By Steve Plunkett
The impasse between the city and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District over the planned Boca National golf course showed few signs in October of abating.
Briann Harms, the district’s executive director, told commissioners at their Oct. 21 meeting that even though they abandoned a proposed 19.4% increase in property taxes Oct. 1 and adopted the previous year’s rate, “there is the potential still” to borrow money without city assistance to build the course.
Commissioner Craig Ehrnst agreed.
“I do think that we can obtain sufficient financing to do the east course at a minimum and possibly the west course over time,” he said. “But let’s see what they [City Council members] have to offer. … Right now I really don’t know.”
Ehrnst also said council members’ opposition to the golf course design by the Price/Fazio team will dissolve once they go through “the educational process we went through.”
Commissioner Robert Rollins said he would not mind listening to the council’s offer but worried about how soon the city would do the work.
“I really feel like it’s been mentioned before, whether it’s El Rio Park that took 35 years, whether it’s Wildflower that took 10 years to get going, whether it’s Woodlands where they’ve been talking about doing that park since I was on the parks and rec board 30 years ago,” Rollins said. “I hear what they’re saying is that they want to do this course, but what time frame?”
Commissioners voted to work with council members and see what their plan is and to obtain an independent credit rating, which Ehrnst said should be on par with Boca Raton’s AAA rating, to ease borrowing money.
They also looked ahead to their joint meeting with council members at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at the city’s 6500 Building, at 6500 Congress Ave. Besides the golf course, they decided the agenda should include discussion of their partnership with the city and the status of contributions the district makes to Boca Raton’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
Meanwhile, council member Andy Thomson was watching the district’s meeting and especially the golf course discussion online.
“There was some kind of mixed messages, I would say, on how they anticipated the process working,” he reported at the next night’s council meeting, distributing a list of bullet points he wanted district commissioners to consider.
Thomson objected to letting the district have final say over any changes the city makes to the golf course plan.
“It wouldn’t make a lot of sense for the city to go down that road, hire an architect, come up with a design just to have some ultimate veto power there in the hands of the Beach and Park District,” he said. “If it’s our money and we’re building it, then it should be us who decides.”
Council member Monica Mayotte said she does not want to throw out everything Price/Fazio has done, calling it “a good starting point to figure out how do we tweak this.”
“You may have less bunkers, less water and things like that, but the general layout of the course I don’t think is going to change that much,” she said.
Golf teaching professional and city resident Rick Heard told council members that discarding the Price/Fazio design and starting over would be “a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money.”
The Beach and Park District has one regular meeting scheduled before the Nov. 12 joint session, on Nov. 4, that could include discussion of Thomson’s points. The council will meet for a workshop in the afternoon before that evening’s get-together.
Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers said despite “some snarky comments” he had heard from Beach and Park commissioners, the two bodies are making progress.
“I see this being positive moving forward, and the only way it’s going to move forward is if it’s positive,” Rodgers said.
The Price/Fazio team has trimmed its cost estimate from $28 million to $15 million. Its original timetable had ground being broken last month with the new golf course opening for play next fall.
City Council member Andy Thomson’s proposal to build Boca National:
• City will undertake design and construction of entire golf course facility (east and west).
• City agrees with the general concepts of the most recent Price/Fazio plans, such as the facility’s elements and their general location, but retains the ability to hire its own golf course architects and contractors to design and construct the facility and to plan the facility’s overall design based on their professional input.
• City will endeavor to use, where appropriate, the work product and plans produced by Price/Fazio and will consider input from the Beach and Park District.
• City will finalize the design of and construct the golf facility with city funds.
• BPD will continue to pay the debt service on the purchase.
• City will manage the course and its programming with input from BPD.
• City and BPD will split profits/losses on facility once built.
• City will work expeditiously on the design so as to begin construction as early as possible but in no event absent extenuating circumstances later than (date TBD).
• The creation of a volunteer board to advise regarding the operation and programming of the golf facility once built.