Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Golf Club’s buildings gone this week

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on June 26, 2007

Demolition begins today with cart barn

Once the social center of Cape Coral in the 1960s and 1970s, the clubhouse at The Golf Club will be torn down Thursday.

The cart barn at the golf course facility will be the first to go, starting today.

“Boy oh boy oh boy,” sighed Paul Sanborn, general manager of the clubhouse for its first two years.

“We opened in 1967 on New Year’s Eve. We sold drinks for 50 cents,” Sanborn said. “There was a New Year’s Eve party every year.”

When Benchmark Construction workers and their equipment roll in today to start the demolition, those parties will only be a memory.
“Our intention is to go from the cart barn over to the clubhouse without missing a stroke,” said company President Mark Anderson, who still has an ownership interest in the property.

He is part of a group of investors who bought the property in 2001 and then went into a partnership last year with Florida Gulf Ventures LLC.

When heavy equipment rips into the buildings, it’ll also rip into the history of the city as well.

The building was a focal point in many ways.

“It was an outstanding meeting place at one time,” Sanborn said. “My Rotary Club met there for 20 years.”

Families held celebrations there.

“My oldest daughter’s wedding was there,” Sanborn said.

The facilities were upscale for the time, with a large banquet hall on the second floor.

There were dinner dances, valet and concierge services, a lobby done in Brazilian rosewood and crystal chandeliers illuminated the dining room. Stars who appeared or performed there included Count Basie, Roy Rogers, John Cameron Swayze and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.

The second-floor banquet area was eventually closed, but a restaurant, bar and pro shop remained on the first floor.

The course, which first opened in 1961, and a 100-room hotel were built by the Gulf American Land Corp. as a way to entice people to buy land in Cape Coral

The demolition plan brought back the memory of another Gulf American building that met a similar fate in 1998, Sanborn said. That was the four-story office building at Cape Coral Parkway and Del Prado Boulevard that once was Gulf American’s home office.

But the once-proud course, the first in the city and host of the 1972 NCAA golf championship, struggled financially, losing millions before it closed in July of 2006.

Now the land is barely recognizable as a golf course. High grass and weeds present a stark contrast to the once manicured fairways and greens that proved such a challenge for 1972 NCAA co-medalists Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw.

But razing the clubhouse may be the first step in a plan to make the land more attractive to buyers for owner, Florida Gulf Ventures and its partners.

“I’m sad and disappointed that it didn’t work,” said Anderson. “We want to make it an asset to the city.”

The owners have asked the city to expand the uses allowed on the property from single family and recreation to include multi-family, retail and office space.

Save Our Recreation president Mary Neilson said the loss of the buildings might make it easier for her group of residents and businesspeople to achieve their goal.

They want golf restored to the property.

“The investors let it deteriorate to point where something has be done about it. Hopefully it clears the way for a buyer to come in and look at it as an 18-hole golf course and resort,” Neilson said.

A $28 million bid to buy the 178-acre facility and redevelop it as a golf course resort was rejected by the owners last week.

Banyan Trace condominium owner Robert Elliott of Atlanta said he doesn’t know if the demolition will be an improvement or not.

“It doesn’t do any good to have the buildings sitting there idle and deteriorating. Anything that elevates the value of my property is what interests me,” said Elliott.

He wants the land use to stay the same and to see a golf course resort with a hotel developed, Elliott said.

The demolition process will take three to four weeks.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Letter from Susan Gruber

Dear Mary,

I am a Cape Coral resident who lives on Palm Tree Blvd. When we
purchased our home in 1992 we paid a premium to live on the golf course.
When these owners purchased the course we ate dirt for over a year as
they slowly redid the course. I would just have the house cleaned and a
few hours later I could write my name on my dining room table. No one
complained that I know of. We have always paid higher property taxes
than the people who live directly across the street from our home.

It is unimaginable that people think retail stores, parks (with parking
lots)etc. would make a wonderful addition to anyone's back yard. How
would they like these things in their back yard. I certainly would not.
I have been selling real estate for going on 25 years and whatever
happened to a home owners right of peaceful enjoyment.

We paid a premium to buy our home, to keep our home (through higher
property taxes), to upgrade our home and now to save our home. Frankly,
there had better be some fantastic compensation for all of us who will
have our lives uprooted because of the greed of others. I for one will
not live near more condos, parking lots, parks, retail shopping centers,
schools, etc. I bought this home for peace and quiet. It is an older
neighborhood and that's the way I like it. I intend to exercise my
right to peaceful enjoyment even if I need to hire my own attorney!

Susan Gruber

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Letter To The Editor by Diane MacLachlan

News Press June 24,2007

Recently I went to Google Earth to see the aerial view of Cape Coral and was shocked to see the actual density of our community. The land formerly known as The Golf Course stood out in sharp contrast as one of the few open areas anywhere south of Pine Island Road. The controversy over this land seems to hinge on the reality gap between the owner's ambitious avarice and the value of this open area to the whole community.

In designing any ideal community, a given percentage of land is set aside for green space based on population. Our town has grown so fast that we have not been able to continue to accommodate this facet of community living and it is driving our residents OUT of Cape Coral to find respite and recreation. If this space is not preserved for either a golf course or a public park, we will, in essence, be pushing our residents out to spend their recreational dollars on amenities in other communities.

With an eye toward the future and the migratory tsunami that will flood Florida in the years to come as Baby Boomers move south, do we really want to define Cape Coral only as a place to own real estate or as a place to really LIVE?1?

Diane MacLachlan

Letter To The Editor by Helen Dorothy

News Press June 24, 2007


Cape Coral City Council has the opportunity of a lifetime………to capture the market on GOLF! It has the opportunity to purchase the Executive Golf Course for $3 million. It has the opportunity to purchase the Golf Club for $13.8 millions (the appraised value for a golf course.)

Why are they looking at the short term and not at the long term of what Cape Coral will become, long after they are gone from the City Council? It’s a mystery why they do not see the value in buying the established golf courses and promoting them for future generations…………

Perhaps the City Council has developed a short range view of their role in city government. Where is the long range picture?

When Cape Coral has 450,000 citizens within the city limits, where will the future city council look for green spaces and areas for recreation? Will they then look to neighborhoods to demolish so that they can increase the green spaces within the city?

Why try to retrofit the city, ten or twenty or thirty years from now, when they have the opportunity right now, today, to purchase and resurrect the golfing community here in Cape Coral. The city seems to be doing a fine job with Coral Oaks so they know how.

The Northerners have long known that getting and sustaining the golfing community meant that they had to start with young people…. So they promoted golfing for youngsters by offering cut rates to school-age children. The children, ages 8 or 9 on up into high school, were given cheap rates for golf but were not able to book or reserve their tee times. In other words, they had to take the golf course when adults, who were paying full price, were not using the course.

Often times, these were late afternoon or perhaps not the best weather times of the day. But the children didn’t mind. They enjoyed the opportunity to play. Sometime they even got the opportunity to earn a few dollars by caddying for adult golfers. If they did well, they caddied often, if they didn’t do so well, no one hired them.

This program, of developing the game of golf in young people was created through the Park System. Cape Coral has a Park System. Right now the Park System seems to be busy plotting how they can remake the Yacht Club. What is wrong with what we have? As far as the boat ramp now cutting off the new area of the park that has been added through the purchase of several homes, where was the planning when the decision was made to buy the houses?

Did we say, let’s buy the houses and knock them down and then decide what we can do with the land? How many millions of our tax dollars were spent on that? Was there any plan in mind as to how the new pieces of property can be used within the existing park?

What about making a kiddy park for the toddler’s? Or how about a teenagers pavilion where they can meet, drink sodas, dance to the juke box like I did when I was a teen.

We have no history except for the little pink buildings that now house the Cape Coral Historical Museum. Why can’t we save the pieces of history we have, the Golf Club and the Yacht Club, so that generations from now, our children and grandchildren will have a sense of how the city of Cape Coral came to be.

It is unbelievable that the city of Cape Coral with 160,000 citizens, today, cannot support a handful of golf courses. The city has the opportunity to step up and do something that will have a lasting effect to create and develop a wholesome, outdoor sport, to create wide expansive green spaces within the city limits which will benefit all the citizens of the city.

They have the opportunity, through the Park System, to offer reduced rate golf for youngsters, lessons, and classes to help the young people learn about the game of golf.

What about it City Council members? Are you more interested in going with the flow or are you willing to project and promote a VISION for the future of the city you represent? If you fail to act, will our only recourse be that drive over the bridge into Fort Myers to play a round of golf?

For the record, I do not play golf, I only talk about playing golf, some day I may take it up, but I definitely support it for those who do and for the future generation of golfers. Helen Dorothy

Friday, June 22, 2007


Save Our Recreation T Shirts are now available. They are green with 'Save Our Recreation' printed on the front and 'One Generation Plants The Trees, Another Gets The Shade' on the back. Plan to wear your shirt to all upcoming Council, P & Z and SOR meetings concerning the former Golf Club. Shipping available. For more information please contact; Suzanne Brask, 239-540-4105 (corrected phone) email; swbrask@earthlink.net

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

$28 million offer for Golf Club rejected

Cape course ownership feels deal isn’t credible

Originally posted on June 19, 2007

An offer of $28 million meeting the asking price for The Golf Club fell through because it didn’t appear to be a credible offer, club owner representative Kent Carlson said Monday.

Apogee Ventures LLC of Reno, Nev., made the offer with a request that Florida Gulf Ventures LLC, owner of the course, put up $5 million in three days, while the buyer would have 30 days to put up $500,000, said Carlson, president of Ryan Southeast. Florida Gulf Venture is a division of Ryan.

Carlson said he couldn’t understand why the buyer wanted the owner to put up the money.

“I’ve never bought real estate that way,” Carlson said.

Apogee also wanted to keep the property off the market for 210 days and didn’t seem to have a track record to show it could manage such a deal, Carlson said.

“It wasn’t a credible offer,” Carlson said.

Apogee partner Brian Higley agreed with Carlson that the conditions for closing the deal proved to be the obstacle that blocked the sale.

The Golf Club, with about 175 acres, opened in 1962.

Controversy boiled around the club when it was learned in 2005 that the Lee County School District offered $26 million for the property to acquire it for school sites. Course neighbors organized Save Our Recreation to fight to keep the property as an 18-hole golf course.

According to the owners none of the potential buyers who’ve looked at the course are interested in keeping golf there. The course closed last July because of mounting debt.

Save Our Recreation president Mary Neilson said she spoke Monday with Apogee partner George Alexander about the future of golf on the course.

“He would like to look at the idea of a resort hotel,” Neilson said. A resort with a golf course is something he wanted to talk about with city officials. But Neilson said she didn’t know if Apogee was committed to that plan.

Florida Gulf Venture has asked the city to change its regulations so retail, commercial and multi-family uses can be added to the single-family and recreational uses allowed now.

City staff is reviewing the request, which must be approved by the city council. A decision isn’t expected until late fall, because the state must review such changes before they can be implemented.

The council has made previous statements that they would prefer to see the golf course remain part of the community.

Higley, the Apogee partner, said the company might come back with another offer, but it hasn’t yet decided how to use the property.

“Our feeling as the buyer is we want to do what’s best for the community,” Higley said.

Florida Gulf Venture also is courting the public’s support. The company held an open house last week for the public to comment on potential uses of the property.

“You need the market to support you and you need the community to support you,” Carlson said.

Friday, June 15, 2007

NBC News Clip - June 14, 2007

Ideas differ on property's future


CAPE CORAL: Developers have a new idea on what to build off Palm Tree Boulevard, but homeowners want something completely different. Residents want to keep as much green space as possible but the developers would like to see more condo and retail shops.

Since last July, the 175-acre former golf club property located off Palm Tree Boulevard in Cape Coral has been closed because of mounting debt.

The owners of the property are now planning how they will redevelop the land and are asking for the public's feedback. At an open house on Thursday – they got it.

Cape residents defend Golf Club Course owners want to change land use

By Pete Skiba
Originally posted on June 15, 2007

More than 100 people piled through the doors of La Venezia's ballroom on Club Square on Thursday to voice their opinions about the residential and commercial development of Cape Coral's The Golf Club.

"We are here to make a statement that we all stand together against the land use change," said Mary Neilson, president of the non-profit Save Our Recreation group.

Florida Gulf Ventures LLC, owner of the course, wants the city to change the allowable land uses from single-family homes and parks and recreation to include retail shops, offices, townhomes and condominiums.

The investors want to develop because the course continued losing money after they took over in 2006. The company closed the course last July because of mounting debt.

The company showcased a preliminary conceptual plan at the public meeting that could get it back in the black.

The plan includes a residential village, a retail store area and a mixed use area all surrounded by parks and trails on the 175-acre site.

"This meeting is an opportunity to gather information from the community and explore what they think about what could be in their community," said Kent Carlson, of Ryan Companies US Inc., working for Florida Gulf Ventures.

"There are two things that are needed for a successful development, community support and the market for it. You need both not just one."

Despite the recent housing market slowdown, about 160,000 people live in the Cape and commercial buildings remain under construction — offering retail, office and other business space to serve the growing population.

Many attending the meeting said they preferred the golf course.

“The city is growing so fast one golf course is not enough,” said Cape Coral resident Brian Whitehouse, 65. “The first two things anyone asks when coming to cape Coral, Where do I keep my boat and where is the golf course?”

The Golf Club meeting reveils retail, home plans

By Pete Skiba News Press pskiba@news-press.com

Originally posted on June 14, 2007

Those attending a meeting today on the future of Cape Coral's The Golf Club saw poster boards of residential and retail development, parks and trails, but no golf holes.

The open house started at 4:30 p.m. at the La Venezia ballroom on Club Square. About 20 people were there earlier, but a much bigger crowd was expected, especially when the Save Our Recreation group arrived.
The non-profit group planned to enter the ballroom at 6:30 p.m. wearing green shirts that proclaim “One generation plants the trees, another gets the shade.” The group boasts 250 dues paying members.

The group is adamantly opposed to the owners turning the Golf Club into residential and business development.

The boards on view present a development with 35 to 40 percent residential villages, 20 to 25 percent retail services such as stores and restaurants, 10 to 15 percent mixed use (stores and offices on the first floor with condominiums above) and 35 to 45 percent parks and trails on the 175-acre defunct golf course site.

There were no plans to retain the golf course on the site because the market isn’t there. No buyers have approached to buy as a golf course

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cape Coral Breeze Article June 9, 2007

Excerpt from the Cape Coral Breeze related to the former Golf Club.

By MATT BLUMENFELD, mblumenfeld@breezenewspapers.com

Meanwhile, the next chapter in The Golf Club saga is ready to be written. The owners of the course, which is located near the Cape’s downtown, Florida Gulf Ventures LLC, plan to hold a town hall style meeting next Thursday. A written statement from Kent Carlson, a managing partner with Florida Gulf Ventures, said the company will welcome public input at the June 14 meeting.

At a rally last week Save Our Recreation, a group of homeowners and other concerned residents who support the continued operation of a course on the existing property, pleaded with those in attendance to follow a game plan and to contribute funds to the fight.

The meeting drew hundreds of citizens including heavy hitters such as council members Tom Hair, Chris Berardi and Dolores Bertolini. Mayor Eric Feichthaler and several candidates for council were also present. Hair brought to the rally an ordinance which would virtually ensure that the Golf Club property would either remain a course or a resort complex with a course attached.

The ownership has repeatedly insisted that neither one of those options is possible from a financial point of view. In an interview last week Scott Stieler, another managing partner with Florida Gulf Ventures and the former course operator, said that a hotel and course complex is not an economic viability. Even those on the side of Save Our Recreation admit that a golf course on its own is not going to work.

An exclusive, private course is a possibility that may prove worthwhile economically, but Stieler is not a fan of that option. High greens fees and a significant membership cost could offset the expenses of maintaining a course. There would be, however, significant drawbacks to such an enterprise.

“A high-end course would be off limits” to most of the public, according to Stieler. He said that the company purchased the land as a course and wanted to keep the property as an operational golf course but that they simply lost too much money for it to remain open.

Much of the controversy concerning any possible sale of the land originates from two appraisals of the property. Stieler said that the land itself as undeveloped residentially zoned acreage was valued at $28 million while it was about half the value as a golf course. As would be expected, the ownership would want a figure closer to the former appraisal. But Stieler said the city has never even made a real offer, at least not one that could start true negotiations.

Fiechthaler said that such an argument is faulty since the owners do not plan to build single family homes on the property. A change in land use to commercial appears to remain a long shot as many council members support the space remaining zoned as single family residential or a compromise, which would allow for a resort to be built on the property as long as it includes a golf course.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Golf Club future viewed Course owner to meet public in open house

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on June 07, 2007

A public open house that could go beyond the controversy over The Golf Club's future and get down to just what kind of development Cape Coral residents will accept there is scheduled for Thursday, June 14.

Representatives of course owner Florida Gulf Ventures LLC want to meet with the public from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the La Venezia ballroom at 4646 S.E. 10th Place. The hall is on the east end of the Club Square parking lot in the downtown area.

"Let me stress to you," manager Kent Carlson said in a June 4 letter to residents, "that the goal of this open house is not to present to you our plans for the property. Rather, we will present to you some potential options such as recreational amenities, retail shops, offices and multi-family residential simply as a way to begin the dialogue with you about future development."

The course opened in 1962 and closed last July because of mounting debt. The course lost about $3 million over the previous five years. Florida Gulf Ventures became involved in early 2006.

A controversy erupted in 2005 when the Lee County School District tried to buy it for a five-school campus. Public pressure from course neighbors forced the district to drop the offer. A nonprofit organization formed after that episode to keep golfing on the 175-acre property.

The city council also looked into buying the course for public recreation but opted not to do so.

"We are happy to work with the developer provided the development includes an 18-hole golf course," said Mary Neilson, president of Save Our Recreation. The group of residents and business people formed in 2006 to preserve the golf course.

"Our group is committed to it for the long haul. We will arrive at the meeting on June 14 at 6:30 as a group. We want to show them that we all stand as one," Neilson said. The group has about 250 members on its mailing list.

But Florida Gulf Ventures has been unable to find any buyers for the property willing to include a golf course in their plans.

The company has asked the city to change the allowable land uses from single family, parks and recreation to include retail and commercial uses. City staff is reviewing the request, which will need approval from the city council. No decision is expected until late fall.

Open houses are good ways to reach understandings, according to Carlson.

"The open house format is something we've used around the country in a variety of communities to get an understanding of what the community wants and what they will support," Carlson said.

Florida Gulf Ventures is a division of Ryan Companies US Inc. Ryan is a national real estate development company based in Minnesota.

"In all successful projects we have customers who want to come to these locations to provide services, and if we have community support our customers will be successful," Carlson said. "We're trying to find something that the market will support as well as the community," Carlson said.

Save Our Recreation launched a drive last week to raise $15,000 for the work needed to show that that a golf course is economically feasible.

It is using consultants such as Joe Mazurkiewicz of BJM Consultants and Chris Spiro of Spiro & Associates to compile the information and publicize its activities.

"The amount of money we'll need depends on how long this struggle goes on," Neilson said.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Thank you from Save Our Recreation

Hi All,

Thank you all for attending the meeting/rally on Thursday. It was nice to see support from so many residents from other areas of the Cape. In attendance were between 250 and 300 people including Mayor Eric Feichthaler, council members Dolores Bertolini and Tom Hair, candidates Eric Grill and Richard Kast, and a few other movers and shakers. Chris Berardi sent his apologies for his absence however, he reaffirmed his opposition to a land use change.

It is imperative that we continue our momentum and keep the pressure on the developers/investors who have applied to change the land use designation of the golf course property from parks and recreation to mixed use (commercial, retail, and multi-family). I am certain that we all agree that the best use of the property for all Cape Coral residents is a resort/hotel with amenities that includes an 18 hole golf course.

Save Our Recreation, Inc. received numerous donations at Thursday's meeting. Prior to the meeting, we raised $9,000 which has already been spent. We will need to raise at least another $15,000 then reassess as we go forward. Keep in mind these expenditures are strictly consulting, filing, CPA, and attorney fees. All funds go to SOR expenses, no salaries, etc... All board members are unpaid volunteers who work for the cause. I hope you will contribute whatever you can.

I have received numerous inquiries regarding fundraising events and activities. A committee will be formed, anyone interested in volunteering for the fundraising committee please contact me and I will put the volunteers in contact with one another.

If you would like to make a donation to support the save the golf course cause, please make your check payable to Save Our Recreation, Inc. and send to:

Save Our Recreation, Inc.
c/o Mary Neilson
3862 SE 7th Place
Cape Coral, Florida 33904

(Do Not Send Cash In the Mail)

Thank you all for your continued support, trust, and confidence in me and my commitment to SAVE THE GOLF COURSE.