By LIZ BUTTON
Moving forward on its journey to outsource Rye Golf Club’s food and beverage operations, the city is currently vetting six proposals it received last month from companies interested in taking over management of Whitby Castle’s restaurant and catering facility.
Over the past decade, Whitby Castle has been a financial liability for the city-owned-and-operated Rye Golf Club, with an estimated deficit of $650,000 calculated for 2013.
A temporary review committee dubbed the RFP Review Committee and organized by new Mayor Joe Sack, a Republican, had its first meeting Jan. 6 to begin looking over the submitted proposals for the restaurant.
All eight members of the review committee, which consists of members of the Rye City Council, the Rye Golf Club Commission and the Rye Golf Club Strategic Committee, were made to sign confidentiality agreements to guard companies’ proprietary information during this part of the process.
Sack said confidentiality of the companies’ corporate and financial information is something that is currently in the best the interest of the city, and City Manager Scott Pickup said the agreement works to increase the confidence of the candidates in the selection process.
“Legally, none of these proposals are subject to [the Freedom of Information Law], unless and until an agreement is struck,” Sack said. “Even if that weren’t the case, I think releasing the particulars about these proposals would inhibit the ability of the city to negotiate with these folks.”
While all proposals are confidential, one City Council member said he has a good impression so far.
“I have seen the proposals and, although they are confidential, I can say that several of them are very promising,” Republican Councilman Terry McCartney, who is not on the committee, said.
The RFP Review Committee consists of Sack, councilwomen Julie Killian and Kirstin Bucci; three members of the Rye Golf Club Commission—recently ele-cted former Councilman Mack Cunningham and Leon Sculti and re-elected commission chairman John Duffy; and two members of the Rye Golf Club Strategic Committee, former golf commissioner Angela Sposato and RFP Review Committee chairman and current golf club interim co-manager Peter Marshall
Marshall was also the chairman of the golf club’s existing strategic committee, which was originally in charge of crafting Whitby’s request for proposals.
The strategic committee presented the draft document to the previous City Council at its Oct. 23, 2013, meeting. The council, as it was comprised under former Mayor Douglas French, a Republican, reached a consensus of approval on the draft and, later that night, voted to authorize the city manager to hire Steve Zagor & Associates, a consulting company providing restaurant industry expertise, for an amount not to exceed $10,000 to review and distribute the city’s RFP.
The city took over the castle’s food and beverage operations from contractor Restaurant Asso-ciates in 2006, but after a few years, it became clear the city was losing money operating the castle on its own.
The crafting of an RFP began in earnest in late 2013, when interim golf club manager Jim Lopolito announced at a Sept. 27 golf commission meeting the castle was projected to run at a $650,000 deficit for the year.
Outsourcing the castle become an election issue during the November 2013 mayoral campaign, as the issue was especially pertinent in the aftermath of last year’s financial scandal at the club.
Former Rye Golf Club manager Scott Yandrasevich, a city employee, allegedly set up shell staffing companies to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars in members’ dues.
Over the coming weeks, the RFP Review Committee will analyze the proposals, find a preferred vendor as well as an alternate vendor, draft a contract and begin negotiations with the committee’s choice.
As of press time, the committee has met three times and has two more meetings currently scheduled for the month of January. The goal is to have the choices narrowed to one at the end of the month.
Pickup is optimistic the committee will choose a company’s proposal to present at the City Council’s Feb. 26 meeting, at which time the proposal will be publicly debated and the council has the option to vote on a contract.
A quick decision would give the chosen vendor enough time to reopen the castle under its own direction sometime in May, the height of golf and pool season.
The club is currently closed for the season and will re-open in March.