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.