By Mary Hladky
Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District commissioners have reluctantly given in to City Council pressure to allow the city to take over the Boca National golf course project and to request proposals from golf course architects with the aim of seeing if the city can get a better price or design.
While district commissioners were willing to let the city construct and fund Boca National, they told City Council members at a Nov. 12 joint district-council meeting that they wanted the city to stick with the golf course plan created by the Nick Price/Tom Fazio design team or to allow the district veto power over any alternate design the city selects.
They contended that the city’s objection to the cost of the Price/Fazio design is now moot because it has been reduced from $28 million to $13.4 million, with certain features of the plan to be phased in over time.
District commissioners chafed at the idea of essentially starting over on the golf course design.
“If you want (to request proposals), you are entitled to do that if you spend your own funds for that,” said Commissioner Robert Rollins, noting the district spent nearly $1 million on its own selection process.
“I think you will find that the time wasn’t as well spent … because Price/Fazio will come out on top with the design. You won’t see much difference in cost.”
“We know it is a good design,” said Vice Chair Erin Wright, drawing applause from the audience. “I don’t know why we would reinvent the wheel and spend more time and taxpayer money to do another go-through.”
The district is entitled to approve any new design, several commissioners said, because it paid $24 million for the land.
“If it is going to be our money, it is going to be our design,” countered City Council member Andy Thomson, who has taken the lead on negotiations with the district.
“Let’s take one more step to confirm this is the best plan,” he said, referring to the request for proposals.
The problem for district commissioners is that they don’t have enough money to do the project on their own because, under pressure from the City Council, they recently abandoned a proposed 19.4% property tax increase.
Faced with that reality, commissioners eventually gave up their effort to convince City Council members that they should have the authority to approve any new golf course design. Even so, that debate has not been permanently put to rest.
Mayor Scott Singer at one point suggested the city could give the district $10 million and the district could put in additional funds to complete the course on its own.
“We held the millage rate,” Rollins said. “Now we don’t have the money to contribute that we would have had if the millage rate increased.”
Executive Director Briann Harms confirmed the district is badly strapped for cash.
“We would not be able to commit millions of dollars to the golf course,” she said.
Commissioner Steven Engel expressed his frustration at a Nov. 18 district meeting.
“Since the city had backed us into a corner … we had no choice,” he said. “It is distasteful to me … to go to the city and say ‘it is all yours, guys.’ I don’t see any other way out.”
A short time later, Engel again showed his discontent.
“I would like our (legal) counsel to look into what procedures are necessary to follow for the dissolution of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District,” he said, stunning other commissioners into momentary silence.
“If the city feels they don’t need us, that we are just there to be their whipping boys, fine, we don’t need to be around.”
No commissioner seconded Engel’s motion, and the idea was dropped.
Even though the city is now in charge, the future of the golf course is far from settled.
Thomson said he expects the process for requesting proposals to take three to six months. District Chair Susan Vogelgesang thinks it will take six months or longer.
The Price/Fazio team will be able to participate.
But first, the city will draft an interlocal agreement that will specify the city’s and the district’s roles and responsibilities for the golf course project.
If the district doesn’t like the terms of the agreement and a compromise can’t be reached, the two sides could be at an impasse once again. The city might not be able to move forward with the request for proposals if the two sides are at loggerheads over the interlocal agreement, Thomson said.
Other key issues remain unresolved, such as whether the city and district will share profits and losses on the golf course once it is built.
Thomson said that if commissioners were satisfied with the final agreement and the design of the course, they may decide to take a role in operating the golf course.
For now, the district is waiting to see what the city comes up with. Commissioners will then meet to discuss it.
“If the (interlocal agreement) is not fair and balanced, let’s be quick to say ‘no, thanks,’ ” Commissioner Craig Ehrnst said at the Nov. 18 meeting.
City Manager Leif Ahnell asked council members for direction on what they want included in the interlocal agreement at a Nov. 13 City Council meeting.
Council members deflected to city staff. Thomson asked that staff report back to the council at its Dec. 9 meeting.
The next joint meeting of the council and district is set for Jan. 27.