Sunday, December 21, 2008

Money may be key to future of old golf course

By GRAY ROHRER, Cape Coral Daily Breeze

As another year comes to a close, the fate of Cape Coral's oldest golf course is yet to be decided.

The Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency is currently in the early stages of a plan to acquire the golf course most recently known as The Golf Club, but the severe economic downturn is raising some doubts about the feasibility of running the golf course in the black.

The city-run Coral Oaks Golf Course in northwest Cape needed a $68,399 interfund transfer this year to break even.

Steve Pohlman, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, said most of the course's $2.4 million in expenditures for fiscal year 2009 will be spent on staff.

"A lot of it's labor; labor on the grounds as well as support staff and the clubhouse," Pohlman said.

Some city and CRA officials, however, say the challenges for the closed golf course off Palm Tree Boulevard presented by the crumbling economy can be overcome by the right course and the right plan.

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. The CRA would then purchase the course from the TPL.

A private company could be brought in to run the course, or it could be run by the CRA or the city, proponents say.

Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said the course's success hinges on its ability to pull people from outside the immediate area into the grounds.

"It depends on who comes in to run it and it depends on how large a course it is. It can't be just the people around the golf course that support it, it has to be they whole city," she said.

Jacobsen said amenities need to be placed around the course to pull people to the links. A convention center or small hotel could be placed there to attract clients.

"It's regaining its former splendor, but maybe a little bit better,"Jacobsen said.

Florida Gulf Ventures shut down the course a few years ago after it was deemed not economically viable, but Jacobsen said the dynamics of running the course will change once the CRA owns it.

"When this town had 20,000 people living in it, it operated successfully. The difference with then and now is the original developer of the golf course owned the property free and clear. Now, the debt service payments were running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.

Incorporating the area surrounding the course is part of the CRA plan, and debt service payments would be provided by the added revenues provided by the annexation, Jacobsen said.

"All we have to do is sell enough rounds to pay for the mowing and the groundskeeping," Jacobsen added.

The TPL is currently in negotiations with Florida Gulf Ventures to purchase the course, and Bertolini said the plan will progress relatively swiftly after those negotiations are concluded.

"I think it'll start to move in the first quarter of next year," she said.