From the outset, ANI officials doggedly insisted that the function of the new clubhouse was to provide facilities "for the comfort of users of the golf course". In a deposition from January 2003, Dale Stastny swore under oath that NO non-golf related functions would be allowed in the building, weddings and wedding receptions specifically would not be permitted in the clubhouse, and that if someone asked to hold such an event in the clubhouse, they would be told "no".
However, we always suspected that the ANI planned to operate the golf clubhouse as another party rental facility from its inception. While they denied the charge every step of the way in public, we believe that they planned the building for this use all along. From the beginning, the food service in the clubhouse made up a far greater proportion of the facility's revenue than they claimed it would (24% vs 3%), as we pointed out long ago for 2003, which was the first full year of operation. (see The Clubhouse Reality III).
Just before Katrina, we analyzed the activity at the clubhouse once again. During the period from April 2004 to April 2005, there were 79 private functions held at the clubhouse, broken down as follows:
Weddings: 18 events, revenue $129,203.58
Private parties: 14 events, revenue $44,924.75
Corporate parties: 22 events, revenue $66,303.55
Golf tournament meals: 16 events, revenue $21,109.17
Misc events: 9 events, revenue $8829.99
Thus a total of private rental revenue of $270,371, of which 48% was from weddings, and 89% was from functions having absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with golf. And these were early years: since that time, the ANI openly advertises the golf clubhouse as a rental facility for private parties, weddings, etc, just as it does the Tea Room.
We have not gone back and reviewed any of their financial records since the storm, but anyone spending any time in the park can tell that the number of private functions held at the clubhouse has increased steadily over the past several years. In fact, members of the neighboring Upper Audubon Association have made complaints about the noise from nighttime activities at the new clubhouse, and made inquiries as to what the permitted uses for operation were supposed to be. Unfortunately, since the ANI insisted unequivocally (all the way through the municipal and state court system, in fact) that the building was to be used only as a golf clubhouse, and absolutely not as a restaurant or party rental facility, it naturally received none of the restrictions or operating conditions that would have been applied to a restaurant or banquet rental facility operating in that location.
Once we found out how significant were the profits from their various food service facilities such as the Tea Room, we started to suspect that the entire golf course renovation, having clearly nothing to do with Audubon's primary wildlife business, had never been anything but a pretext to get another party rental facility built in Audubon Park. Such a facility is not allowed under present zoning without the "it's a clubhouse" cover.
The Audubon 2000 master plan from the early '90's proposed considerable increases in revenue to be generated from food concessions and gift shops. Constrained by zoning regulations, all such activities, the Audubon Tea Room and Audubon Marketplace among them, had to be squeezed within the zoo boundaries. While the rediscovery of their long-neglected golf course was never part of Audubon 2000, if there had been any doubt that the cornerstone of the redevelopment was the construction of a new 8000 sf restaurant/clubhouse in the park itself, the complete shelving of the project for a year because they lacked the money for this new building made that perfectly clear. The ANI has also been strongly, and successfully, advocating changing the zoning for parks to allow for any commercial developments they may choose to adopt in the future.