Saturday, October 21, 2006

Action on Golf Club welcome

After months of inaction, Cape Coral City Council is taking a look at options for the closed Golf Club facility.

This is long overdue.

Thanks, though, to newly appointed District 1 Councilmember Tom Hair, the board agreed this week to investigate options and seek an appraisal to determine the value of the 178-acre site that includes an 18-hole course and clubhouse.

Councilmember Hair presented the following options for consideration:

- That the city purchase the 178-acre Golf Club property near downtown Cape Coral outright.

- That the city sell city-owned “surplus” land in less desirable locations and use the funds to purchase the property.

- That the city change current land use ordinances on a small portion of the property to allow for the development of hotels, condominiums and commercial space to entice developers who could then sell the golf course to the city at a reduced price.

Council voted 6-1, Councilmember Alex LePera dissenting, to explore these options.

We hail the majority vote. As stated in previous editorials, a benefit-cost analysis, a look at options and costs makes sense for the taxpayers and the city, which continues to decry a lack of parkland and continues to buy — a parcel at a time — land in the north Cape for a major park.

Meanwhile, a citizens group has already formed and put together a proposal — still in the research stage — that would allow some development provided the course and the bulk of the property were to be donated to the city. The self-formed task force made up of Club owners, community leaders and representatives of nearby home and condominium owners thinks the site can be made attractive to a developer who could, perhaps, to allowed to build 500 units in some combination of condo, hotel room and “hoteliminiums.” In exchange, the city would get the course gratis with the committee saying under this scenario, the developer also could agree to a long-term management and operations contract for what would then be a city-owned course.

Again, an interesting concept in addition to the others on the table.

We look forward to the appraisal and the parks report. And we thank Mr. Hair for moving the issue into the fact-finding mode.

— Breeze editorial

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hair gets public input on key city issues


District 1 Councilmember Tom Hair called a public-input meeting Wednesday night because he wanted feedback on three key issues: the Golf Club, the Yacht Club and the Community Redevelopment Agency.

Hair got feedback on those three issues and a whole lot more.

More than 60 people crammed into the Cape Coral Association of Realtors building in Club Square to voice their opinions to the newly appointed council member.

“I wasn’t elected, I was selected,” said Hair to the audience before the 90-minute meeting. “I need to listen to you.”

And this is what he heard: save the golf course and make it a resort, and don’t make many changes to the Yacht Club.

The Golf Club closed Aug. 1 after it lost $3 million over five years. Hair presented three options during Monday’s council meeting: the city buys the 178-acre property outright; sell city owned surplus land and use the money to buy the property; or change the land-use ordinance on a portion of the property for development.

When asked how many people were in favor of turning the golf course into a resort, nearly all of the people in attendance raised their hands in approval.

Georgene Walsh, a 25-year resident, said the city is lacking banquet facilities and meeting halls. Walsh’s daughter held her wedding reception at the Golf Club eight years ago, and Walsh said a new hotel would be a great place for those events.

But to others in attendance, the Golf Club is more than just a golf course and a place to hold special events. Many residents see the Golf Club as one of the few historical landmarks in Cape Coral.

“We need to preserve our historical buildings,” one person shouted during the meeting.

Residents also told Hair to preserve another historical site in the city — the Yacht Club. Currently, three designs are available for public input on possible changes to the Yacht Club.

The public can view the proposed changes on city’s Web site,, and submit their input until Oct. 25. After that date, the city will review the public’s input, and then present the information to city council.

Many felt the Yacht Club can’t accommodate any more people, and the city should look at building another area like the Yacht Club in the city. So ideas such as a building a parking garage at the Yacht Club, or moving the boat ramp, didn’t sit well with people.

When a resident suggested taking the money from the Yacht Club renovations and using it towards the Golf Club, the audience cheered and hollered in agreement.

Hair said he didn’t expect such a large turnout, but he was pleased with meeting. Residents voiced strong opinions and gave him ideas without becoming angry or hostile.

Hair plans to take the information to city council and city staff next week. Hair will meet with city attorney Dolores Menendez Wednesday to discuss the possibility of changing the land-use ordinance on the Golf Club property.

Residents said they enjoyed the meeting and pleaded with Hair to hold more open forums such as the one held Wednesday night. Walsh said the forums are more casual than city council meetings and allow council members and residents to speak freely on issues.

Hair said he would like to hold another meeting in April or May before many residents leave for the summer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Town Hall Meeting WEDNESDAY Hosted by Council Member Tom Hair

Wednesday October 18th.
6:30PM - 8:00

At the Cape Coral Association of Realtors
918 S.E. 46th Lane (Google Map)

Hair expects three main issues to be discussed during the public input session, including: the Yacht Club master plan, the CRA and proposed downtown development and the city’s former Golf Club.

Citizens pressure council to act on golf club


An emotionally charged crowd of Cape residents who have witnessed the rapid deterioration of The Golf Club since its Aug. 1 closure packed council chambers at City Hall demanding answers Monday evening.

While council rendered no immediate solutions to the apparent gridlock between the city and the owners of the defunct 18-hole course, city officials took a step forward by deciding to investigate a number of scenarios for future development and also appraise the property to negotiate a purchasing price with the current owners.

Nearly all the residents who attended the council meeting said they wanted to save the 18-hole golf course.

“I want to see the course stay,” said George Nixon, whose home abuts the 9th hole. “I like playing golf and I think that property has a lot of potential ... what city has a golf course downtown?”

Councilmember Tom Hair, who was appointed to the District 1 seat on Sept. 25 following the death of Councilmember Jim Jeffers, included the city’s controversial 45-year-old golf course on the agenda and proposed a contingency plan to save the property.

“I’m brand new at this and I didn’t mean for it to become a public firestorm,” Hair told the crowd. “I just want to throw out some ideas and see what sticks to the wall.”

Hair presented the following options for The Golf Club:

- The city purchases the 178-acre property outright, which could be extremely expensive but would allow the citizens to decide the future of the course.

- Sell city owned surplus land in less desirable locations and use the funds to purchase the property, which could result in the loss of future park areas.

- Change current land use ordinances on a small portion of the property to allow the development of hotels, condominiums and commercials space; this would entice developers who could sell the golf course to the city at a reduced price.

The Golf Club was forced to shut its doors after losing $3 million in five years.

Of the 400 properties that abut the course, less than 25 homeowners were members of The Golf Club, according to managing partner Scott Siler.

A limited liability partnership between The Gulf Club of Southwest LLC and Ryan LLC in early August formed Florida Gulf Ventures LLC. The joint venture recapitalized and remortgaged the club’s debt.

That debt could now be around $25 million, said city financial director Mark Mason.

Councilmember Tim Day added to Hair’s proposal that the city appease the property owners by assuming the debt while looking for potential developers.

“It’s not going to do anyone any good to let this thing go to total disrepair,” said Day. “This would only be a temporary solution.”

In June 2005, the Lee County School District attempted to buy the property for the building site of five new schools, but public outcry forced the district to withdrawal their $26.1 million offer.

District 4 Councilmember Dolores Bertolini, whose district includes The Golf Club, said she attempted negotiations with Siler and the other owners in the past but could not reach a reasonable solution.

“Two years ago they were asking $18 million,” she said, “then they wanted $23 million for the schools and now it seems like they’re asking upwards of $30 million.”

Siler could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler wanted to secure the property immediately and said the city could consider purchasing The Golf Club for no more than $15 million.

“There’s no promise this would become a golf course, though that’s my intent, but at least we’d have control,” Feichthaler said.

Mason said the city could borrow the necessary funds, but council quickly decided against naming a price before speaking with Siler and an appraisal of the property was completed.

“I’m not willing to pull Siler’s feet out of the fire,” said Councilwoman Alex LaPera, adding that developing at least a portion of the property would be the only way to save the course and keep the city from sinking into the quagmire of debt already associated with the property.

Hair countered that no other public recreation facilities are required to turn a profit, adding that the city could sell off surplus properties and use the proceeds to retain The Golf Club.

“Parks and recreation is not a profit center,” said Hair, “and we have other properties sitting in the city that we could use to snatch a better piece.”

Council voted 6-1 to investigate the options presented by Hair and Day.

Bertolini voted against the motion.

As city officials take a step towards breathing new life into The Golf Club, its return to an uninhibited wilderness is ongoing.

Siler has been cited numerous times for violating city ordinance, according to officials.

That Siler has apparently let the course become an overgrown eyesore was not surprising to Bertolini, who said she suspects it may be a business tactic.

“He (Siler) is sitting back and waiting until it deteriorates to a point where we’re doing what we did tonight,” she said. “I think it’s all a big real estate tactic.”

Nearby homeowners say the course has become a brush fire waiting to happen and a breeding ground for rats and snakes.

“We’re going to have people walking around out there and getting bitten by a snake,” Hair said earlier this week. “You’ve got this big empty piece of land waiting for something bad to happen to it.”

According to those who own property near The Golf Club, bad things have already begun to happen.

Michelle Sour, of 702 Wildwood Place, said her home has depreciated by $100,000 and that a potential buyer backed out of the deal since the course closed.

“We can’t even give that home away,” she said. “You just can’t do that to people.”

Course’s future may go to voters

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on October 18, 2006

Voters ultimately may decide whether Cape Coral buys the 175-acre The Golf Club to preserve it from intense development.

The decision could go to a referendum next November if the club owners insist on a price that’s too high for the Cape Coral City Council’s comfort, Mayor Eric Feichthaler said Tuesday.

The council voted Monday to contact The Golf Club owners to see whether they would sell to the city. Co-owner Scott Siler said he’s willing to listen to any proposal the city makes.

“The perfect point is where they got to last night,” Siler said referring to Monday’s meeting.

The show of unity in the 6-1 vote makes it possible to have a serious discussion, Siler said.

Siler and the mayor could be millions of dollars apart. But Siler won’t talk about a specific number the city could offer to get his attention.

The property was valued at $28 million and $30 million by two appraisers when the Lee County School District made a $26.1 million offer in 2005, school district spokes-man Joe Donzelli said.

The property was reappraised for $28.5 million when The Golf Club recapitalized this year and became Florida Gulf Ventures, Siler said.

“Fifteen million dollars is a reasonable price,” Feicht-haler said. But $27 million would not be to him.

“The golf course is going to have to be rebuilt. It’s a mess,” Feichthaler said.

City Manager Terry Stewart warned during Monday’s council discussion restoring the course could cost a couple million dollars.

Siler said he doesn’t know what it would take to restore the course to playing conditions. The course closed Aug. 1 and maintenance, aside from occasional mowings, ended as well.

All The Golf Club’s equipment has been liquidated. The course needs fertilizing and the greens might need to be replanted, Siler said.

The restoration might not be very complicated or expensive if the course and its irrigation and drainage systems were in good condition when it closed, said Jeff Bollig, spokesman for the Golf Club Superintendents Association of America in Lawrence, Kan.

“There are courses in New Orleans that were brought back to playing condition,” Bollig said, referring to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. “If it’s just been sitting there, there may be no contamination in the bunker sand. The greens might still be alive.”

An estimated 150 residents attended Monday’s meeting to encourage the council to buy the property and restore it.

Some residents complained about the rundown appearance of the course and expressed fear conditions were getting dangerous.

“My main concern is a big, big fire hazard. All I can see is a flick of the match and there it goes,” Anna Feldman of Southeast Sixth Avenue told the council.

But Siler discounted that fear. The grass has been mowed six or seven times and contractors are called when it needs another cutting, he said.

“By and large it’s brown, dry and it’s short.”

City code inspectors have visited the course in response to complaints.

Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini said the business has been cited.

A process has to be followed with citations, and it takes time, Stewart told the council.

A revived course would be an asset and it would restore property values, Bollig said.

That would please Michelle Sauer, of Wildwood Parkway, who told the council her property value dove when the school district’s proposal became public.

“That was our retirement money,” Sauer said. “People identify with it. People were married there. It needs to become a golf course again and be renamed Cape Coral Golf Course.”

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cape may try to buy Golf Club

Council votes 6-1 to approach owners about price, willingness to sell site

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on October 17, 2006

Cape Coral’s City Council has agreed to ask the owners of what once was the city’s oldest golf course whether they’re willing to sell it and for how much.

“We want to keep it as the jewel of the city as it once was. I hope we can get to that point again,” Mayor Eric Feichthaler said.

While some residents who live near the 175 acres known as The Golf Club want the city to buy it, the city has done nothing until now.

The Lee County School District tried to buy it in 2005 for $26 million for use as a five-school campus, but protests from neighboring homeowners forced the district to withdraw its proposal.

The vote to ask about buying the former golf course was 6-1. Councilwoman Alex LePera wanted to keep the city out of the market for the site.

Councilman Mickey Rosado did not attend the meeting. He is sitting out meetings this month while a independent firm conducts an investigation into whether he violated the city charter.

The Golf Club was closed Aug. 1 after losing $3 million over five years, and the company that owns the property was reorganized. Managing partner Scott Siler retained a 50 percent interest in the new company, Florida Gulf Venture LLC.

Siler welcomed the city’s decision to talk about buying the club.

“Our position hasn’t changed. It’s a valuable piece of land. It belongs in the public’s interest,” Siler said. “Our partners are very civic-minded.”

Mary Nielson, who helped organize neighbors to fight the school district’s purchase, said she was stunned by the city’s decision.

“I’m happy to see the City Council brought it to the forefront,” Nielson said. “I didn’t know what would happen. Everybody is still watching. Let’s see if they come through.”

About 150 people Monday showed up for the discussion.

“You are losing an opportunity if you don’t do anything about The Golf Club,” said Brian Whitehouse of Southwest 20th Place. “Now is the time to do something.”
City Councilman Tom Hair asked to have the discussion placed on Monday’s agenda.

“This is a deteriorating situation,” said Hair, whose parents live in Banyan Trace, a condominium building that overlooks the course. “I’ve watched one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen turn into a dump.”

Hair proposed several scenarios of what could be done with the course.

Part of it could be converted to a senior center or arts center, he said. He also suggested a condo-hotel project, water features, bike and jogging paths or a site for a bandshell.

The city could buy the land outright or sell surplus land to help pay for it, he said.

The course has been appraised between $28 million and $30 million, Siler said. The school district offered $26 million. The price is negotiable, he said.

“The real key is what it’s worth,” City Manager Terry Stewart said. The city will need to get two appraisals before it tries to buy the course.

During a break, Feichthaler said he told some residents he would work hard to buy it if the price was $15 million.

“The key to me is trying to lock it up at a reasonable price,” Feichthaler said.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Cape Council to discuss buying golf course

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on October 16, 2006

About 150 people concerned about the future of The Golf Club are waiting in the Cape Coral City Council chamber to find out if the city will make an effort to buy the property.

City Councilman Tom Hair put the subject on tonight’s agenda for discussion.

The Golf Club’s 175 acres could become a jewel of the city’s park system, according to Hair. The course is located at 4003 Palm Tree Blvd.

The Golf Club closed Aug. 1 after losing $3 million over the past five years. The property is zoned for single-family homes but appears on the city’s land-use map as land for parks and recreation uses.

Residents who live near the course fear they will lose their golf course views and suffer a reduction in property values.

While some residents who live near the course want the city to buy it, the city has not made any moves to purchase the private business.

The Lee County School District tried in 2005 to buy the course for use as a five-school campus. But public outrage over the potential loss of the green space forced the district to withdraw its proposal.

Residents concerned about the future of the club after the school district tried to buy the land formed a nonprofit called Save Our Recreation. The leaders e-mailed members over the weekend and urged them to attend the meeting.

The Golf Club reorganized earlier this year to financially restructure the private business. Managing partner Scott Siler retained a 50 percent interest in the new company, Florida Gulf Venture LLC.


Hi All,

The Golf Club has been placed on the agenda for discussion during the next council meeting on Monday. Plan to attend.. Please tell your friends and neighbors that may not have access to a computer. I will see you all there. Thank you.

Place; City Council Chamber
Date: Monday October 16
Time: 5:30 PM

Best Wishes,

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hair seeks public input on issues


Cape Councilmember Tom Hair is holding a District 1 public input meeting to discuss key issues concerning the Cape’s downtown area Wednesday evening at the Cape Coral Realtors Association building in Club Square.

“I want to ask the citizens what’s important,” said Hair. “I want to get their input.”

Hair expects three main issues to be discussed during the public input session, including: the Yacht Club master plan, the CRA and proposed downtown development and the city’s former Golf Club.

“The people living next to the Yacht Club are concerned that it could become a larger incarnation of itself,” said Hair. “A few people said don’t change a thing, but most people want the area to be modernized but not go overboard. I would like to make the area more manageable, but I wouldn’t like to see a parking garage down there.”

Hair said he hasn’t heard much from residents regarding the CRA and proposed downtown developments, but expects the topic to arise during the meeting.

While The Golf Club is in District 4, Hair said he has received a handful of e-mails from residents concerned with the rapidly deteriorating condition of the vacant property.

After losing $3 million in five years, the course was forced to shut its doors Aug. 1.

“I’ve gotten more than five e-mails from concerned citizens about The Golf Club asking what the city should do,” said Hair. “It’s a jewel. I could just imagine that being the Cape Coral version of New York’s Central Park. I’ve been told by several people that they’d like to see a jogging and biking path encircle the entire course. It just seems like a terrible waste of space to sit there the way it is. It’s going to create an eyesore and possible safety concerns for people living near the course.”

Hair said the vacant property was a liability issue waiting to happen.

“We could have people walking around out there and falling into a pond or getting bitten by a snake,” said Hair, adding that he has included The Golf Club on the agenda for Monday’s City Council meeting.

“You’ve got this big empty piece of land waiting for something bad to happen to it,” Hair said. “The question becomes, is it the city’s job to step up to the plate and buy it outright? Right now, I don’t know.”

City Council appointed Hair to fill the vacant District 1 seat on Sept. 25 following the death of Councilmember Jim Jeffers.

Hair has lived in Cape Coral for 10 years and is a math professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

The public input session is scheduled from 6:30-8 p.m.

On making The Golf Club beautiful again

By Dan Warner
Originally posted on October 14, 2006

People are all the time calling The News-Press looking for publicity. “Good” publicity.
Not Diana Watson. She called looking for bad publicity.

Watson, 62, was clearly uncomfortable. She doesn’t see herself as a crusader.

Sure, there was the time when she was 10 or 11 and she entered a coloring contest and some kid who couldn’t even stay in the lines won the pony, causing her to raise a stink in front of the judges and the whole crowd that had gathered in a local West Virginia theater for the awards ceremony.

“It was the daughter of some big shot in town who won,” she explained.

And, of course, there is her sister, Pamela Martens, who gained considerable notoriety when she became chief plaintiff in a sexual harassment suit that caused the big Wall Street brokerage houses to change the way they treated woman. Someone wrote a book about her called “Tales from the Boom Boom Room” that made her a real celebrity and told all the world that the big boys could be brought down.

But, until now, Watson has stayed out of the limelight, doing her good works by being a friendly shoulder to lean on and volunteering.

Then Watson moved to Cape Coral and came across a neighbor who won’t mow his grass to her satisfaction. Watson got mad, is ready to go public and is quite willing to raise a stink.

We are talking about a lot of grass here. The neighbor is The Golf Club, with fairways, greens and tee boxes weaving in and out between streets of residential homes in southeast Cape Coral.

It closed last summer because the owners weren’t making money.

The fairways are overgrown and now, with the rainy season over, brown, broken only by the green of ugly weeds that give it an ugly patchwork appearance.

“It looks like a cow pasture,” Watson said. “I grew up in West Virginia. I know what a cow pasture looks like.”

Watson’s home neither faces nor backs up on the golf course. It does nothing to disrupt her views.

She is doing it for her neighbors.

“I just don’t want that Golf Club doing what they are doing to people,” she said. “They totally mismanaged the place so that it had to close and now they are selling it
“And the neighbors have to look at their rubbish while they sell.”

“What if all the people in Cape Coral let their yards go? Wouldn’t we be in a fine mess then.”

What sort of editorial does Watson want written.

“They need some bad publicity,” she said.

The Golf Course managing director Scott Silar disagrees. He said the course has been mowed seven times since it closed and the grass is less than a foot high, meeting city code.

“What the neighbors don’t like is that it doesn’t look like it used to look,” he said.
Besides, he said, there is a larger issue — the future of the course.

We have to agree: therein lies the real solution to Watson’s problem and the unsightliness.

So, our editorial will address that issue — hopefully with a tone that will make Watson, Silar, the neighbors and the City of Cape Coral happy.

Editorial: Her idea, our words

It’s not just the neighbors who think the The Golf Club is unsightly.

Cape Coral District One Council member Tom Hair said, bluntly, “it looks terrible.”
It is a scarred, ugly face on what once was a beautiful area.

“It is deteriorating rapidly,” Hair said.

Hair is planning to bring the future of the course up at Monday’s council meeting.

He wants to pass a resolution asking the city manager to investigate ways the city might work with the owners to develop the land, saving as much of the green area as possible.

“That place is a jewel,” he said. “It could become the Central Park of Cape Coral.”

We like that: someone with the vision to condemn the mess, but to look beyond it to the possibilities.

We also like it that The Golf Club is receptive to talks with the city.

“We have been waiting for the people from the city to come see us,” said Scott Silar, the course’s managing director.

“It makes perfect sense to talk with the city. I just wish they would have taken it up a couple of months ago.”

We encourage talks to the end of making some money for the golf course’s owners and, even more, of preserving a wonderful mass of green space.

We hope they proceed speedily and in good faith on both sides.

Meanwhile, perhaps Silar and the city could come to some agreement on mowing the course even more frequently until a plan is devised and implemented.

It really does look bad. Drive by and see for yourself.