Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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

By Brian Liberatore • bliberatore@news-press.com • 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."