This article, originally published by Al Zucaro on BocaWatch.org, is preserved for historical purposes by Massive Impressions Online Marketing in Boca Raton.
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Forty years ago, Boca citizens voted themselves into the golf business. Golfers and non-golfers alike agreed that it would be an important recreational feature and economic development investment for their growing City.
They set up their venture as an Enterprise Fund at City Hall. City Council would serve as the Board of Directors and fund managers for the stockholders and the city would hire employees to operate the business. They collectively invested in farmland west of the turnpike, and that land was converted to an 18 and a 9 hole golf course; i.e.-Boca Municipal Golf Course.
The ‘Golf in Boca’ business model worked well for many years. Not a big money maker, but not a big money looser either. But market conditions changed over time. More golf courses entered the western market, which competed for the non-residents that sustained the Municipal Courses. Once the County opened its Osprey facility, the Municipal course consistently lost hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
Fortunately for the Boca resident, in the last few years, housing developers showed significant demand for the land. Now it’s to the point where the City has the opportunity to divest this land asset for $65 million dollars. However, that potentially results in the end of the ‘Golf in Boca’ model in place for decades. Just as fortunate, this same set of circumstances has caused the residents of Boca Teeca to raise community consciousness about the state of affairs with their derelict golf course.
Over the last few years community voices have caused a resident driven movement to ‘Keep Golf in Boca.’ This movement gained momentum in the last two election cycles. Both the City Council and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District members all, I reiterate, all committed to ‘Keep Golf in Boca’. The residents appealed for help and the Beach and Park District stepped up to the ‘tee’ agreeing to purchase the land with the implicit understanding that the City and the District would work together and open the new Boca National course. The sentiment was that Boca Raton would have a ‘championship’ course, commensurate with what one expects from the Boca Raton brand.
Since then, the experience, or should I say saga, of ‘Keeping Golf in Boca’ has begun to look like there will be ‘No Golf in Boca’. Despite an extensive history of jointly acquiring land and developing recreational assets, the elected officials at the City and the District have defied previous models of cooperation and are embroiled in what can only be describes as a ‘childish’ battle of minutia driven by politicians whose motivations are in serious question.
The City Council members are such political creatures that out of jealousy and hubris, they have failed in their duties both as directors of the enterprise and as the elected leaders for the City by displaying an astounding lack of any semblance of business acumen.
As representative leaders of the residents, the Council’s decision making has been dismal. They, as a whole, caved to special interests; allowing the developer a 2nd bite of the bidding apple for the purchase and sale of the Boca Muni Course. That turned out to be a $7 million bite when the purchase price dropped from $72 million to $65 million.
As elected leaders, the City Council has demurred on multiple occasions when the District requested even a ballpark estimate for a commitment of funds from the Boca Muni sale. The Council, as a whole, acts like they’re clever negotiators when they are simply obstructionists to a new business model of a multi-faceted family-oriented modern facility on an eastern location; a location with the competitive advantage of no, again no, nearby competition. Worse yet, they seemingly don’t recognize the obvious benefit to their stockholders. the residents. Every dollar the City would send to the District generates a 75% Return on Investment to City residents in improvements to the recreational facilities and benefits of preserved green space.
So far, all that the City Council has ‘benevolently granted’ to their ‘partner’, the District, is to serve as the financier for the purchase of the land on the west side of Boca Raton Boulevard in a humiliating display of political theater resulting in an Inter-local Agreement that has little chance of success.
In the past, the District has answered the cry to preserve green spaces and the City granted financial participation without a second thought. Those truly cooperative partnerships allowed the District to acquire and preserve Ocean Strand on A1A and develop Sugar Sand Park. This time, however, City Council is questioning everything from the property value for the public land; the District’s ability to repay the loan; and the second guessing of the District on the course design; a design arrived at after a year long evaluation.
Green Space isn’t a priority any more? Really?
Questioning now the long-term value of preserving public green space that is fundamental to our quality of life, to property values and to economic development?
Questioning a State of Florida authorized taxing authority’s ability to repay a loan?
The history of the District’s interaction with the City on previous occasions belies the foolishness of the City Council’s position.
Meanwhile, the District Commissioners spent more than hundreds of thousands of dollars to design a new facility without any real financial commitment from the City and without any hands-on involvement from the City Council. Instead, the District has clung to the belief that the City Council will do the right thing and re-invest proceeds from the Boca Muni sale to the Boca National location.
Is it a good design in a non-competitive location driven by Boca-based market factors?
The numerous presentations in public workshops by a world class team of experts make it so. Besides, in spending time and money on a project without any the City’s commitment, the District has failed to look beyond their current balance sheet and income statement to consider viable options for the independent long-term financing for the Boca National project; options that would let the District tell the City to, proverbially, ‘pound sand on the 18th hole’.
In other words, the District could go it alone.
That’s how the District acquired and preserved the Swim and Racquet Club on St. Andrew’s Boulevard 20 years ago. When that facility was threatened with closure to add more housing, the District answered the call by raising its mileage. That amounted to a small increase in individual taxes but accumulated millions to purchase the property the next year. That increase subsequently paid for millions of dollars of improvements from Gumbo Limbo to Sugar Sand for years to come.
As recently as this past month, the City Council has continued to bully the District with nonsensical rhetoric and the District has accepted the beat down with its gentile institutionalized personality; that has got to come to an end!
The District proposed that the City Council members take 6 weeks or more to study and understand the design concept and trade-offs with the hope that the City will commit a $20 million grant from the Boca Muni sale to the Boca National project. The District also offered the City a 45% partnership share of the project’s annual operating bottom line for its $20 million contribution.
That the District offered this deal, and that the City actually demonstrated interest to ask the District to outline with more specificity, shows how naive the 10 elected officials are about business and finance.
Here’s what the District Commissioners proposed in response to the City’s request for details.
District/City Golf Course Partnership Amendment Term Sheet
The loan terms listed below are provided as a summary and are subject to change. Final terms are subject to negotiation based on agreement between both parties.
GOLF COURSE CONSTRUCTION & OPERATION:
Investment Amount: City contributes $20 million to construct golf course; District has contributed and/or committed $30 million
Additional Fees: District will pay all design fees for Southern Hills (Price/Fazio) and construction costs that exceed $20 million
Project Management: City and District shall mutually agree on a project manager, subject to compliance with all local and state financial policies, rules and regulations. All major changes, as defined by both parties, to design during construction will be agreed upon by both parties.
Ownership: District continues paying bond on west side of property; title of property will be transferred to District per terms established in
Operation and Maintenance: Golf course is anticipated to run as an enterprise fund; City can operate and maintain the golf course to mutually agreed upon standards established by Southern Hills (Price/Fazio); If golf course is not maintained by City in accordance with mutually agreeable standards, as defined in future ILA, the District shall assume control over maintenance.
Profit & Loss: Profit and losses will be shared at a 55/45 rate. Once both parties’ initial investments have been satisfied in full, the District shall assume 100% control over operation and maintenance and assume 100% of any and all profit and loss.
Future Investments: Future investments, including but not limited to a permanent clubhouse, will be funded at a 55/45 split.
This arrangement would be a huge mistake!
First, this would be a forced marriage of a couple that does not trust or respect each other. These elected officials are not realizing that the details and unintended consequences of this joint arrangement are worse then if the City simply provided funding from the Boca Muni sale and let the District develop and manage the course alone.
The District must separate itself from the City and go about developing the Boca National Course without the City’s participation financially or in the design.
The District has alternatives…
One option would be to approve a small millage increase which would result in an increased revenue stream available to support multiple financial opportunities; financial opportunities enough to fund the Boca National build out independently (More on this in Part 2).
In Part 2, I will also review each elected official’s ill-considered, on the public record, stated positions and the unintended consequences that could result.
Stay tuned folks. You can’t make this stuff up.
Publisher of BocaWatch