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.