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Joint meeting on new public golf course a bust

After three hours, the only thing agreed on was the next meeting date.

Back to hash out who builds and pays for the new public golf course in Boca Teeca, city council and buyer were still far apart.

“We’re going in circles again,” said Robert K. Rollins Jr., Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District commissioner.

Council refused to take the next step, approving the design for Boca National Golf Club by the district’s Price Fazio team. A $20 million ask didn’t materialize, either.

Neither did the city’s offer to build the west side or entire course, most likely with a different designer.

“We have a better idea. We do the western side and you do the eastern. We are giving you all the money you need,” Councilman Andy Thomson said at the start.

But that didn’t fly. “To have two designers is not good. We are willing to do this. You have so much on your plate. Let us do what we do best,” said district chair Susan Vogelgesang.

The impasse stood.

“We are now looking at doing the project ourselves,” district commissioner Craig Ehrnst said at by adjournment Thursday night.

The district will put that to a vote at their 5:15 p.m. meeting Monday. Paying for the build will be hashed out, too.

The city offered to float the district a loan, as it did to buy the land. Their first joint meeting was May 8, 2017 on a $24 million loan for the former 212-acre Ocean Breeze site. The district then bought a small hotel parcel with its own revenue. The building has since been demolished.

Making possible plans to finance the build themselves, the district just signed an agreement with Ford & Associates financial advisors. The firm could arrange “potential refunding or other refinancing opportunities.”

So who pays to build Boca National Golf Club remains up for grabs.

Three district commissioners and city councilwoman Monica Mayotte tried in vain to reconcile the two sides.

“So a partnership is off the table?” Ehrnst asked.

But it was never really on. Council even reached out to query other course designers to see if the city could build the course for less. The answer was yes.

 “We had 16 builders who said this can be done,” said Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke.

Price Fazio’s Wayne Braithwaite detailed how his team recast the design to bring the costs down to $19.9 million.

The original design included an 18-hole course, a nine or 11-hole short course, a putting course, driving range, learning center. A tunnel under Second Avenue was later dropped.

But even his explanation didn’t help.

“It’s the cost,” Thomson said more than once. “The elements just cost too much.”

Phasing in a clubhouse later using course revenues didn’t fly. “It’s an unknown until we get the course operational,” Rollins said.

A donor may even donate naming rights for all or part of a clubhouse, Vogelgesang added.

“It’s still a $28 million project,” Thomson said.

The two sides argued over building a course for residents vs. a destination for residents, tourists and visitors.

They disagreed over competing with Osprey Point, the county’s financially successful course in west Boca. “We don’t need to steal players from them,” said Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers.

The three nine-holes opened in 2009 and cost $14 million at the time, Rick Heard said during public comment.

Heard ran Ocean Breeze and has defended the Price Fazio design at district meetings for months. He co-owns Don Law Golf Academy at Osprey Point.

Bisected by Northwest 2nd Avenue, in the middle of housing with nearby train tracks, the course was unfavorably compared to Torrey Pines as a world-class site. San Diego, California’s municipal course sits on coastal cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

The district has been working on this project for 2 ½ years and conducted six public hearings, said Briann Harms, district executive director. So they know what the public wants.

Price Fazio was chosen over 17 golf course designers who applied and made elaborate presentations, she added.

“We all missed the boat,” O’Rourke concluded. “Our approach is different. We start with a budget.”

“We all want a high-quality course with curb appeal,” Mayor Scott Singer said at the close.

The original plan was to put the project out to bid and start construction this summer. The course would have opened by fall 2020.

By Marci Shatzman

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