

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Depending on how talks go between the city and Scozzola, Wilke said the city might have to step in and take over operations of the facility until a new operator can be selected.

Scozzola declined to comment on the request-for-proposal process.

Wilke said the request was written in a way that wouldn’t limit the types of proposals the city would receive. The new operator might be someone who would just want to take over operations of the course or they could be someone who would be willing to invest millions of dollars to repair and improve the facility.

Marisa Garcia, assistant director of parks and recreation for the city, said the largest issue that needs to be addressed is the course’s irrigation system, which dates back to the 1960s.

Wilke added that businesses such as Topgolf, which is known for its entertainment-focused driving ranges, have been interested in moving to Burbank.

“We didn’t just want to say that it had to be X, Y or Z,” Wilke said. “We wanted some creativity from those who are going to come back and respond to the [request].”

Though Burbank officials are willing to hear from anyone who submits a proposal, Wilke said the request clearly states that the city has no money to offer applicants to assist them with a project.

Garcia added that, although the request states that the agreement would be for a five-year term, she said city officials could be willing to negotiate a longer term if the applicant is willing to invest capital into the course.

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“We’re optimistic and hopeful that something good will come from all of this,” Wilke said. “The [City] Council over the years has done everything they can to try and make this facility successful … Of course you hope you can find a partner that will invest in that facility so it will be nicer for the community, and you also hope that you break even.”

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