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Estimated $4.7 Million Devou Park Clubhouse Project Takes Step Forward

It's been more than two years since the City of Covington first began to explore the possibility of replacing the clubhouse at Devou Park's golf course and on Tuesday night, the city commission voted 4-1 to solicit proposals for the estimated $4.7 million project.

Commissioner Steve Frank has been an opponent of the project since early on and on Tuesday voiced concerns about the cost, scope, and cash flow potential of the proposed clubhouse and events center. Other commissioners told Frank that Tuesday's vote did not authorize any expenditures and only authorized a request for proposals from potential construction companies.

The debate over the future of the proposed clubhouse accompanied a presentation by the Devou Properties Board and the Devou Park Advisory Committee. Each year, a portion of the proceeds from the Drees Pavilion, which is located in the park, is reinvested into capital projects there. This year's contribution, combined with unused funds from last year, is $418,000. $200,000 has been allocated for the clubhouse project, said Barbara Drees-Jones of the Devou Properties Board.

"We have a golf course that has been in the park since 1922, so there is a rich history for golf and golf courses need clubhouses," Drees-Jones said. "We are in need of a new clubhouse."

The pro forma created to estimate the project's costs indicates that the money would be bonded by the City of Covington and payments would likely not be made until 2030. Supporters of the project said Tuesday that the project would ultimately create revenue. Frank was not convinced.

"I haven't had a chance to kick the tires enough to make sure that I'm satisfied that we're not going to be left one day with a liability on our balance sheets that we're not going to have the cash flow to maintain," Frank said. He expressed a worry that golf is losing popularity with a younger generation and that public courses in particular have run into financial difficulties. "I am very grateful for the Drees Pavilion money, but if a future board changes, I'd like to know what our guarantees are. Until we have the discussion about what our needs are within the city, it's hard for me to sit here and say we make a commitment."

"I don't think it's putting us on a train that's not going to stop. I think it is providing us information we are going to need," Commissioner Chuck Eilerman said. Meanwhile, Frank also expressed concern about a public facility that would compete with private industry. The new clubhouse would replace the long-suffering one in the park where visitors are not permitted on the uninhabitable second floor. The new clubhouse would be a modern facility with a full service cafe and and a events center. The design was created by Covington-based Hub + Weber Architects.

Supporters argued that a market analysis indicated that there would be sufficient business for the new facility as well as surrounding events centers.

Frank continued to express his concerns. "Thank you gift horse, please don't be upset if I take a minute before I eat this carrot," he said. "That's my feeling." In the fall of 2013, Frank vowed to quash the clubhouse proposal amid concerns from Park Hills residents. "I just don't want it," he said at the time. "The only people that want it is the park board and they only want it because they have an embarrassment of riches."

Natalie Gardner, with the City of Covington, said Tuesday that Park Hills leaders and residents have been engaged and that the plans have been altered to create more of a buffer between the Park Hills residences and the parking lot that would service the new clubhouse. The green on Hole 10 would also be relocated.

"Recreation amenities come at an expense," Gardner said. "You're not looking to make revenues. We just approved $100,000 for a playground in Goebel Park. There's going to be no revenue from that. This is one of those instances in which we would actually be making money on a building that can pay for itself. We pay $200,000 a year for pools for nine weeks."

Other funds from the Drees Pavilion include $10,000 for Gus Sheehan Park (which received $140,000 last year and will soon have new playground equipment); $25,000 for the Behringer-Crawford Museum veranda improvement (the museum received $175,600 in 2013); $40,000 to make the overlook accessible to all with a new ramp; $25,000 for repaving the walking trails; $45,500 for a large scale wood chipper; and $70,500 for golf cart path repairs.

"What a great, lasting gift the Drees Pavilion has been," City Manager Larry Klein said. "When you think about it, the $3.5 to $4 million that have been generated and put back the park is a much greater gift than if the family had just written a check. It's really the gift that keeps giving. it has been the salvation of Devou Park."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News