Wednesday, October 18, 2006

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.”