Save Audubon Park
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Build me a clubhouse
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Taking liberties...
1park n : 3 a : an area maintained in its natural state as a public property. Webster

Welcome to is a grass-roots citizens group formed in 2001 in reaction to the Audubon Nature Institute's plans to rebuild and expand the historic Audubon Park Golf Course.

Initially we protested the underhanded way in which the Audubon Commission/Audubon Nature Institute implemented its development plan, and we sought to mitigate some of the worst aspects of their proposal. We had some successes: the Hurst Walk public path was ostensibly retained, although lack of subsequent ANI maintenance means it is slowly disappearing; the site of the new golf clubhouse was changed to one that would do less damage to the park; and the AC/ANI was forced to begin a Master Plan design process that had been long requested, long overdue, and long ignored.

We remain concerned that the complacent composition of the public Audubon Commission, coupled with the unceasing profit agenda of the private Audubon Nature Institute, will mean that the Park's future will remain one of ad hoc and commercially-driven development not based on any consideration of the general public interest. Until a reconstituted Audubon Commission takes public input and accountability seriously, the ANI will continue to operate outside the purview of our city's zoning ordinances, land use plans, and alcoholic beverage laws.

SaveAudubonPark remains committed to the task of monitoring, reporting and, where possible, contributing to the ongoing planning and development processes in Audubon Park. History and current indicators suggest that this will be a continual trend towards privatization, commercialization and exploitation of this precious park land by forces whose sympathy for the public interest and the preservation of green space in this city is limited.

Putting the 'profit' in non-profit?
As CEO of the ANI, Ron Forman continues to be paid far more than any comparable colleagues by an increasingly wide margin.

Fact or Fiction?
Separating fact from fiction on Audubon's oft-repeated claim that they operate without substantial public funding.

New golf facility continues to lose money  
Despite the ANI's claim that the new golf course was necessary to provide operational funds for maintenance of Audubon Park, their much-heralded new facility finished its first full year of operation (2003) firmly in the red, with a loss of $212,696, plus depreciation of $123,604 for a total Operating Loss of $336,300. Their 'not-a-restaurant' clubhouse food service, however, accounted for 24% of total revenue in 2003, far more than the 3% they had projected.

But even though the ANI quickly began renting the clubhouse as a private party rental facility, something they had vowed would never happen (see below), the golf facility has continued to lose money. The Audubon Golf Course closed 2007 with an Operating Loss of $415,819.

The Clubhouse Cornerstone
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.

A Brief History
For more information about our initial mission, read Who Are We? The following link provides more information about the nature and composition of the Audubon Commission and the Audubon Nature Institute.

Many of our primary concerns about the golf course redevelopment centered around specific issues including the plight of Hurst Walk that was initially slated for removal.

Additionally, we were concerned about the lack of adequate public planning and consultation in the development of this particular initiative.

Now that the golf course redevelopment is complete, and wins or losses, the issues are decided, we are focused on continuing to advocate for a Master Plan for Audubon Park - one that takes the general public interest in the protection of green space into account, and is not primarily devoted to the financial interests of the Audubon Nature Institute.

A Master Plan for Audubon Park
We believe that if a Master Plan for Audubon Park had existed before the golf course redevelopment was started, not only would there have been much less controversy, but the redevelopment would have been more sensitive to the interests of the wider park-going public.

The Audubon Commission and Audubon Nature Institute are now in the process of developing such a plan. However, we are concerned that the plan will not ultimately protect Audubon Park from further unwarranted development brought on by the financial imperatives of its guardians, and at the expense of the passive green space, public accessibility and tranquility of this valuable urban oasis. 

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