Friday, April 24, 2009

Cape Coral golf course rehab pricey

Repairs likely to cost $1 million or more

By Brian Liberatore • • April 24, 2009

The next owner of The Golf Club in Cape Coral can expect to pump about $1 million into the course to make it playable.

Golf course rehabilitation experts say the owner may have to replant the entire 175-acre course - or at least the fairways and greens - which have been left to the weeds for the past 2 1/2 years.

"It's not prohibitively expensive to get the golf course up and running again," said John Jacobsen, director of the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency, which is looking to purchase and rehabilitate the closed course. "It's still a golf course. It's not as easy mowing and playing it. But it's not as hard as building a new course."

The single largest expense on a golf course, said Lakeland golf designer Ron Garl, is the irrigation system. And The Golf Club's irrigation system was replaced as part of a complete renovation in 2001.

"There were brand new pumps stations and everything was new when we did it," said Brad Moretti, who runs Titan Golf Services in Fort Myers. Moretti oversaw the rehabilitation of the course when he worked with Highland Golf in 2001. "The irrigation system is probably functional."

Without the expense of irrigation lines, which could run about $1 million, the cost of rehabilitating the course lies in replacing the grass.

"Once it's laid fallow (uncultivated) for so many years, it's got so many garbage plants and weeds, you really need to re-grass it," said Moretti.

Garl, who has rehabilitated courses across the country, said a lawnmower might do a lot of the work outside the fairways.

"Mowing is going to kill 70 percent of the weeds," Garl said. "The rest we can kill with herbicides. You're going to get it pretty clean even without the replant (of the grass)."

Planting the fairways, tees and greens, rehabbing the landscaping and other maintenance work could cost up to $1 million, Garl said. Burch said his research showed the rehabilitation costing about $1.2 million.

The rehabilitation of a fallow 18-hole course in Casselberry, near Orlando, cost $1.5 million in 2002. A complete overhaul of the Eastwood Golf Course in Fort Myers in 2008 cost $1.5 million.

Renovations could take about two months, Moretti said, with another three months for the grass to grow.

The golf course - Cape Coral's oldest - hasn't seen playable greens since July 2006. Florida Gulf Ventures LLC closed the course after losing $3 million in five years. Unable to find a buyer, the company tried and failed to change the land use to allow for a mixed-use development. The clubhouse was torn down and the course neglected.

The CRA stepped forward last year with a plan to break the deadlock and bring The Golf Club under municipal control.

"The goal," Burch said, "is to restore a championship golf course that's been a part of our history, that's been a part of our economic engine."

Part of making the course viable includes replacing the clubhouse with a multiple-use facility - one that could accommodate conferences, weddings and large events.

In a down economy, with golf courses struggling around the country, Garl said courses need other amenities to stay viable.

Building the structure, Burch said, is the next step after making the course playable.

The CRA, Jacobsen said, has no desire "to be in the hotel business." The agency would look to a developer to work with the city to build and operate a facility on the course.

"We want to bring in as many private developers as we can. This whole thing is about helping the area grow, helping businesses grow," Jacobsen said.

While hope is building the CRA's plans could come to fruition, there are several steps facing the agency. The City Council must approve the expansion of the CRA district and the course's owners have to agree on a sale price.

The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit dedicated to land preservation, is negotiating on behalf of the CRA. The Trust and investors with Florida Gulf Ventures, LLC have brought in an appraiser to settle on a price.

"To me this is as important as it gets for this city," Burch said. "I believe it can be a very pivotal economic tool for us. I just hope people don't lose sight of this."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

P&Z board denies land use change for The Golf Club

Backup plan sought if CRA sale falls through


A crowd of about 100 people attended the Cape Coral Planning & Zoning Board's meeting Wednesday to show their support for preventing the land use change of The Golf Club to allow for residential and commercial development.

Board members were happy to oblige the attendees, voting unanimously to recommend denial of the change to city council.

Members of Save Our Recreation, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to preserve the land as a golf course, comprised most of the audience and were relieved at the board's decision.

Anne Carney, who has lived near the course for five years, said the area is part of the Cape's history and preserving it as a golf course with a place for social gatherings is essential to retaining a sense of community in the city.

"We used to go to the golf course for our Sunday brunches," said Carney, who visited her parents in Cape Coral in the 1970s and 1980s.

"That's what's important to me - the idea of bringing in a community center, some place to have weddings here so we don't have to cross the bridge," she said.

Florida Gulf Ventures, the owners of the 175-acre site, is in the middle of negotiations with the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency and Trust for Public Lands, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of open spaces, to sell the property.

William Nolan, a consultant representing Florida Gulf Ventures, said his client's first choice is to sell the property to Trust for Public Lands, but wants to be able to develop the property if the sale is not finalized.

Trust for Public Lands is acting as an intermediary buyer for the CRA and would eventually transfer the property to the city group.

"If this falls through with the CRA, something's got to be done with this property," Nolan said.

Florida Gulf Ventures reached an agreement Monday with Trust for Public Lands to sell the property once it is appraised.

Because land use changes need to be sanctioned by the Florida Department of Community Affairs, and because there are only two opportunities to get a department review each year, Florida Gulf Ventures brought the proposed change before the planning and zoning board.

"You can only do this once a year. We waited for 2 1/2 years to get here," Nolan said.

But board members voted against the land use change, saying it does not comply with the city's future land use plan.

Some members also questioned Florida Gulf Venture's contention that the course could be run for a profit, as the CRA intends to do.

"I really disagree it cannot make a profit," said board member Patti Martin. "I do think it's our duty not to look just at today's economic situation, we're supposed to be looking ahead."

Florida Gulf Ventures shut the course down more than two years ago and has been pushing to develop the area since, postponing its original hearing before the planning and zoning board in July.

"It just does not work financially," Nolan said of the golf course.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Keep Golf Club as a golf course, Cape Coral planning board says • April 22, 2009

The former Golf Club of Cape Coral won’t be turned into commercial property and condos — at least if the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission gets its way.

The commission members today voted unanimously to recommend the city deny a request to turn the property into a mixed-use development.

The vote marks another step toward turning the Golf Course, which has been closed for two-and-a-half years, into city property.

The CRA is working to expand its boundaries to encompass the course. The club’s owners appeared amenable to handing over the course to the city agency.

An assessor is now working out a sale price for the property.

“We’re here (at the Planning and Zoning meeting) because this is when the schedule puts us here,” said attorney Michael Cicerone, representing Florida Gulf Ventures, LLC, which owns the course. “We don’t have any alternative other than being here. We really do hope the city buys it we’ll do everything we can to sell it.”

Plan to revitalize former The Golf Club takes shape

Study calls it blighted


The Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency took another step Tuesday toward reviving the defunct The Golf Club by sanctioning the results of a study that found the area is blighted and could be taken into the CRA's boundaries.

The study is part of a plan for the CRA to buy the 175-acre golf course in the southeast Cape through an intermediary buyer, the nonprofit Trust for Public Lands, and return it to its former glory as a functioning golf club.

The current owners, Florida Gulf Ventures, signed a purchase agreement Monday with Trust for Public Lands to have the property appraised and secure a price.

Florida Gulf Ventures shut down the course more than two years ago because it was not economically viable, wanting to construct a mixed-use development instead. The proposal was decried by residents surrounding the course, who said the area is part of the Cape's history.

The development never got off the ground, and now the once-proud course is full of overgrown weeds, causing property values in the area to fall even more precipitously than the housing crisis would suggest.

Mary Neilson, who led the fight against the development of the course for two years as president of the nonprofit organization Save Our Recreation, is pleased with the CRA plan's progress.

"I think they're just moving at light-speed," she said.

Because the CRA's main funding source - tax increment funds - come from increases in property values and the taxes gleaned from those that would otherwise go to Cape Coral and Lee County, the plan to expand the CRA's borders, and the study justifying it, must by OK'd by the city and county.

Thomas Kohler, senior vice president of Real Estate Research Consultants, the firm that conducted the study, said all parties involved could reach an agreement as early as October, but CRA officials are keen to complete the deal sooner rather than later.

"The important thing is to move forward with (the study) as quickly as possible," CRA executive director John Jacobsen said.

Mayor Jim Burch touted the golf course's revitalization as crucial for a city trying to pick itself up after being knocked down by a severe recession.

"This could be the single most important thing the city has done in 30 years," he said.

"It's almost a signification of the rebirth of our city, and we could use a rebirth right now. For something like this to happen in an economy like this would be remarkable," Burch said.

Cape Coral CRA happy to have more blight

The Golf Club gets designation; CRA glad

By BRIAN LIBERATORE • • April 22, 2009

The former Golf Club of Cape Coral - after 2 1/2 years of neglect - is officially blighted.

That's bad news for The Golf Club but good news for the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA needed an official blight designation to expand its boundaries around the course, buy and rehabilitate it.

Tuesday it got that designation.

Thomas R. Kohler with Real Estate Research Consultants announced his company's findings at Tuesday's CRA meeting, sparking hopes the plan could move ahead.

"We met the blight condition," Kohler said. "We have met the intent of the letter of the law and the intent of the law."

If the plan continues on track, the course could open by the end of next year or "maybe a whole lot sooner," said CRA Executive Director John Jacobsen.

In order for the purchase to go through, the City Council will need to approve the expansion and the course's owners will need to settle on a sale price within the CRA's budget.

"This is awesome," said Mary Neilson, founder of Save The Golf Course. "(Tuesday) I realized that this can happen."

The Trust for Public Land, a national land preservation nonprofit, is negotiating a price with Florida Gulf Ventures, LLC, which owns the course. The Trust plans to transfer ownership of the course to the CRA. The Trust signed a purchase agreement Monday and has hired an assessor to work out a price.

"For something like this to happen in an economy like this would be remarkable," said Mayor Jim Burch.

"This partnership has been just outrageously good. This could be the single most important thing the city has done in 30 years - to bring back the center of this city, and to bring it back in this economic time. It's a (sign) of a rebirth of this city."

The course's owners expect to bring a proposal to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission today to change its land use to permit a mixed-use development - a move commission members, the city' planning staff and City Council members have opposed.

Representatives with Gulf Ventures deemed the proposal a contingency plan should negotiations with the trust fall through. But trust officials were confident the sale would go through.

"Boy I'm looking forward to going out there and playing," Burch said. "But I'm looking forward more to the aftermath of that - to seeing the economic benefit."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Golf club sales contract signed

Nonprofit wants to buy course for taxpayers

By Brian Liberatore • • April 21, 2009

A nonprofit organization Monday signed a contract to purchase the former The Golf Club in southeast Cape Coral — a major step toward turning the 175-acre course over to Cape Coral’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

The Trust for Public Land and investors with Florida Gulf Ventures LLC need to bring in an appraiser to solidify a purchase price, and the CRA needs to expand its boundaries before the course can belong to the taxpayers.

But advocates for rejuvenating the course are buoyed by the contract.

“I’m very optimistic that they’ll make this happen,” said Mary Neilson, who lives near the course. Neilson two years ago formed a nonprofit to fight redevelopment of the course as a mixed-use condo community. “I’m pleased by the progress.”

The course has been closed for 21⁄2 years, allowing weeds and crabgrass to overtake the greens and dashing hopes that the city’s oldest course and a social scene centerpiece would see another round.

After the owners’ earlier attempts to change the allowed land use failed, Florida Gulf Ventures appeared stuck with property it couldn’t sell.

CRA director John Jacobsen floated a solution, suggesting the CRA district expand its borders to include the golf course. Taxes from increased property values around the course would be used to pay for the property.

The CRA expects to hear today from a consultant on the plausibility of expanding the boundaries — something the city and Lee County officials would also have to sign off on.

“It’s not the quickest process in the world, but it’s the right process,” Jacobsen said.

“Everybody gets ample time to learn about it and show up and talk about it.”

Jacobsen brought in the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving green spaces, to negotiate a purchase. The trust would buy the land and sell it back to the CRA. CRA board members are waiting to hear about the course’s cost before moving ahead.

The property is assessed by Lee County’s property appraiser for $2.5 million.

The course’s owners on Wednesday expect to bring a proposal to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to change its land use to permit a mixed-use development. Previous proposals hit stiff resistance from property owners, city council members and city planners.

Representatives with Gulf Ventures deemed Wednesday’s proposal a contingency plan should the negotiations with the trust fall through.

Greg Chelius, director of the Trust for Public Land in the Caribbean and Florida, was confident the groups could find a deal.

“We don’t like to do this unless there’s a real good chance of it working,” said Chelius. “It sounds to me like the community would really like to see this take place. We love that.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

URGENT! Plan to attend Planning & Zoning Meeting 4/22/2009

Florida Gulf Ventures application to change the Golf Club land to Mixed Use is being heard at the April 22nd P & Z meeting. The negotiations with the Trust For Public Lands and the Florida Gulf Ventures are moving forward yet FGV is still pressing to have the Land Use changed.

Please plan to attend. Be sure to alert your neighbors and friends. Call 3 people and tell them to contact 3 people as well. We want the city to know we continue to oppose this application.

Where: Cape Coral City Hall council chambers
Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Time: 9 a.m. (Golf Club App is 1st up on the agenda, don't be late)

See you there. Thank you


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Rezoning requested for golf land

By Brian Liberatore News Press

Development Plan before committee

The owners of the former The Golf Club in Cape Coral may try again to turn the course into a development of homes. But success seems unlikely.

Florida Gulf Ventures LLC, which owns the now defunct 175-acre course, has submitted an application to the city to change what can be built on the land. The proposal goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission on April 22.

The application comes despite ongoing negotiations to sell the property to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which wants to resuscitate the property as a park or a golf course.

"They (Florida Gulf Ventures) need to get serious," said councilwoman Dolores Bertolini, who represents the area around the course. "Which side do they want to get on? Do they want to be on both sides or are they serious with negotiations."

Four months ago, the CRA brought in the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving green spaces. The plan is for the Trust to settle on a price and buy the golf course, which has been closed for two-and-a-half years, from Gulf Ventures. The agency would then sell the property to the CRA.

Doug Hattaway, a senior project manager for the Trust for Public Land, said the application would not hurt talks on the sale.

"I don't think it has a negative affect on the negotiations," Hattaway said. "I'm optimistic that we will have a contract (to purchase the property) in the near future."

Hattaway conceded it made sense for Gulf Ventures to look at a back up plan for the property in case the deal with the CRA fell through.

The property owners have a limited window to apply for a large-scale land use change.

"It (the application) doesn't mean they're any less sincere," said CRA executive director, John Jacobsen. "If they don't make this application, they'd have to wait another year.If out negotiations fail for any reason - not that I expect them to fail - that would put them back a year."

In its current state, the property is assessed at $2.5 million. The trust plans soon to bring in an assessor to get a better handle on the property's value.

Regardless of the negotiations with the Trust, the land use change will face some stiff opposition from the city. The application calls for up to 1,400 residential units, office and retail space and "significant public park and lake areas."

Nearby residents have organized in opposition to past attempts to change the land. City Council members have come out against the project. And the city's planning staff has said the proposal doesn't make sense in its location.

The project, the city's planners say, would represent a 9,000 percent increase in traffic around Palm Tree Boulevard and Country Club Boulevard.

"Given the size of the subject property, the proposed amendment would place tremendous burden on the surrounding neighborhood," city planner Wyatt Daltry wrote in response to the application. "A proposal with lesser scope ... may be appropriate, however."