Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Golf Course deal falls through


The future of The Golf Course in southeast Cape Coral is once again in doubt as negotiations to sell the property fell through Monday.

Florida Gulf Ventures, the owner of the 175-acre site of the golf course, sent a letter to the Trust for Public Land, the non-profit organization looking to buy the course, indicating its termination of a purchase agreement.

The two parties had signed a purchase agreement on April 7 which outlined the appraisal methodology, but both sides are now at an impasse over the price and appraisal methods used.

"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," the letter reads, in part.

The purchase of the golf course was to be one of the first steps in a plan to restore the course, which has been shut down for the past two years by Florida Gulf Ventures due to lack of profitability.

Under the plan, the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency would buy the course from TPL and lease the course to a private company. The company would then restore the golf course and build a hotel and other amenities to attract players and make the course economically viable.

Now that plan appears in jeopardy, but CRA executive director John Jacobsen still has faith a deal can be struck between the parties.

"I'm very confident that we're going to get there. I think it's going to be deliberated for some time," Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen is nonetheless frustrated with the negotiation tactics he says have been used by Florida Gulf Ventures. In a memo sent Tuesday to CRA board members and city council members, he questioned the company's seriousness in the negotiation process.

"A major problem in this process to date has been that TPL ... has apparently had to deal with negotiators who are unwilling to negotiate, but with the logic of a two year old, wants what they want," the memo reads, in part.

William Nolan, president of WPN & Associates, a consulting firm representing Florida Gulf Ventures, agreed negotiations would continue.

"There is some continuing dialogue with the CRA. Where that's going to go, I don't know," Nolan said.

The exact difference in price between the TPL and Florida Gulf Ventures has not been divulged by either party. Nolan said he was not involved in the financial negotiations.

Representatives for the TPL could not be reached Tuesday.

The CRA's plan to acquire the golf course is contingent on TPL's ability to buy the course from Florida Gulf Ventures.

"That was the whole crux of the plan to have the TPL buy the golf course and then lease it to the CRA," said City Councilmember Dolores Bertolini, a main proponent of efforts to restore the golf course.

Meanwhile, the CRA has annexed the golf course and surrounding area - nearly tripling its size in the process - to be positioned to buy the course. State statutes prevent the CRA from spending money outside its boundaries.

There does not appear to be a back-up plan for the CRA should the TPL prove unable to buy the property, but Jacobsen said it was still prudent to annex the area because the deal will go through eventually.

"We need to be at the ready to purchase this golf course," Jacobsen said.

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.”