AMSTERDAM — The Amsterdam Common Council remains divided over plans to operate a bar and restaurant at the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
The council voted 3 to 2 this week to waive the 30-day waiting period normally required for a liquor license because in this case, the applicant is the city itself.
City Corporation Counsel William Lorman told the council it was within its rights to waive the 30-day period since it only exists to allow the city to respond to liquor license applications.
Deputy Mayor James Martuscello, a Democrat who represents the 5th ward, said newly hired Amsterdam Muni golf pro Kevin Canale is going to oversee the bar and restaurant and would like to begin operation as soon as possible. The golf season at the course, weather permitting, typically starts in April and runs until October.
"We're trying to raise revenue," Martuscello said.
The restaurant plan is part of a shake-up at the municipal golf course aimed at raising revenue and helping it to break even. During the 2017-18 fiscal year the course operated with a $169,000 deficit, bringing in $422,500 in revenue with operating costs of $591,550.
The city hired Canale in December for $56,000, plus a $20,000 stipend for operating the concessions. He will also take in the proceeds for the pro shop, which will be stocked with merchandise from his funds. Canale has the experience of having run a municipally-owned concession operation at his previous employer Brookhaven Golf Course in Porter Corners, Saratoga County.
"I personally think that we will be profitable. I've been in the business for a number of years. I've managed and owned the concessions at golf courses," Canale said.
Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas said the golf course is on track to have a $256,000 operating deficit for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which ends in June. He said the golf course has an accumulated deficit of $772,000, not counting the current fiscal year.
"We're in the hole more than a $1 million," Dybas said of Amsterdam Muni.
The golf courses deficit is part of the city's overall $8.3 million budget deficit, built up over a period of years.
Mayor Michael Villa said the city had contracted for about 15 years with Laura Elmendorf to operate the concessions sold at the Muni Clubhouse. He said Elmendorf had been able to make a profit, so hopefully the city can do the same.
"This is a new venture, but Kevin is the right person to take this on. I think the return on investment in the clubhouse is going to make a difference. This is like starting up a business, so initially there are going to be some up front costs, like food purchases, alcohol purchases, some equipment upgrades, but look we have lost numerous tournaments because the facility was not up to standards, and the tournaments got rubbed the wrong way and was not up to standards," Villa said.
Dybas, and 3rd Ward Alderwoman Irene Collins, both Democrats, voted against the waiver, expressing skepticism about the plan.
Collins said she is concerned about the increased liabilities incurred by the city from selling alcohol, and from the costs involved with hiring bartenders and experienced cooks.
“How is this going to create revenue?" Collins asked during Tuesday night's meeting. "We are a city. We are not here to run a concession stand, a bar. We are here to protect the tax dollars."
Martuscello defended the bar and restaurant plan. He said it will help the golf course to become solvent.
“Nothing makes more revenue than liquor,” he said.
Dybas said he hopes the city's plan to operate the clubhouse restaurant and bar is a huge success, because if it isn't he doubts New York state will tolerate the city spending money on the venture if the state allows Amsterdam to move forward with a plan of "deficit financing."
"I've talked to other cities that have been through deficit financing, and I think this is a bridge way too far," he said.
Villa's administration backs a plan to request special "home rule" legislation from the New York State Legislature to allow the city to borrow enough money to clear off its $8.3 million budget deficit, and then pay back the debt over time.
Villa said he has discussed the issue of the golf course and the restaurant and bar plan with state officials.
"We will cooperate in any manner that the state lays out for us. I broached this subject when I met with them, but we have to try," he said.
Villa said the city will need to hire one full-time cook for the restaurant and some part time employees.
Martuscello said one recent complication is that the water pipes at the clubhouse have burst, and the city is seeking to make an insurance claim to pay the cost of repairing them.
Canale said he plans to keep the clubhouse restaurant open for longer than just the golfing season. He said he'd like to keep it open for Sunday brunches year-round, plus he envisions making the space available for catered events during the off-season.
He said he's also like to open the golf course up for some winter events, including a winter carnival, and possibly cross country skiing on the golf course. He said he will present the common council with his budget plan for the restaurant bar at its Feb. 19 meeting.
First Ward Alderman Patrick Russo and 2nd Ward Alderman Paul Ochal, along with Martuscello, voted in favor of waiving the 30-day waiting period for the liquor license.
Russo, who is not related to deceased former 1st Ward Alderman Ed Russo, but whose family owns Russo's Grill in Amsterdam, said he supports the bar and restaurant plan.
"You can make money with a restaurant," he said.