Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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.