Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cape Coral Golf Club owners seeking mulligan

They end talks with trust, hope to work with Cape

By Brian Liberatore • • July 29, 2009

The best and perhaps last hope of saving what once was The Golf Club of Cape Coral is unraveling.

But officials say there is reason to believe the 175-acre course could wind up in public hands, rehabilitated and reopened.

The property’s owners, Florida Gulf Venture, want more money before it’ll relinquish the defunct course to the public. On Monday, the owners terminated a purchase agreement with the Trust for Public Lands, a national nonprofit which was negotiating on behalf of the Community Redevelopment Agency.

The trust specializes in preserving green spaces and has the resources to purchase the property and transfer it to the CRA over time at no extra cost to taxpayers.

“I think this is just a stage in the negotiations,” said CRA executive director John Jacobsen. “It’s not over. There’s no place else for them (Florida Gulf Venture) to go.”

The course’s owners closed the course in 2006, claiming it was not profitable. Attempts to turn the land into a mixed-use development or sell it as a golf facility failed, as did efforts to sell the property.

The course has devolved into a weed patch weighing down the value of nearby property.

Late last year, the CRA announced plans to resurrect the facility and brought in the Trust for Public Land to negotiate a deal.

But after 11 months of negotiations, the owners and the trust could not settle on a price. In a July 27 letter from Ryan Companies on behalf of Florida Golf Ventures, company V.P. Kent Carlson wrote, “Florida Gulf Venture is very disappointed that TPL is unable to move forward with the terms as negotiated, and has in fact requested a reduction in our price by 30-50 percent.”

Neither side would disclose the amount of the purchase price. The property this year is assessed at about $2.8 million for tax purposes.

Save our Recreation, a group of neighbors that has organized to preserve the property as a golf course, is holding to the position.

“If (the owners) are sitting there and trying to hold the city and everybody else hostage, fine,” said Joe Mazurkiewicz, who represents the group. “We’ll wait them out. We’re not spending any money. It’s clear that the city is united in that this will be nothing but a golf course.”

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Carlson’s letter goes on to say company officials had hoped the trust could secure federal and private grants to boost the purchase price. But the assumption anyone would issue a grant to boost the owners’ profits, Jacobsen said, is ridiculous.

“Any state, federal or private grants that (the Trust for Public Lands) would seek would be on the CRA’s behalf for the ultimate purchase of the property,” Jacobsen wrote in a memo Tuesday to the City Council, “not as a gift to the investors to meet any made-up value they placed on the property above what the property was worth.”

While the owners have severed negotiations with the trust, they’re still hoping to work with the CRA.

“There is some discussions with the CRA on other options,” said William Nolan, a consultant speaking on behalf of the owners.

But the CRA, Jacobsen said, is in not position to offer more for the course than the trust.

“I’m sorry that they couldn’t come to an agreement, but I suspect that calmer heads will prevail and they’ll come back to the table,” Jacobsen said. “We’ll get there. It just seems we’re going to be a little longer until we come to a solution.”