News

Walter reverses course on Great Rock

Things at Great Rock Golf Course in Wading River are apparently looking a lot greener — on and off the links. And, having learned that Great Rock is actually in better financial shape than he’d believed, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is backing away from his plan to help out.

“In January, they came to us hat in hand, saying they were going out of business in three months,” Mr. Walter said. “My thought was that if the business model of a golf course and a restaurant doesn’t work, we’d have a look at it. But since they’ve now announced that they’re not going out of business, I see no need to have that conversation.

“The town is not in a bailout situation.”

About three weeks ago, Mr. Walter announced at a public Town Board meeting that Great Rock’s owners had told him the golf course would be closing in about 90 days, and that Great Rock was seeking permission to construct 54 rental villas on the course and had submitted a petition signed by 100 neighbors of the course supporting a public hearing on such a proposal. The supervisor later even suggested that the town take the deed to the golf course in exchange for a code amendment allowing the villas.

But last week, Vic Prusinowski, a consultant for Great Rock, said in an interview with the News-Review that the golf course was not going out of business in three months, as the supervisor had said, and that they were merely “looking for a way to stabilize the profit structure.”

The golf club and the restaurant on the course also ran newspaper ads stating, “Great Rock Golf Club and Blackwells Restaurant are alive and well and open for the 2010 season.”

“My position is, they told us they were broke, now they say everything’s fine,” Mr. Walter said. “The issue is resolved for good, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not interested in going any further with this.”

But Mr. Prusinowski said his comment had been made in response to a question about whether the course was closing in three months, as the supervisor had said.

“You asked me if we were going out of business in three months, I said no,” Mr. Prusinowski told a reporter. “I did say we were looking to stabilize the profit structure. The golf course is not making money, and [the villas] would be a way to stabilize the profit structure so the golf course can continue.”

Mr. Prusinowski said that while the golf course isn’t facing closure this summer, it will have to close at some point if its revenues don’t change.

The advertisement, he said, was in response to the many calls they had received from people asking if they were going under.

Great Rock and Blackwells have a combined total of 60 full- and part-time employees and pay $154,000 per year in property taxes, he said.

Mr. Walter said he discussed the Great Rock proposal at a meeting of the Suffolk County 9-12 chapter, a so-called Tea Party group, last week. They believed his original position of possibly changing the zoning or the town code to allow for the villas constituted a “corporate bailout,” he said.

The supervisor said he asked the group for a show of hands as to how many of its members felt that way, and “everybody” raised their hands.

“They were not happy,” he said. “I did not see it as a corporate bailout, but sometimes you have to sit back and really listen to what you’re saying. When I tried to describe it to them, I said to myself, ‘That is a corporate bailout.’â”

Mr. Prusinowski said Great Rock is not looking for a “bailout.”

He said they would pay even more property taxes if the villas were permitted. The project also would have no impact on the school district, he said, since the villas would be rentals geared toward retirees.

“The only thing we’re asking for is a public hearing to be able to make a presentation to the community and let everyone have their say,” Mr. Prusinowski said. “What is the problem with having a hearing?”

Councilman John Dunleavy said he still wants to hear what the residents who live around Great Rock have to say, and he’s considering sending them all a letter asking for their feedback. He says that feedback would then be weighed with other factors, such as how the golf course would be affected, in forming his opinion.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio also feels a public hearing should be held.

“Everyone should be entitled to a hearing,” she said. “No one should be precluded from speaking.”

But Councilman George Gabrielsen agreed with the supervisor.

“After hearing them say they’re bankrupt, and then they’re not bankrupt, as far as I’m concerned, I wouldn’t give them an audience,” he said. “I’m not for giving them a bailout and I don’t think the government should be in the business of taking over their land. Let the financial markets work it out for them, because their financial problems shouldn’t become the town’s burden.”

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