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.”