Saturday, July 30, 2005
The Lee County School District's recent decision to drop the idea of buying and redeveloping The Golf Club into a five-school campus was a wise move for many reasons. While I won't deny that the city desperately needs more schools, I do not see the logic in taking this 175-acre jewel and sacrificing its greatest asset-green space-for classroom space. That is simply not the highest and best use for an established golf course with tremendous aesthetic value, as well as tremendous potential to be economically viable. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Before discussing ways to enhance the existing facility, I'd like to outline just a few of the reasons why the former Cape Coral Golf & Tennis Resort needs to remain a golf course.
In an area that doesn't have a lot of landmarks, The Golf Club is a significant piece of Cape Coral history. When it opened on Palm Tree Boulevard in 1963 , the Cape Coral Country Club was a dazzling centerpiece for the town as well as an effective sales tool for developer Gulf Association Corporation (GAC). In addition to a clubhouse, with pro shop, dining room and banquet hall, the club included a 100-unit hotel where GAC invited the potential buyers to stay. A social and business hub during its heyday in the 1960's and '70s, the club has been in a financial slump for many years.
The hotel was demolished in 2000, when local developers Ron Davis, Gary Fluharty and Bob D'Andrea purchased the property for $5.5 million. In place of the hotel, they began building Banyan Trace, a luxury condominium with more than 232 units overlooking the golf course. The following year, the trio sold the property (minus the condos) for $3.6 million to developer Scott Siler, who completed more than $4 million worth of renovations to the course in 2002. The club remains a popular place for banquets, business meetings and wedding receptions, and the condos that originally sold for $143,000 have appreciated significantly in the last three years, thanks largely to their golf course views.
Aesthetics & Taxable Value
In addition to the 200-plus condos at Banyan Trace, approximately 170 single-family homes abut the golf course. Most owners will tell you they purchased for the natural setting and relative tranquility of golf course living. Although the school district's preliminary plans called for incorporating a city park, walking trails and lakes within the acedemic campus, the reality is that classroom buildings, parking lots and chainlink fences would have dominated the landscape. Regardless for the need for more schools, I don't see how these types of "improvements" could possibly enhance the aesthetic or taxable value of the surrounding residential properties. Furthermore, The Golf Club alone paid more than $74,500 in property taxes last year, the city would lose in revenue.
If you ask newcomers what brought them to our area (besides the weather), at least half of them will say they came for the boating and golfing opportunities. Although The Golf Club has cost its owners millions in recent years, golf generally is good for an area in the long run-particularly an area that has only 3 other 18-hole courses. For one thing, home built in and around golf courses tend to command higher prices than other off-water homes. Also, where there are rooftops, commercial development follows. With the number of new hotel rooms planned for south Cape Coral, a nice golf course will help enhance the opportunities to market the city not only as a great place to live, but as a vacation destination, as well.
One of the most obvious problems with using The Golf Club for schools is that the area is already built out. Consequently, the demand for more classrooms in the southeast Cape is not as great as in other parts of the city, namely the north and northwest, where the most explosive growth is occuring and development has taken off. Further, I don't see how putting schools in a built-out area would do anything to alleviate traffic congestion, raise property values or other wise improve the quality of life for current and future residents.
Zoning and Other Issues
Even if the city had the unanimous support of area residents and an extra $26 million to buy the club, planning and zoning isssues would have created major redevelopment roadblocks. According to the city's comprehensive land-use plan, The Golf Club's future use is listed as recreational. Therefore, the city council would have to rezone the land and ask the state to amend its land-use plan in order to redevelop The Golf Club site for any other use.
Beyond the considerable resourses required to change the land use, the costs of bringing the necessary infrastructure to the site (utilities, storm drains, etc.) would be exorbitant. Also, if the golf course were taken off the city's current inventory of recreational facilities, it would have to be replaced with a comparable tract of land for recreational use. I know of no such property available in south Cape Coral, which makes the idea of redevelopment all the more unfeasible.
While proponents of the academic campus contend that new schools create jobs and attract people who will support local businesses and restaurants, I believe that The Golf Club can do the same at a much lower cost.
However, before this diamond-in-the-rough facility can shine as the gem it was meant to be, some changes will have to be made. Next week, I'll highlight some of the redevelopment options being discussed that could restore the club's economic viability.
Gary Tasman is a commercial real estate advisor with VIP Commercial-TCN Worldwide in Fort Myers.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
There will be no investigation into what Terry Stewart knew about the aborted sale of The Golf Club to the Lee County School District, or when he knew it. And that decision sent several residents and a few city council members home unhappy from Cape Coral City Hall Monday.
Cape Coral’s city manager, on the hot seat since late June when it was revealed he had been approached months before about a possible sale of the historic site to the district but didn’t inform council, was afforded a degree of relief when only Jim Jeffers, Tim Day and Mickey Rosado voted in favor of a proposed investigation by City Auditor Dona Newman. The time line of events brought forward by Stewart — which he provided to council and later read into the record before a packed house at city hall — served to allay the concerns of the majority.
“To me, the facts are all here,” Mayor Eric Feichthaler said. “I don’t think it warrants an investigation.”
Monty Sink, a resident of Bikini Court, disagreed.
“I’m concerned over the actions of the city manager,” he said. “If his meeting was not illegal, it was in very poor taste.”
Last mont, Stewart revealed that he had been approached by an investment group inquiring about the city's interest in becoming involved in a pending sale of the failing golf course to the district. Stewart said at the time that he honored a request for confidentiality in not reporting back to council about the discussions. Council members were then blindsided by inquiries by both their constituents and the media, and since the issue came forward while they were on summer break, some were out of town and all said they knew nothing about the discussions.
"I knew nothing about discussions which, apparently, had taken place five months previously," Jeffers said.
"I was surprised," Councilmember Dick Stevens said. "I said I have no comment because I didn't know anything about it.
Jeffers,who placed the item on Monday's agenda as a discussion item, said hearing about it first from a reporter disturbed him. He then ran down a list of department heads who knew about the meetings, including Public Works Director Chuck Pavlos, Economic Development Director Mike Jackson and Fire Chief Bill Van Heldon, and shook his head.
He was confidential with that group, but not willing to share it with the elected representitives of Cape Coral," he said.
Stewart said Monday that he received a phone call in January to meet with Janet Watermeier, former executive director of the Lee Economic Development Office, and Jim Moore, a former scholl district official, who were both working for the Gulf Coast Group. The subject of the meeting that followed on Jan. 27th was to inform Stewart that the district was considering purchasing the course for five school sites and to gauge whether the city would be interested in piggy-backing on the the purchase to meet city needs.
"I strongly advised them that it may cause a negative reaction from the neighbors," Stewart said. "I informed them it was a matter for the mayor and coucil to decide."
When Stewart met with the group again March 3, School Superintendent James Browder asked him if the city would be interested in partnering on the purchase. Stewart told council Monday that he reiterated his previous statement that the mayor and council, ultimately, would decide. On April 25, Stewart met with Bob D'Andrea and Gary Fluharty of Banyan Trace, who informed him they wanted to acquire the course for residential development.
"I strongly suggested they meet with the mayor and council," Stewart said.
Stewart then said that, by June, he believed that a meeting between the investment group, Feichthaler and council "was imminent," and that the land use change required to develop the 170-acre property as anything but a golf course would trigger public hearings that would make the public aware.
"At no time were there discussions about price," he said. "we made it crystal clear it was a matter for council's consideration and judgement-no deals were ever made."
To Patricia Ferrara, Stewart's explanation didn't cut it.
"It's ridiculous," the 17-year resident said. "He and his department heads kept a decision secret that involved hundreds of people. I think he should have informed the mayor and council."
Her neighbor, Gina Greco-Fitzgerald, agreed. "It's obvious that the people did want an investigation to clear the air," she said, "It's obvious the council didn't."
Councilmember A.J. Boyd said he voted against the idea because he saw no value in it.
"What am I gonna get out of it rather than hearsay?" he asked after the meeting. "Just people's opinions of what they may or may not have said."
Jeffer said afterward that Stewart's allegiance should have been with City Council and the residents, and not with an investment group.
"You saw a roomful of citizens outraged tonight, not over what occurred over several months, but what their elected officials did to allay their concerns," he said.
For more on this local story by Kevin Duffy, see the July 19 issue of The Breeze.
Monday, July 18, 2005
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Council member calls for probe into Golf Club talks
A Cape Coral city councilman said Friday he will call for an internal investigation next week into the actions of the city manager regarding discussions over the city’s interest in purchasing a privately owned golf course.
City Councilman Jim Jeffers said he will request that City Auditor Dona Newman look into what staff, specifically City Manager Terry Stewart, knew about the proposed purchase by the Lee County School District of The Golf Club, a 175-acre property that the district wanted to use for up to five schools.
Following public outcry, Superintendent James Browder withdrew the a letter of intent he signed for the $26 million deal June 28.
Jeffers wants to know when Stewart and city staff knew that the owners of The Golf Club were looking to sell their holding and how they came to know of it; when he found out about the district’s pending purchase and what details, such as price and interested parties, Stewart was aware of; the nature of the discussions between Stewart and his staff regarding the property owners’ desire to sell and the district’s desire to buy; and any analysis that may have been done to determine whether it would be feasible for the city to purchase the property.
Newman’s probe would be conducted with the support of the City Attorney’s office, Jeffers said. And it would mirror the activities of the city’s Human Resources department when they evaluate the job performance of city employees.
Jeffers, who has placed the matter on Monday’s council agenda as a discussion item, said he brought it forward because Stewart revealed last month that he met in March with a development group representing the district.
At issue is why Stewart didn’t inform council about the discussions.
“It’s been reported that an offer was made and the city manager declined any interest on the part of the city,” Jeffers said. “If it did occur, that certainly is a usurpation of authority.”
Jeffers said he was concerned about Stewart not informing council about the discussions and that he wants to make sure the body is informed in the future.
“This is intended to get at the facts and to determine what action needs to be taken,” he said.
Councilmember Day said he fully supports Jeffers, and would like Newman to interview each councilmember individually to find out what, if anything, they knew about the discussions. Transcripts of the interviews would then be compiled into a package and distributed to everyone on the board.
"I don't want (the auditor) to do a finding and then tell us what we should do," Day said.
Day said the timing of Monday's discussion is critical to put Stewart on notice that council might not want to renew his contract, due discussion next spring. Council is obligated to inform him six months prior or his contract will automatically roll-over.
"Council needs to take a good , hard look at the golf course and any other issues pertinent to the city manager's job to decide whether or not you extend the contract," he said.
Stewart, Day continued, should welcome an investigation.
"He should welcome it with open arms because he gets a chance to clear the air and explain what went on," he said. "Investigations don't necessarily mean criminal activity, or even wrongdoing."
Mayor Eric Feichthaler said that "might have been a good idea" for Stewart to have informed council of the discussions since there was the potential that the city might have wanted to purchase the land. Feichthaler said it was his understanding that the purpose of the meeting was to determine whether the city would be willing to purchase a portion of the land for city needs such as police or fire stations if the sale with the school district went through.
Feichthaler said Stewart simply honored a request for confidentiality.
"In light of what's happened, Mr. Stewart should have told them he's obligated to report major events to the council," he said.
Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said she met in private with Stewart shortly after the meeting became public knowledge. Many things were explained, she said.
"I'm comfortable with his explaination, it may have been an error in judgement," she said. "that's a determination that eight people will have to make Monday."
For more on this local story by Kevin Duffy, see the July 16 issue of The Breeze.
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Monday, July 11, 2005
Friday, July 08, 2005
As you know, we are still waiting for our city leaders to call a special meeting. The golf course zoning and land use must be designated clearly as Parks and Rec so there will be no question in the future. It is important that we attend all meetings concerning this issue.
On a personal note, I do not own a condo in Banyan Trace as stated in the News Press July 6th.
Pictures courtesy of Barbara Butler
Monday, July 04, 2005
Location: CITY HALL
Date: Monday, JULY 18, 2005
Time: 5:00 PM
It's with the deepest respect for the Palm Tree, Wildwood and Country Club communities in which I submit this suggestion for future use of our beloved Club acreage.
Because the Cape is such an expansive urban sprawl, it sometimes experiences difficulty distinguishing itself within the character and prestige department. Few will disagree, the general area which The Club encompasses is arguably the only long standing exception in regards to the City's character and prestige deficiencies. Being held in such high esteem, there is a duty by all with a vested interest to preserve The Club or more accurately, the historic soil which now occupies The Club. With this sheer opportunity in the forefront, allow me to think outside of the box and share what I envision as the future of this storied SE community while preserving The Clubs present landscape aesthetics in addition to property values.
Can anyone say The Naples Philharmonic?, or better yet, The Cape Coral Philharmonic Estates nestled in Historic Southeast Cape Coral. Wow! it still gives me goosebumps saying it. And the clubhouse, how about opening the back (East) side to an attached Amphitheater with permanent lawn seating. Talk about character! Now of course, plenty will have to be done by way of landscaping and security to ensure the neighborhood is maintained to at least its present level, but I'm sure Naples found a way to secure its surrounding neighborhoods in its likewise situation.
The rest of the present grounds can be transformed into an upscale park equipped with fountains, hedge works, designer gazebos, decorative lighting with speakers and monitors to further catch classical music and the live performances within the adjacent Amphitheater. Cobblestone walkways with iron gates leading to backyards of neighboring homes should be incorporated in the landscaping if the homeowner desires. Of course the aesthetics would have to be agreed upon by the community and property owner. It would be great if the City could afford such a venture and I'm sure you would agree the benefits are endless. What's also great is the rolling hills of the golf course can generally be maintained.
I would also suspect the Naples Philharmonic would love to partnership with the Cape Coral Phil. while better serving Southwest Florida's theatrical needs.
Please consider my suggestion and please share with your readership, in any event, the future of The Club should be replaced with a facility worthy of a first rate city and community second to none.
The land behind us was zoned park and recreation until about two years ago. Now there is a four story condominium behind us. We did protest but our protesting was for naught. Now you are in the same battle.
When I went to the council meeting I was basically dismissed before I even had an opportunity to speak, this after taking the morning off of work to be heard. My husband and I did not have the backing of so many, because few houses would be affected by what happened to us.
Perhaps your fight will be successful, but where money is concerned, what benefits the city and the corporate world will prevail.
Your battle is just beginning, ours was short lived and over.
Ken & Chris DeCant
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Friday, July 01, 2005