At the end of this year, Mark Nance will go from operating three city golf facilities to not having a single one. Whose fault that is depends on who’s talking. Nance says Indy Parks and Recreation told him in 2016 he would get at least one contract to operate a facility if he gave up a five-year extension the city offered him years earlier. The parks department says it made no such promise to Nance and that his bid simply wasn’t good enough this time around.
Nance, president of MAN Golf Management, has operated Riverside Golf Course and Riverside Golf Academy since 2010 and Coffin Golf Club since 2009. In 2015, during the last year of former Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration, Indy Parks offered Nance and other vendors a five-year extension on their contracts. Nance took the extension.
But one of his golf courses, Coffin, was running into constant struggles. Construction projects from the Department of Public Works and Marian University, along with flooding, made what’s supposed to be one of the city’s best public golf courses unplayable at times.
Nance said, as a result, he had a meeting in the fall of 2016 with Indy Parks Director Linda Broadfoot and Chief Financial Officer Angie Clark, among others, who offered him a deal: If Nance backed out of his five-year extension, he would get at least one contract for a golf facility when his current deal expired.
That time has come. Nance’s contracts are up at the end of the year, and Indy Parks awarded contracts to Coffin and Riverside Golf Academy to RN Thompson Development, a familiar group for golfers in the area who play at both private and public courses. Nance’s other facility, Riverside Golf Course, is closing at the end of the year as part of an Indy Parks redevelopment project.
(Coffin and Riverside Golf Course, along with South Grove Golf Course, are part of Riverside Regional Park.)
“It’s very obvious they want me out, and it looks like that’s what’s gonna happen,” Nance said in an interview at Coffin. “But the fight will continue whether I’m here or not. What they’ve done to me is wrong in so many ways.”
Mike O’Toole, who manages Riverside Golf Academy, said he was at the meeting in 2016. He doesn’t remember if Indy Parks staff made an explicit guarantee to Nance but said “they sure made the impression” that he would get a new contract in 2019.
Indy Parks spokesperson Ronnetta Spalding said that meeting in 2016 did take place, but parks department staff didn’t tell Nance he would get another contract when the agreement expired. She cited Indiana law, which requires these public-private operating agreements to go through a formal request-for-proposal process.
Bids are ranked according to the best value for taxpayers, and Nance’s bid was ranked fifth out of six, according to Spalding. He did not advance to the final negotiation stage, where bidders can change the details of their bids in negotiations with the parks department.
The parks department does not dispute that the struggles at Coffin are due in part to flooding and construction — things outside of Nance’s control — but the city has given Nance more than $400,000 in subsidies, which has been used to offset some utility costs and insurance.
Nance is the only vendor subsidized by the city because Coffin has faced more obstacles than other facilities. Nance said he’s lost $2.7 million over the last 10 years, and a comprehensive analysis of golf facilities by the city showed projected revenue at Coffin to be down more than $68,000 by 2022 compared to 2017, while revenue for all golf facilities was projected to climb by more than 4%.
The Indianapolis City-County Council still needs to approve the new vendor contracts for city golf facilities, but Nance knows he’s running out of time. Since vendors own everything at their facilities, down to the tables and chairs, he’ll have to start selling things before December.
Nance said he’ll probably be out of the golf business if he isn’t somehow able to salvage a contract.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.