By Mary Hladky
Wasting no time, the City Council formally accepted the donation of the 167-acre Boca Golf and Tennis Country Club just eight days after the gift was announced.
In casting their unanimous vote on Oct. 14, council members brushed aside pleas from nearby property owners to postpone the decision.
Members of the Boca Golf and Tennis Property Owners Association complained they were never consulted or even told that the new owners of the Boca Raton Resort & Club were offering the country club to the city.
They voiced concerns about the loss of privacy and safety when the private club becomes public, increased traffic and whether the city had completed adequate due diligence.
“What’s the rush?” several property owners asked.
“We were surprised and shocked as to the clandestine and seemingly surreptitious agreements … we were not aware of,” said one resident.
But council members said the donation offer was too good to pass up.
It gives the city a golf course to replace the municipal course that is in the process of being sold to GL Homes for $65 million.
Golfers also won’t have to wait for the Boca National golf course to be built by the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District after a contentious battle with the city over control of the project.
“I think it is a slam dunk for the city,” said council member Andy Thomson.
Other cities would be “salivating” over such a gift, said Mayor Scott Singer, who described it as “the most generous donation” ever made to Boca Raton.
Responding to objections to the quick vote, City Manager Leif Ahnell said, “The donation is available now. … I am not under the impression it is available at a later date. This would be a fantastic opportunity.”
Thomson, who has taken an active role on golf course matters, said he did not consider the vote rushed. The city will assume control of the country club on Oct. 1, 2021, giving the city plenty of time to address concerns.
Ahnell said he expects Boca Raton will break even on operating the golf course, or possibly make a small profit.
The golf course, which Ahnell described as “first class,” was completely renovated in 2018, he said.
“It is our intent to operate it as a premier public facility,” he said.
The country club, located outside the city limits on Congress Avenue north of Clint Moore Road, includes an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis courts, clubhouse and pool. Deputy City Manager Mike Woika said it is debt-free.
The new owners of the Boca Raton Resort & Club — MSD Partners, formed by billionaire Michael S. Dell’s private investment firm, and Northview Hotel Group — acquired the country club as part of their purchase of the resort for $875 million in 2019.
The resort is now in the midst of a $150 million renovation. In announcing the donation, the owners said they want to concentrate on completing that project. They also said the country club had been underutilized for over a decade.
Under the deal, which is expected to close soon, the city will get title to the property and then lease it to the resort, which will continue to operate and maintain it as a private club until the city takes over.
Over the next 11 months, the city will meet with residents, create a budget for management and operations and develop user fee schedules.
Once it becomes a public facility, all city residents and visitors will be able to use it, as will members of the resort and the country club.
Those living in the country club’s residential areas, who are not city residents, will be able to purchase golf passes at the same rate as city residents. Premier members of the resort also will pay city resident rates.
Still to be resolved is what impact the donation will have on the Beach and Park District’s plans to build Boca National.
Ahnell said city and district officials will discuss this. Thomson expects that land to become a “first-class” park instead.
Beach and Parks Commissioner Craig Ehrnst, who attended the meeting, urged council members to accept the gift. “Donations like this don’t come around very often,” he said. “This really makes a lot of sense for the entire community.” Ú