Aspen council postpones decision on lease for golfing school

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
carlrabito.comCarl Rabito

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday postponed a decision on a proposed lease agreement between its municipal golf course and Carl Rabito Golf Academies after interim Councilwoman Ruth Kruger questioned details of the contract.

If the lease is approved, the course would be partnering with a nationally recognized golf school, allowing the city to step up its efforts in marketing the club as an attractive destination for golfers from around the country, Director of Golf Steve Aitken said in a memorandum last month to other city officials.

Carl Rabito was recently ranked by Golf Magazine as one of the Top 100 teachers in the world. He is one of 43 PGA-certified master teaching professionals in the United States. The contract calls for him to come to Aspen to oversee the school on four separate occasions each season, at no extra expense.

Kruger, a mayoral candidate, said she wanted more details about the lease and the effect of the golf school’s programs on existing programs in the area. She said that given the council’s recent scrutiny on the long-term lease for the Wheeler Opera House restaurant space, it wouldn’t be fair to approve a contract for a golf school without studying all the details in advance.

“I’m not ready to rubber stamp a contract,” she said of the lease agreement, which calls for start-up costs of $15,000 annually to Rabito Golf.

The lease is structured so that the city will receive 30 percent of the gross sales of the golf-school operation on its first $100,000 in revenue, as well as a smaller percentage on sales above that amount, should that occur.

Kruger acknowledged that she might not be as up to speed on the golf-school issue as the other council members. The council held a work session March 21 on the possibility of bringing the renowned golf school to Aspen Golf Club.

But Kruger attended that meeting, having been sworn in on the council a week earlier. However, she was not part of the governmental entity from December to February, the period in which city staff advertised for golf school operators and conducted interviews with finalists.

In early March, Kruger was chosen to serve out the remaining months of the council term of Dwayne Romero, who resigned to take a job in state government. On March 30, she filed a petition to qualify for the mayoral election, which will be held May 3. She faces incumbent Mick Ireland and another challenger, Andrew Kole, in the contest.

At Monday’s meeting, Aitken and Aspen Parks Director Jeff Woods said they would meet with Kruger anytime to answer any questions she had about the agreement. But Woods added that timing is important, as the golf course is close to opening. He said any delay lasting longer than two or three weeks could affect the school’s starting date or the arrangement with Rabito Golf.

Ireland said it was better to postpone the decision a week, saying he wanted every council member to feel comfortable about their vote.

Nationally, municipal golf courses rarely turn a profit and are subsidized by the cities that own them. The goal of many golf operations is to bring in visitors from other destinations as a way of fueling other aspects of the economy.

Still, Kruger said it was important to go over terms of the lease given that the course has lost over $500,000 in the last six years. She also questioned expenses for advertising and office space for the golf school. Additionally, she said she would have preferred that the contract go to a local applicant.

Aitken and Woods said there was a local candidate who was qualified, but in the end the Rabito Golf School was deemed the better choice. Aitken said Rabito had a teaching style that’s “very progressive,” focusing on what a student’s body “can and can’t do.” The school had huge revenue growth in a short amount of time at a course in the Chicago area, he said. The school will also make use of local instructors, Aitken added.

Kruger said she would like the contract to have some built-in performance guarantees. She also questioned the length of the contract, designed for three years. Woods said if the city is not happy with the school, the contract can be terminated any time with 90 days notice.

Kruger said she was worried that the golf school would compete with the city’s existing junior golf program. Woods said the local junior golf program and the golf school would complement each other and that the operators of the local junior golf program support the golf school.

Councilmen Derek Johnson and Steve Skadron said they supported the contract as written and were prepared to vote on it immediately. But Ireland said another meeting or work session on the golf-school contract wouldn’t hurt. Councilman Torre said he also might have a few more questions on the matter, especially on issue of lesson fees, but that he also supports the initiative.

In related business, Aitken said snow on the golf course is melting fast, and the facility – at least the golf range – may be ready to open within a matter of days.