Monday, February 26, 2007

Cape limits its help to golf course owners

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on February 26, 2007

Assistance from the city's economic development office is all the help Cape Coral will provide to help the owners of The Golf Club find a buyer.

The course closed in July and the owners have been unable to reach a deal with anyone yet to sell the course.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler proposed the city do more to help find a buyer, but he ran into opposition.

The search should be done by the owner, but it is in the city's best interest to get something going, Mayor Eric Feichthaler said. "We need to take some sort of proactive stance to make something happen."

“I don’t agree the council for the city of Cape Coral should be the real estate agent,” Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini said.

The mayor said he doesn't want the city to be the real estate agent.

"We have not given staff adequate direction in this matter,” Feichthaler said. "All I'm trying to do is give the staff a little direction.

The staff already works with potential buyers, City Manager Terry Stewart said.

Feichthaler also opposed changing the regulations to allow the course to become a residential development.

“I am not in favor of changing the land use anywhere on the golf course property except for the area around the clubhouse,” Feichthaler said.

The property is owned by Florida Gulf Ventures LLC, which has been trying to sell the property. The course closed last July and was mired in debt. It was the first course in the city, with its first players teeing off in 1961. The course once was a center of social and business events as well as a place for golf.

“The owners are asking too much for the property if there are no private sector buyers willing to come in,” Councilman Chris Berardi said.

Residents Ray and Dee Borkowski, who live along the sixth fairway, said they agreed with the mayor’s proposal.

There are more than 200 hotel rooms downtown and plans for hundreds of condos, said Dee Borkowski, 76.

“I would think a golf course would be a big draw for selling all of those condos,” Dee Borkowski said.

“The city needs some sort of recreation for all the people coming down here,” added Ray Borkowski, 80.

The asking price of around $23 million is too high for the city to consider, according to Councilman Tom Hair. However, he proposed the city try to acquire enough land around the course to create a park-like buffer with jogging and biking trails.

His proposal also would allow the development of shops near the clubhouse and the construction of condominiums on the golf course side of the buffer.

“We need to come up with an idea to make this place look nicer than it is now. Right now it’s a dump,” Hair said.

His plan would raise the city's income from taxes and improve the value of surrounding homes, Hair said.

Bertolini said she is opposed to Hair's plan and thinks it is too expensive to develop.

Bertolini said she prefers a solution favored by residents at last Wednesday’s townhall meeting on the topic.

Residents said they wanted a combination of city and private sector financing to develop a hotel, convention center and golf course.

Many residents hoped the city would buy the course and keep it for golf or for a city park. The council ordered two appraisals to help it decide what to do.

The appraisals set a value at $28 million if it is used for residential purposes and about $13.8 million if kept as a golf course.

Resident Brian Whitehouse still hopes the city will buy the property and restore the course to its “past grandeur,” he said in a Feb. 22 letter to the city.

“Should you chose not to, it will go down in history as the biggest mistake our city council ever made,” Whitehouse wrote.