Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Golf club sales contract signed

Nonprofit wants to buy course for taxpayers

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