Friday, September 01, 2006

Owner disputes Golf Club sale

Says Cape course ownership a 50-50 venture

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on September 01, 2006

Despite what appears to be a $4 million sale of The Golf Club in February, managing partner Scott Siler said he still owns half of the course, with the other 50 percent belonging to a new company.

"It's a 50-50 joint venture," Siler said about The Golf Club of Southwest Florida LLC and newly formed Florida Gulf Venture LLC.

Siler stressed that the course remains for sale, he said.

The new corporation was formed as part of a financial restructuring plan to help control debt, he said.

A transfer of ownership for the 178-acre The Golf Club on Palm Tree Boulevard appeared to take place on Feb. 2, when Siler signed a deed to transfer the 18-hole course to Florida Gulf Venture LLC. The deed is recorded in the Lee County Clerk of Courts office.

The Golf Club closed on July 31 because of mounting debt. Siler said they lost $3 million over a five-year period.

He can't explain the February sale, saying it did not take place. "There is something goofy with that one," he said. "I have no idea what that is."

He said the establishment of Florida Gulf Venture, which he and some of the current club ownership group also are a part of, took place in early August.

The February transaction, mystified residents, who live around the course, and others by surprise.

"The club didn't notify people around here," said Southeast Ninth Court resident Maryann Burke. "I haven't even seen anybody looking at it."

Former Mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz, now a consultant and representative of a nonprofit group called Save Our Recreation, said he became aware of the transaction about four weeks ago, but hasn't been able to determine who is behind the deal.

Florida Gulf Venture registered with the Florida secretary of state on July 31 and with Delaware's division of corporations on June 5.

"We've not been able to contact the new owners," he said.

The sale price of $4 million is listed on the Lee County Property Appraiser's Internet site. But a mortgage recorded with the Lee County Clerk's office shows a $13.9 million amount on the property in the name of Florida Gulf Venture and signed by manager Kent Carlson of Rylan LLC. Siler said $13.9 million amount was a "new mortgage" established after the debt was paid.

"This all happened in the last three weeks," Siler said.

Rylan is listed as the manager of Florida Gulf Venture on incorporation papers on file in the Florida secretary of state's office. Rylan LLC is registered with the state of Delaware as of June 13, but a registration with Florida could not be found.

Carlson is also president of the southeast division of Ryan Companies US Inc, which is based in Minneapolis. The company announced the opening of the southeast division on June 29. The division is based at the same Tampa address as Florida Gulf Venture.

The company is no stranger to Lee County. Rylan Companies completed a distribution center for Robb & Stucky in Fort Myers and worked on the hurricane restoration of South Seas Resort on Captiva.

Carlson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

City Council members were puzzled by the last maneuvers.

Siler met this month with Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini and mentioned the possibility of recapitalizing.

"He never mentioned anything about the deed," Bertolini said. "I'm just surprised by all of this."

Bertolini's district includes the golf course, which was used by the city's original developers to attract customers and became the center of the city's business and social scenes. The course was the site of the 1972 NCAA collegiate championship and helped to establish the juniors golf program in Southwest Florida.

The course was the focus of a public furor in June 2005 when the Lee County School District tried to buy the property. The district wanted to use the 178-acres for five schools. The district offered $26.1 million for the land. But public outrage forced the school district to withdraw its offer.

"I need that golf course to be maintained," Bertolini said. "If something good comes of this, that's fine," she said.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler said he hopes the golf course can be preserved, but he found it strange that the deed was dated Feb. 2 and wasn't recorded with the county clerk until Aug. 8. Recording a deed let's people know who owns the property so bills and other legal matters can be handled by the right person, Feichthaler said.

The delay makes it look like everything was handled internally, and suggests that this is an attempt to reorganize rather than an outright sale, he said.