Burbank holds off on hiring consultant for troubled DeBell course

Burbank City Council members Thursday delayed a vote to hire a nonprofit golf organization to help turn around the financial fortunes of the debt-ridden DeBell Golf Club, agreeing instead to consider other options.

City officials had recommended to the council the only proposal on the table — a $26,000 contract with the National Golf Foundation, a well-established nonprofit that consults in every facet of the golf business.

Some council members said they were ready to approve the deal, noting that a delay in implementing changes at the course could mean missing peak seasonal opportunities and drive up debts.

“Expediency has got to be paramount,” said Mayor Jeff Talamantes. “You have to really consider that because every month you wait you dig deeper.”

But others pushed for the city to initiate a formal request-for-proposal process to get a fuller look at the available consulting options.

“I think it is important we have a second opinion in here,” said Councilman Gary Bric. “Yes, it is going to delay it 60, 90 days…and I think it is the proper and right thing to do.”

They eventually settled on a compromise — an informal solicitation period during which firms and organizations are free to submit proposals to the city. The proposals will first be considered by a subcommittee, and then will come before the City Council for a vote on Sept. 20.

Burbank officials have spent months trying to figure out how to address the financial woes of DeBell Golf Club. Located in the foothills above the city, it has been losing about $300,000 annually for the last two years.

The decrease in business mirrors that of golf courses across the country, many of which were slammed during the economic recession. Nevertheless, elected officials and community members were caught off guard when the scope of the losses were made public earlier this year.

In June, City Council members approved a two-year, $2-million bailout package for the course, a decision they were forced to defend in the face of budget cuts to firefighter resources, city youth jobs and library improvements. They also created a golf course oversight subcommittee to jump start a turn around.

Proposed solutions included reducing by 10% city contracts with the course golf pro and the course concessions operator, as well as launching an advertising and marketing blitz. In July, a Groupon promotion brought in an additional $45,517.

At the special meeting Thursday, some community members slammed city officials for not being more proactive about course operations.

“I have to say it, and I think I have every right to think it, why didn’t we do these things a long time ago?” Burbank resident LaVerne Thomas said. “This should have been implemented a long time ago.”

Others called on the city to allow current golf course stakeholders the chance to implement their recommendations before bringing in an outside party.

“There is absolutely no reason right now to consider spending $26,000 on a consultant firm,” said Burbank resident Don Pell. “We don’t have to over-complicate this. The golf course has one inventory item to sell, that is tee times…We need to sell more tee times.”

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