Saturday, November 22, 2008

Burch hopes to build consensus as Cape mayor


Jim Burch is still in the process of transistioning from his role as District 1 council member to the mayor of Cape Coral, and he inherits a city facing a myriad of challenges.

Some of the transition is physical — Burch is still moving his personal items into former mayor Eric Feichthaler’s office, and he’s parking his truck in the mayor’s spot at City Hall, which he says is harder to get into than the District 1 spot.

The rest of the transition is mental — the mayor’s seat carries no extra real power than being a council member, but it does carry extra responsibilities, such as running council meetings and being a spokesperson for the city.

“You do have to lead the meeting, but at the same time you have to listen to what everyone is saying,” Burch said.

High foreclosure rates and rising unemployment plague the city, and pulling the council together to address problems will be Burch’s main focus.

“Honestly, the most important thing to me is you need to try and build that consensus so that they’re talking and not fighting,” he said.

That consensus will be key to solving the city’s pressing issues, such as the controversial utilities expansion project.

Burch said he understands opponents of the 6/7 portion of the UEP want to see lower costs for the project, but waiting now will cost more in the long run.

“I don’t want to be the mayor that somebody calls me in 2010 and says, ‘Why did you do this to us? Why did you stop this when we had the lowest prices?’ I won’t have an answer for them,” he said.

In dealing with the housing crisis, city staffers will submit a proposal outlining how the Cape will spend the $7 million in federal funds to buy foreclosed properties, but Burch also pointed out the city is working to reduce the blight that neglected foreclosed homes bring to the city.

The city is mowing vacant lots in an effort to mitigate the effects of rampant foreclosures.

“It makes people feel better when they go down streets like that and we need some feel good things right now,” Burch said.

Preserving the Cape Coral Golf Course as a functioning course is also on Burch’s to-do list.

The Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency floated a proposal to buy the course this week during a town hall meeting hosted by Councilmember Dolores Bertolini. The current owner, Florida Gulf Ventures, wanted to use the land to build residential, retail, and office space, but those plans are currently on hold.

“If we do something different with that property we’re doing a disservice to our community in the long-term,” Burch said.

Preserving the golf course will be a way to invest in the city’s future by tapping into its past, Burch said.

“For our city, that’s important. That’s where we grew up,” he said.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cape Coral takeover of golf course carries risk

By Brian Liberatore • • November 20, 2008

The last group that tried to run the The Golf Club in Cape Coral lost $3 million in five years.

Now, the city government wants to take a swing at it.

While a public takeover may be the only hope for the defunct 175-acre course, such a move carries risks. And some question how much the government should risk to protect land.

"I'm not sure about how I feel about it," said Cape resident Ralph LePera. "I'm aware something needs to be done. I just don't know if it's the government's job to do it."

LePera joined hundreds of other residents Tuesday for a presentation from the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency on a plan to buy the course from Florida Gulf Venture LLC, which closed the course two years ago after losing millions.

The CRA wants to rehabilitate the course either as a new course or a public park.

"In this case, the government is only providing the actual financial tool," said former Cape Coral mayor and current consultant Joe Mazurkiewicz. He represented a group of property owners lobbying to save the course.

"The CRA would immediately contract with the private sector to develop the course and make it an amenity," he said. "The reality with the banking industry where it is right now, this is the only option."

The course's owners have tried to convert the course into a multi-use property with condominiums, retail space and offices - a move that was shot down by nearby property owners and government officials. Attempts to sell the property have also failed. After two years of nothing, the CRA stepped in.

CRA must expand

The CRA's budget comes from a portion of property taxes paid by parcel owners in the CRA district, a one-half-square-mile in downtown Cape Coral. As property values increase in the district, the extra taxes from that value go to the CRA. The agency pulls about $2.3 million annually from downtown properties. The money can only be spent in the CRA district, so to purchase the golf course the CRA would need to expand its borders to include property around the course.

But if the property values don't go up, the CRA doesn't have any funding. While the CRA's income has stayed steady the past few years, plummeting property values elsewhere have some concerned.

CRA executive director John Jacobsen did his best to alleviate those fears Tuesday. The addition of a functioning golf course, he said, would surely boost property values.

The numbers support his claim.

The average value of property plummeted 11 percent among a random sampling of non-homesteaded property - property without tax exemptions - around the The Golf Club the year after the course closed. Around Coral Oaks Golf Club in the north Cape, non-homestead property rose an average of 28 percent during that same time period.

Between 2005 and 2008, the property around the functioning course only dropped an average of 11 percent while the property around the defunct course fell nearly 30 percent.

Success possible

Many are confident a public entity can succeed where a private group failed.

"It can be viable," said Joel Jackson, executive director for the Florida Golf Course Superintendents Association. "There's a dance that has to be negotiated between the operation costs and the greens fees."

Public courses, he added, also don't need to turn a profit.

Mazurkiewicz said Florida Gulf Venture was bound to fail after it paid too much for the course.

Lee County Clerk's office shows a $13.9 million amount on the property in the name of Florida Gulf Venture and signed by manager Kent Carlson of Rylan LLC.

The project's success may boil down to how much the CRA pays for the property.

The Trust for Public Land could help with those negotiations. The nonprofit acts as an intermediate buyer, purchasing property from private companies and selling it back to governments. The group was behind the Naples Zoo, the Southwest Community Park in Cape Coral and several other golf courses around the country.

As a nonprofit, the Trust can offer tax benefits and has access to federal and state grants to help with the purchase.

"It's going to boil down to three things," said William Nolan, a consultant representing Florida Gulf Venture. "An agreement on the price, an indication by the residents that they're interested in making this go forward, and the blessing of the City Council."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Community shows support for CRA’s golf course proposal

By GRAY ROHRER, Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The desires of many homeowners near the former Cape Coral Golf Course could become a reality if the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency can pull off a plan to buy the course.

Under the CRA plan, the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of open spaces, would act as an intermediary buyer, acquiring the course from the current owner, Florida Gulf Ventures.

More than 250 people packed the city council chambers Tuesday to hear the plan, and the vast majority supported the idea.

Mary Neilson, head of the Save the Golf Course group, tried to rally the support of the people.

“Everyone in favor of this plan stand up,” she said, as nearly every person in the audience rose to their feet.

The fate of the golf course has been up in the air as Neilson and others fought Florida Gulf Ventures’ plans to develop the land.

In July, representatives from Florida Gulf Ventures pulled an application from the Planning and Zoning Commission to switch the course’s land use from parks and recreation to mixed use.

In order for the CRA to purchase the course, however, the surrounding area would have to be incorporated into the CRA.

The area proposed for annexation by the CRA is bounded by Southeast 33rd Terrace on the north, Southeast First Place on the west, Cape Coral Parkway on the south, and the combination of Southeast Fifth Avenue, Southeast 43rd Street, Southeast 11th Place and Southeast 10th Avenue on the east.

John Jacobsen, executive director of the CRA, was quick to point out that residents’ tax rates will not increase if they are incorporated into the CRA.

“Your tax rate is not affected whether you are in or out of the CRA,” Jacobsen said.

The CRA’s budget revenues come from Tax Increment Funds. In other words, when an area is incorporated into the CRA the taxes assessed on the increase in property values year over year go to the CRA.

With home values plummeting in the Cape during the current housing crisis, CRA officials are counting on a rebound in the housing sector to finance the purchase of the course, but also say state grants will be used to pay for the land.

“It is not only the TIF that is going to be used to buy this land,” said Frank Schnidman, an advisor to the CRA.

Schnidman said between $3 million and $4 million would be available in the form of state grants to go toward the purchase. That would nearly double the CRA’s current budget of $5 million.

Negotiations between TPL and Florida Gulf Ventures have not yet begun, so the exact price of the 177-acre golf course is not known.

“We have to get them to come to the table and get them to negotiate,” Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said.

She also pointed out that the CRA is going to have to call the golf course a “nasty word” in order to move its plan forward.

“You’re going to hear a nasty, nasty word, and that word is blight,” Bertolini said.

Essentially, the golf course, which has not been maintained since Florida Gulf Ventures shut it down two years ago, must be declared a blighted area to be incorporated into the CRA.

“Once we identify blight it allows us to come up with an extension and a plan for alleviating the blight,” Schnidman said.

If the area is taken into the CRA, the city will not see a boost to its tax rolls if property values increase as it would now, but Bertolini said preserving the golf course would be for the good of all the residents.

“Everyone benefits if we preserve the 180 acres of land than if it was just some brown area. If we don’t go forward we have no options, we’re at everyone else’s mercy,” she said.

Cape Coral esidents cheer new plan for Golf Club

By Brian Liberatore • • November 19, 2008

Hundreds of people Tuesday embraced a plan to shift a defunct Cape Coral golf course under public control.

The Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency wants to purchase The Golf Club with public dollars and redevelop it as a new course or a public park. More than 300 people packed City Council chambers to hear details of the plans and offer support.

"The issue tonight is, do we want to preserve it as public lands?" said councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, who called the meeting.

The crowd responded with raucous applause.

Tuesday's meeting marked the first step in a long process, officials said. But it is the first sign of movement in more than two years since the 175-acre course closed.

The current property owners, Florida Gulf Venture, LLC, had tried unsuccessfully to turn the property into a multi-use development with retail space, offices and condominiums. The plan met with vehement opposition from nearby homeowners, city staff and elected officials.

The course's owners blamed an ailing economy and dwindling interest for the course's closure. The group since that has tried unsuccessfully to sell the property. With no clear path forward, CRA director John Jacobsen opted to throw his agency's resources behind a solution.

"This is the beginning of the beginning," Jacobsen said Tuesday. "But we've gotten this far this far. We think this is a real possibility."

In order for the plan to go forward:

• The CRA will need to expand its boundaries to include the golf course. Property in the CRA district does not pay additional taxes, Jacobsen said, however increases in taxes from year to year go to the CRA instead of going into city and county coffers. "Your tax rate is entirely unaffected by the CRA," Jacobsen said.

• Working with the CRA, the Trust for Public Lands, a national nonprofit, would purchase the property from the private owners.

• The trust would sell the property back to the CRA at no profit. The CRA, with an annual operating budget of about $5 million, would need to borrow money to pay for the course.

• The public will have input as the city decides how to rehabilitate the property.

"We have high hopes from what we have seen so far," said Joe Mazurkiewicz, a former Cape mayor and consultant representing nearby homeowners. "This is a reasonable course of action."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Golf course rescue planned in Cape Coral CRA would expand borders, buy course under proposal

By Brian Liberatore • • November 18, 2008

The former The Golf Club in Cape Coral may have a glimmer of hope after two years of nothing.

But a new plan from the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency to resurrect the defunct course will need support from the property's owners, the public and the City Council.

The first official introduction of that plan comes at 6:30 tonight in the City Council chambers at City Hall.

"The reason for this meeting is to clarify all the rumors ... and to present a plan being brought forth by the CRA and see if people are amenable to being a part of the CRA," said Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, who organized the meeting. "I myself want to hear more."

The CRA wants to expand its borders to include the 125-acre course in the south Cape. The expansion would allow the CRA to purchase the property and redevelop it as a golf course - something the current owners have been unable to do.

"When I first came here, everything that happened in this town happened at the The Golf Club," said CRA Executive Director John Jacobsen. "We had meetings there, we had weddings there. It was the social center of Cape Coral. It would be wonderful if it could come back to that."

The course's owners, operating as Florida Gulf Venture LLC, blamed economic hardship in shutting down the city's oldest course two years ago.

In 2007, the owners entertained an offer, which eventually fell through, for $28 million to buy the course.

The owners floated a series of proposals to turn the course into a multi-use development with retail space, offices and condominiums. With strong opposition form the neighborhood, the council and the city's planning staff, the plan died and the company took its request off the table.

The company may sell for less than $28 million, but any offer would certainly exceed the CRA's annual $5 million budget. Any plans to purchase the course would require long-term financing.

Jacobsen has been speaking with the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit with a $70 million annual operating budget, to act as an intermediate buyer. Jacobsen said he will have representatives from the trust at the meeting tonight along with the CRA's staff and legal team and representatives from the ownership.

"I'm very encouraged," said Mary Neilson, who heads a group of nearby residents trying to preserve the course under the name Save The Golf Course. "I think it's doable as long as the community is good with it. I'm really appreciative of Dolores Bertolini's efforts in putting this together."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Input sought for golf course site proposal


The Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency is looking at incorporating the Cape Coral Golf Course into the CRA’s boundaries as part of a plan to keep the land operating as a golf course.

Florida Gulf Ventures bought the 177-acre course in 2000, but recently sought the approval of city councilmembers to change its land-use designation from parks and recreation to mixed use to allow for new residential, retail, and office space.

The CRA will present its plan Tuesday during a town hall meeting hosted by Councilmember Dolores Bertolini. The meeting will be held in council chambers at 6:30 p.m.

“What we want to know is if the people are interested in the possibility of the area around the golf course coming into the CRA,” said John Jacobsen, executive director of the CRA.

Under the plan, the Trust for Public Lands, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, would acquire the golf course while the city and the CRA develop a plan for its use.

“They can act quickly to come to an agreement with an owner” and develop a way to run the course, Jacobsen said.

The city could run the golf course itself or lease it to an independent operator.

Those options are “premature,” according to Jacobsen, until the people are heard from.

“We aren’t going to take one step forward unless we have the approval of the citizenry and the city itself,” he said.

Bertolini admits it could take some time before the plan comes to fruition.

“This is not a short road we’re taking but it’s one of the more positive approaches I’ve heard,” Bertolini said.

Many residents near the golf course have spoken out against Florida Gulf Ventures’ plans to develop the course, but Bertolini said she’s ready to hear their input on the new plan.

“I understand there’ll be a big crowd and I’m prepared for it. That’s the purpose of this whole meeting, to share with the people all the information I have,” she said.

The CRA will discuss the plan at its meeting Wednesday and make decisions about going forward with it based on feedback from residents at the town hall meeting. The CRA’s meeting will be held at 447 Cape Coral Parkway East, Suite 108, and is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

Town hall meeting on CRA’s golf course plan,
hosted by Councilmember Dolores Bertolini
Council chambers, City Hall
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 18

CRA discussion of golf course plan
447 Cape Coral Parkway East, Suite 108
5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 19

Thursday, November 13, 2008


For those of you unable to attend the Townhall Meeting November 18th, it will be televised live on channel 14 in Cape Coral and on the City website starting at 6:30 p.m. If you plan to watch it on your computer be sure you have Windows Media Player installed on your PC beforehand.

To watch on your computer.

Log on to
On the left of site click 'I WANT TO' down to Watch.
Then Click CapeTV14

Golf Club's future topic of meeting

News-Press article November 13, 2008

A town hall meeting to discuss the future of the property once known as The Golf Club will be Tuesday in Cape Coral City Council Chambers at City Hall.

The meeting will be from 6:30-8:30 p.m. It will be televised by Cape TV (channel 14).
Councilwoman Dolores Bertolini is hosting the meeting.

Possible future uses of the land will be discussed, including:

~Inclusion of the course into the Community Redevelopment Area

~Purchase of the course by the Trust for Public Lands

~CRA purchase from the trust

Among the speakers will be Carl Schwing, assistant city manager, Save Our Recreation consultant Joe Mazurkiewicz, Trust for Public Lands planner Doug Hattaway and CRA director John Jacobsen.

There will be a question-and-answer period from 7:30-8:30 p.m.

There are so many rumors out there and I have been getting so many calls, like 'I heard it was going to be sold,' or 'planes have been flying overhead taking aerial views,' that I thought it was time to have a meeting to tell everything I know at this point and to have the CRA come with their proposal, "Bertolini said.