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Burbank officials seek more information about possible new DeBell operator

Burbank officials seek more information about possible new DeBell operator
The Burbank City Council is discussing whether Touchstone Golf should be the new operator of DeBell Golf Course. (File Photo)

The financially-strapped DeBell Golf Course in Burbank may soon have a new operator, but city officials opted this week to get more information before taking a swing with the company.

The Burbank City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to table until Dec. 11 its discussion on whether golf-course management company Touchstone Golf should be in charge of maintenance and operation of the par-71 course and clubhouse located up in the Verdugo Mountains off Walnut Avenue until Dec. 11.

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Council members Jess Talamantes and Tim Murphy cast the dissenting votes.

The agreement on the table is a five-year deal with an option for an additional five years. The annual revenue for fiscal year 2019-20 is projected to be roughly $3 million, with expenditures estimated to be about $2.7 million, according to Marisa Garcia, the city’s assistant director of parks and recreation.

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Burbank would pay Touchstone $8,000 a month to run the day-to-day operations, and any revenue generated would go back to the city to be used for deferred maintenance on the golf course, which includes replacing the irrigation system and improving the driving range.

Touchstone, which is based in Austin, Texas, was the top pick by city staff because of its track record with other municipal golf courses.

The company currently manages 36 golf courses throughout the country, of which 13 are municipal facilities.

They include Shoreline Golf Links in Mountain View, Chula Vista Golf Course in San Diego County and the Blue Rock Springs Golf Club in Vallejo.

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Currently, the city has contracts with three companies to oversee various operational components of DeBell — Burbank Management Group, Inc. is in charge of food and beverage concessions, BrightView Golf Maintenance Inc. maintains the golf course and landscaping and EZGo Golf manages the golf carts.

Touchstone would be in charge of all those aspects should the city choose to enter into an agreement with the company.

Those three service providers have been in charge of maintenance and operations of the facility since July after Scott Scozzola, whose family has been the operator of the facility since 1971, opted to end his agreement with the city in March.

Scozzola and the city have tried to breathe life back into DeBell, such as renovating the clubhouse. However, the decline in popularity of golf over the last decade combined with the recession has made it nearly impossible to make the golf course profitable, city officials have said.

Mark Luthman, president of Touchstone, said he is confident that the company can reach the projected $3 million in revenue for fiscal year 2019-20 to help get the facility back on its feet.

However, Burbank will need to make some expenditures to jump start the process.

Garcia said the city would need to front the potential new operator $1.35 million to cover estimated operational expenses for the first six months of operation.

Additionally, she said the city would need to purchase its own landscaping equipment for Touchstone to use, which is expected to cost $460,000.

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The six months of operational costs are expected to be made back through revenue generated by the facility. However, Garcia said the city needs to purchase landscaping equipment because BrightView’s contract ends on Dec. 7, and the company is unwilling to sell its current tools.

To give the council members perspective, Garcia said Burbank currently pays BrightView $55,635 a month to maintain the golf course.

Vice Mayor Sharon Springer said she was hesitant to make a decision Tuesday because she thought Touchstone would be the outright operator of DeBell and the city wouldn’t have to pay additional costs pertaining to its operation and maintenance.

Because the City Council opted to hold off on awarding an agreement with a new operator, Judie Wilke, the city’s director of parks and recreation, told officials that her staff does not maintain golf courses and her department would need to figure out how to keep up the facility until a decision is made.

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