MERIDEN — The City Council this week unanimously approved bonding $875,000 for a new banquet hall at the city-owned Hunter Memorial Golf Course.
City officials want to build the banquet facility at the golf course, which currently hosts events in a temporary tent structure, because it will allow the municipal course to host more golf tournaments and private events. City officials hope that, in turn, will generate enough revenue to pay off the bonds and attract economic development.
“When the city can invest in something that pays for itself as you go along and then, after the bonds are (paid), is then a revenue stream for the city that’s not property tax, some people would refer to those as ‘no-brainer resolutions,’” said Democratic Councilor Brian Daniels, chairman of the council’s Finance Committee.
The banquet facility has a total price tag of $1,071,963, assuming a 4 percent interest rate. The city intends to use a $406,040 state grant to offset some of the cost.
City officials anticipate $366,468 in additional revenue from rentals and $305,600 from tournaments over 20 years. The city projects it will receive net revenue of $6,145 in the bond period and continue to collect additional revenues after that.
City officials want the facility to have a seating capacity of at least 150 people because full golf tournaments include 144 people. A committee appointed by the mayor — including Daniels, City Manager Tim Coon, City Councilor Bob Williams, Golf Commission member Patsy Papandrea and a representative from the Midstate Chamber of Commerce to be named later — will oversee the project.
Democratic Councilor Miguel Castro questioned why the city didn’t aim for a larger capaicty, but Coon said the city is trying to keep costs to roughly $800,000. It’s possible some contractors will submit bids with more space, but not much more, Coon said.
The city expects the facility will be operated by Violi’s, the restaurant currently operating at Hunter’s. The city’s lease with Violi’s expires in October, and the new agreement is expected to include a higher rent due to the banquet hall. The owner of Viloi’s wasn’t available for comment Tuesday.
Democratic City Councilor Bruce Fontanella raised concerns that events at the hall will affect residents that live near the golf course.
“At the same time when we want to have these revenues, we also have to respect the fact that we only have limited space in a rural, residential area,” Fontanella said. “It’s important to preserve the integrity and the peace and quiet of those neighborhoods.”
Fontanella, an attorney, represented a group of neighboring residents about 20 or 30 years ago when the restaurant was built. Neighbors opposed the new restaurant at the time, arguing the commercial venue didn’t conform with the zoning regulations of the surrounding zone.
“What we tried to prevent was the restaurant and bar staying open to two in the morning because that would disrupt the neighborhood, which isn't even supposed to have a restaurant,” Fontanella said.
The city, Fontanella said, wasn’t required to conform to its own zoning regulations in building its own restaurant, but the question was whether the restaurant tenant should be forced to comply. The city ultimately agreed to prohibit the restaurant from operating past 10 p.m.
Fontanella supported the project, but said he wanted the curfew to remain in place in the new lease. The hall is expected to host a variety of private and corporate functions and Fontanella said he’s unsure how a 10 p.m. “curfew” would impact the new rent.
The city is basing its revenue projections for the facility on an assumed initial rent increase of $1,300, with a subsequent annual increase of 1.67 percent. While negotiations aren’t complete, officials said those assumed increases are “conservative.” The projected revenue also assumes five more tournaments will be played at Hunter’s annually and each tournament will generate $3,056, meaning an additional $305,600 over 20 years.
Daniels said Hunter has lost tournaments over the years because the course does not have a banquet facility. Hunter’s has been previously named the number seven public golf course in the state by Pub Links magazine, and was also named a top 10 course by the Connecticut Magazine.
“It’s a four-star facility. This will clearly make Hunter’s a five-star facility,” Williams said.