East Hampton Town officials will soon be vetting two proposals by private businesses to manage the town-owned tennis courts on Abrahams Path in Amagansett.
Scott Rubenstein, the managing member of East Hampton Indoor Tennis Club, LLC and Claude Okin, the owner of Sportime Amagansett, were the only two to submit proposals sometime last week, according to Councilwoman Theresa Quigley.
Their bids came in response to a town request for proposals to renovate and operate the four tennis courts, which have fallen into disrepair. The RFP was issued by the town on January 19, according to Jeanne Carroza, the town’s purchasing agent. She declined to provide copies of the proposals on Monday, noting that the Town Board had not yet reviewed them, but both Mr. Rubenstein and Mr. Okin gave some details about their pitches in interviews this week.
Private sector management of town assets is not a new theme in Supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s administration. He and Ms. Quigley have also called for the hiring of a private company run the town’s scavenger waste plant. But lately, that kind of thinking has touched a sore spot among some constituents, who are concerned that such a philosophy could rule out use of town property by residents.
“They’re selling everything,” said Elaine Jones, an Amagansett resident and chairwoman of the East Hampton Independence Party, who is opposed to the idea. She said the courts, known as the Terry King courts, were always meant to be town-operated and designed to be free for the children in the community.
The tennis courts wouldn’t be the first privately managed town asset in the area. Just across the street, Mr. Okin runs the Sportime Multi-sport Arena, which used to be the town hockey rink known as the Terry King Recreational Center. Mr. Okin was given a 15-year contract to upgrade and operate the rink last January after town officials decided that it was expensive to run. Ms. Quigley provided figures from Budget Officer Len Bernard stating the facility used to cost the town about $84,720 a year to maintain.
Now, Mr. Okin is paying the town a fee of about $35,000 a year for his company, Sportime, to run the facility.
In his proposal to the town, Mr. Okin is looking to convert the outdoor tennis courts into indoor courts—a renovation that could cost somewhere between $1.5 million and $2.5 million, he said. In exchange for that investment, he said he’d be seeking a five-year extension on the contract with the town on the arena, to make it a 20-year contract. Over the life of the contract, he expects to pay the town a total $1.6 million in annual licensing fees to use both the tennis courts and arena.
The arena is currently generating $300,000 in revenues, Mr. Okin said, adding that he expects it will eventually generate $500,000. He said the four additional tennis courts, if converted into indoor courts, could generate an estimated $500,000 per year on their own. Mr. Okin also plans to offer discounted rates for town residents to use the courts.
For his part, Mr. Rubenstein said he would like to see the town continue to operate and maintain the courts—not an outside business. He said he’s concerned that the town is rushing into privatizing the courts.
“I think as someone who’s lived in East Hampton for 43 years and pays taxes here and owns some property, my family is here … I would tell you I think it should be left alone and kept public, or that we should look into it.”
At the same time, Mr. Rubenstein said it would be “foolish” from a business standpoint for him not to submit a proposal. He stressed, though, that he would keep the courts as outdoor facilities. His proposal includes a $10,000 annual fee he would pay the town for use of the courts. He would also offer discounted rates for residents, who would be able to use the courts during weekends.
One of Mr. Rubenstein’s arguments is that handing over the facility to a private enterprise like Mr. Okin’s could ultimately rule out town residents, turning a public-private partnership into a private business. Mr. Rubenstein said he’s wondering if there’s even a need for more tennis courts, noting there are about 15 public tennis courts in town.
“Maybe at this point in East Hampton’s recreational world, maybe tennis courts aren’t the best thing there. Maybe they should really open it up and take the courts out and make it volleyball courts or basketball courts,” he said.
But Mr. Okin countered that upgrading the dilapidated courts would actually enhance and encourage use among the community.
“Those tennis courts have barely been playable for tennis players for years,” Mr. Okin said. “Actually, my view that renovating them, making them brand new, would open up a town resource to residents, not shut them down.”