Wednesday, November 19, 2008

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."