By Steve Plunkett
A 17-page letter from City Hall probing development phases and finances for the planned Boca National Golf Course has set off a storm of anger and frustration in Boca Raton’s golf community.
Deputy City Manager George Brown’s 36 questions to the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District ranged from simple (Is a lightning detection/warning system included in the design?) to troubling (Is the district requesting financial support from the city for the construction of BNGC?).
The letter included five attachments with still more questions and concerns from the city’s police, fire, municipal services, utilities, and recreation services departments.
Rick Heard, a PGA teaching professional who lives in Boca Raton, said there should be no financial concerns and that the letter “is all the evidence anyone needs in order to see that our representative bodies are not working together as a team.”
The Beach and Park District bought part of the former Ocean Breeze course outright for $5 million and borrowed $19 million for the rest via bonds issued by the city. Its latest estimate for building the new course is $28 million.
District commissioners reviewed Brown’s letter on April 23. The special meeting was the district’s first in its new headquarters at the Swim and Racquet Center on St. Andrews Boulevard.
Residents filled almost every chair.
Heard made it clear how he thought the city should proceed. He said the deal started as “a simple golf course land swap,” with Boca Raton selling its municipal course west of the city for $65 million “in order to pay for the resurrection of another, with $10 [million] or $15 million left over as profit for the city.”
“Any other use of this money is at best political sleight-of-hand and at worst a travesty that can undermine the Boca National project,” Heard said.
Greg Galanis, president of the 200 golfers in the Boca Golf Association, and Harold Chaffee, a leader of Keep Golf in Boca Raton, agreed.
“The city should be obligated to taking out a significant amount of the money from the sale of Boca Municipal and put it into Boca National,” Galanis said.
“The city’s got $65 million,” said Chaffee. “Now they’re thinking of all different ways to use up that money. What they should do is to put the money into this project.”
Both men also urged the crowd to pressure City Council members.
“You guys need to show up, City Council workshop, get on the public request thing and get up there and speak,” Galanis said.
Said Chaffee: “Everybody here, write an email to the city and tell them why don’t they move this project forward? What’s the problem? Are they jealous because the Beach and Parks got it and they didn’t get it?”
Resident Bill Blevin said he already had emailed Mayor Scott Singer.
“He said he is willing and ready to open the pockets and fund you guys, but they haven’t met with you since July last year,” Blevin said. “If he is willing, ready and able to cooperate, why can’t you get together?”
The City Council and district commissioners have a joint meeting tentatively scheduled for May 13. District commissioners spent three hours at their special meeting fine-tuning their answers to the city’s questionnaire.
“I feel like there’s this tug-of-war pressure between what’s happening at the city and what’s happening at the district, and there’s a lot of pressure to do different things. And I don’t like that,” Commissioner Craig Ehrnst said.
Instead of opening in September 2020, Boca National is now predicted to open in March 2021, missing a possibly lucrative winter season, unless the city can speed up its permitting process.
Commissioner Robert Rollins asked to have the district’s Ocean Strand property on the barrier island appraised for a possible sale to the city, with the proceeds used to pay for the golf course. But his colleagues disagreed.
“I feel like the city almost owes the residents a portion of paying for the course. I don’t feel like we are 100 percent responsible,” Commissioner Erin Wright said.
“Ideally I think the city, having sold the western course, should take whatever portion of that money is necessary to build this course. … It should be ideally an out-and-out swap,” Commissioner Steve Engel said.
In the end, commissioners decided not to specify how much financial help they expect.
“We feel that the proceeds from the sale of a major recreational facility such as the Municipal Golf Course should be put back into recreational facilities for residents,” the district’s interim executive director, Briann Harms, wrote.
“We have hired the best professionals of the highest caliber to guide us through this project, and they spent countless hours working with an entire team of professionals. And we’re going to have a world-class golf course,” District Chair Susan Vogelgesang said.