A Resident’s Support for the Proposed Beach and Parks District Tax Hike

Boca National Golf Course

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Greater Boca Raton’s residents will soon be asked to approve a tax increase that will provide funds for use by the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks District (“District”). I’m quite sure that no one likes taxes, especially tax increases. However, most of us do enjoy the things that our taxes provide: safe and secure cities, great schools, clean and efficient sanitation services, and of course, our wonderful parks. I support the proposed tax hike, and here is why.

For decades, the District has funded the acquisition, development and operation of Boca’s amazing parks for both children and adults that feature something for everyone: quiet nature areas, beaches, playgrounds, sports fields, basketball courts, tennis, golf, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, and the Children’s Science Explorium. The District is the primary financing source for Boca’s parks, and its taxing authority includes all of Boca Raton, plus most of the area that is outside Boca’s city limits east of the turnpike, north of the Hillsboro Canal, and south of Clint Moore Road. Under the proposed millage rate hike, the owner of a property valued at $350,000 would see a tax increase of about $80 on a total Palm Beach County tax bill of around $7,000 per year.

The result of the District’s work is evident in Boca Raton’s tag line: “A City Within a Park.” Indeed, Boca’s 1,600 acres of parks represent nearly 10% of its land. We are truly blessed with an abundance of cultured green space that is designed for Greater Boca Raton’s residents to enjoy. And enjoy them they do, as Boca’s Recreation Services Annual Report shows that Boca’s parks served 4.3 million park visitors, including 23,000 scheduled usage hours on its athletic fields.

When it comes to golf, Boca Raton currently offers 36 holes of public golf courses, with its championship 18-hole municipal course, its 9-hole municipal executive course, and its unique beachside 9-hole Red Reef Executive course. How popular are these golf courses? They served 94,557 rounds of golf in 2018 totaling more than 350,000 hours of scheduled public usage, which eclipses the usage hours of all other parks except for Boca’s beaches.

Unlike most municipal parks, golf courses have the capacity to pay for themselves through greens fees paid by golfers. However, the costs of creating parks, including golf courses, are generally paid via taxes. Boca built its municipal golf course in 1982, funded by tax dollars. Now, with the sale of the golf course to a developer for $65 million, the City is looking to spend its windfall profit elsewhere. As a result, the District is seeking this temporary tax increase in order to fund the relocation of the city’s municipal course to the former Ocean Breeze Golf Course site. The product of this move will be called the Boca National Golf Course, which will be a golf park rivaling both the best of Boca’s sports parks and the best area golf courses.

So, what would taxpayers receive in return for the proposed tax increase? For golfers, the answer is simple: the tax increase means the continuation of public golf in Boca Raton. But the new facility will be so much more. A look at the master plan for Boca National shows that it will provide a big upgrade in Boca’s public golf amenities with its regulation 18-hole course, innovative 11-hole short course, free putting course and short game practice areas, and its large lighted driving range, learning center, and clubhouse cafe. Truly, Boca’s golfing public will be able to enjoy one of the finest public golf facilities in South Florida. And it will be the only full-scale public golf facility east of I-95 for miles.

But what about non-golfers? Most of Boca’s parks are oriented around a theme, whether it be a sport like baseball, soccer, swimming, tennis, or basketball, an activity like beachgoing, children’s playgrounds, or even dogs. Whether we use any of these parks or not, we all benefit from having them in Boca. And whether we use them or not, we pay for them as part of our property taxes.

Many taxpayers may use the parks differently throughout various stages of their lives. For example, when my son was a baby, we used the playgrounds and swings at Rutherford and Lake Wyman parks. When he was a toddler, we frequented Sugar Sand Park and its fantastic playground, carousel, and Science Explorium. A few years later, he used Sugar Sand’s baseball fields, Lake Wyman’s tennis court, and the Red Reef Park and other public golf courses. I suspect most residents have had similar experiences, and like me, are happy to live in Boca Raton where we have wonderful parks available to us. Our parks make Boca the great city that it is, and we are lucky to be able to use most of them whenever we want.

Why relocate the Boca Municipal golf course? Whether we realize it or not, golf is intertwined into the fabric of Boca Raton. Most golf courses in our area are private, and no regulation public golf facilities lie east of Florida’s turnpike. In reality, Boca’s economy is highly dependent on golf, with thousands of golf community homes, thousands of District residents who are golfers, and thousands of annual golfing visitors. The Boca Municipal golf course alone hosted more than 80,000 rounds of golf in 2018, or more than 220 rounds per day. According to the National Golf Foundation, golf is a $200 billion industry nationwide, and those in the industry know that the game’s economic impact on Boca Raton is profound.

But why rebuild the former Boca Teeca / Ocean Breeze golf course, especially after it failed? From the time it opened in 1967, the Boca Teeca golf course was one of the premier private golf clubs in South Florida, hosting numerous celebrities and catering to hundreds of members. As that membership aged, the club was forced to sell, becoming the Ocean Breeze golf course in 2004. Its new owner’s grand plan to build townhomes on 30 acres was thwarted by the real estate crash of 2007, and the golf course operation, although quite popular, couldn’t support the debt burden and balloon payment. As nice as it was in its day, the overhead costs of the enormous lodge, the hotel, the clubhouse and the operational infrastructure of a 27-hole golf course, all of which fell into disrepair, was too much to maintain. The course went into receivership and was operated by the bank for several years, but ultimately failed. However, its failure was not due to lack of golfers or customers, but largely to the misfortune of its owners, who had depended upon the failed real estate development to sustain the golf operation. Indeed, until its demise, Ocean Breeze served a thriving East Boca golf community that anxiously awaits its reopening.

Lastly, why must taxpayers foot the bill, when the City of Boca has the $65 million sale of Boca Municipal in the works? There are two issues with the proceeds from the sale of Boca Municipal. First is the timing of the sale. All those involved are working to minimize the time between the closing of Boca Municipal and the opening of Boca National. That means that development costs to bring Boca National to fruition must be incurred up to two years before the sale of Boca Municipal is complete. Simply put, even if the City of Boca Raton agreed to use the $65 million proceeds from the sale to finance Boca National, the money wouldn’t be available until after the course was built. Creative financing ideas aside, this is an undesirable solution that would probably still necessitate a temporary tax increase by the District.

The second reason can only be expressed as political timidity. Although city leaders all proclaim to support public golf in Boca, none have been willing to commit to do what appears obvious to any casual observer: sell one golf course and use the proceeds to fund the construction of its replacement. Unfortunately, none of the decision-makers are golfers, and the attractions of the game just aren’t part of a non-golfer’s DNA.

We golfers see the challenge, the beauty, the serenity, and the social connections of the game. We see our city’s children learning honesty, respect, perseverance, integrity, and sportsmanship. We see our business people congregating for leagues and after-work fresh air fun. We see our underprivileged youth learning critical life skills and values that can change their lives. We see our winter guests enjoying the greatest game on earth. And we see our parents and grandparents playing and enjoying exercise into their later years. In short, we see a golf park that serves the entire Greater Boca Raton community.

Others only see a silly game, losing ball after ball while the cell phone nags and they fear losing votes from constituents who may not realize what is really at stake. Far beyond simply protecting real estate values and open space, Boca National will be both a community center and a destination for locals and visitors alike. Moreover, the Boca National “golf park” will fit perfectly into the fabric of Boca Raton along with Gumbo Limbo, Sugar Sand, Patch Reef, Countess DeHoernle, and dozens of others as one more park within which Boca Raton exists.

For that to happen, the District needs the capital to do what it does best: build amazing parks in Boca Raton. That capital will come from its proposed temporary millage rate increase which will fund development of the course along with other ongoing enhancements at Gumbo Limbo, Patch Reef, and elsewhere. The millage increase would allow the District to start developing the golf course now, possibly saving a year in Boca National’s opening date. For the cost of one round of golf, one restaurant check, or one tank of gas per year, it can happen.

What can you do? Tell your Greater Boca Raton Beach and Parks commissioners that you agree with them and that you support their proposed tax increase as they move to bring the Boca National Golf Course to reality.

Rick Heard, PGA

11 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for this Rick! I haven’t read before that the $65M wouldn’t be available until the Boca National was finished. I’ve been following Boca Watch with a lot of interest regarding the Municipal course. I play there all winter when I’m down. Will it remain open until the new course is built? It’s been extended I think until next fall (2020). Or am I totally mistaken?

    Thanks,
    Steve Place

  2. Mr. Heard makes some logical points. But sometimes logic is used to advance a thesis rather than create one. He fails to mention the multitude of ways that this golf course could be funded in lieu of a tax increase, many of which are works in progress. We should also note that Mr. Heard makes his living teaching and promoting golf (nothing wrong with that, I love golf!), so his point of view may not be completely unbiased.

  3. Thanks for your comment. The city has extended the sale date, and the hope is to keep Boca Municipal going until Boca National is open for play. However, with the continued delays in getting started, this seems unlikely. And, it is unknown how long GL Homes (the buyer) will wait. In any case, the proceeds from the sale of Boca Municipal won’t be available until well after the development costs for Boca National are incurred.

    We all need to encourage the city to approve the Boca National design so that work can begin!

    Rick

  4. I’m a golfer (but not a an especially good one) and I’ve occasionally played both the Boca Muni and the Red Reef courses over the years since moving to Boca Raton in 2002. I agree with the concept of building a new course to replace Boca Muni which is to be sold, but I do not however agree with the notion that we should create a tax to be levied against ALL the residents of the city, golfers and non-golfers, to pay for this. Such a tax is totally unnecessary as the new course should simply be built after the sale of Boca Muni is completed and the funds from that sale are available. The reality is that the County’s Osprey Point course is very nice, very close to the current Boca Muni course (which isn’t even in the city limits anyway), and people have the option to golf there in the meantime. Boca residents, most of whom do not golf and do not live near Boca Muni, will not fret and the world won’t stop, if there’s one less public golf course in the city limits for a short period of time. There really is no basis in fact or reality to say there’s some benefit to the non-golfing residents of this city to be burdened with another tax for the new golf course.

  5. It would be nice to know how “temporary” the mentioned “proposed temporary millage rate increase” would be. In other words the start and END dates. Many of these “temporary” things somehow become permanent ???

  6. Two options you failed to mention. Option one would be to float a municipal bond for 65 million making funds available to start your new course construction. Once your sale is complete you have the funds to pay off the 65 million dollar bond. Shame on you for writing such a complete article that fails to mention where that 65 million will end up some day. Option two is to sell a portion of Boca Tecca course land to developers that would add homes and townhomes along the course. The Real Estate Market is thriving and developers are hungry for land. This takes a portion of the new course and puts it back on the tax rolls for other future revenue. Local City Governments love to have “temporary” milage rate hikes for projects that offer no exit strategies for “temporary”. For some reason the tax hike gets lost in the shuffle and “temporary” never seems to go away. I am not a golfer but I own a Boca Tecca Unit that has an amazing view of this golf course. I would benefit like many other golfers and non golfers. I say borrow the money and pay it back later with the funds from the sale of your 65 million dollar golf course.

  7. Rick you said it perfectly. The new course should be a big draw equal to the draw like Mizner Park. A golf course to live up to the name Boca National. A place to be proud of and fun to play. Everybody I talk to just assumes that Boca is going to build this fantastic facility but after going to the work shop and seeing the city council shaking their heads tells me they don’t get it. They don’t know golf and have no interest of spending money for it. Which is surprising since they’re all about building parks and going green. We had a chance a few years ago to bring the golf course within city limits but we got a library and some more ball fields. We’re getting another bite of the apple, we can’t lose this time no matter the cost.

  8. Just to clarify, I feel no “shame” for not writing about where the $65 million will end up some day. I’m a taxpayer like you, and my taxes were used to build Boca Muni. I don’t want to pay again, but that is the only option being given by our city politicians. The question needs to be asked of our city council and mayor. They are the ones who are (so far) unwilling to commit to use the proceeds from the sale of Boca Muni to fund its replacement. Instead, they seem to want that money for pensions or for a new government building. We should insist that the $65 million be used for the golf course, and that any money needed to expand government be funded by a tax increase, subject to taxpayer vote approval.

    And to the second point, no one is in favor of housing development on the Boca Teeca property. That question was answered a few years ago when Lennar tried unsuccessfully and then proposed the golf course swap that led to the sale of Boca Muni.

  9. Rick you are perfectly right the money from the Muni should be used to build a new golf course the only problem is the city doesn’t see it that way they think it’s a windfall for them to use on other important things like a train station they are the ones not cooperating and playing nice it was never that way before the city and BPD always worked together to make Boca what it is today
    If it wasn’t for the BPD stepping forward and purchasing the property even with all the criticism about it being to much what would you have houses 1000 of them and no golf course they should commended for their action and where was the city waiting for a better deal on the muni and what happened they in 6 months lost 7 million dollars from the original bid of $72 with NO CONTINGENCY and it’s still not sold and you would trust the city I don’t know who is running it it’s all negative and why politics because elections are coming or personalities or both they just can not play together nicely so here we are The beach and porks have a strategy but the only thing stoping it is the city all they have to do is approve the design of the course and the BPD can move forward let the greedy city keep their windfall and let’s move on
    Everyone knows that the money belongs to the golf course but the city how sad

  10. So here we are with a large plot of land that was once a beautiful golf course is now a political game with the elected officials with there head in the sand traps of the old course.
    The City of Boca with no golf course within the city limits,people come here from all over the world many golfers and ask where is the golf course?
    We should tell them that we have a large piece of land in Boca that the Beach and Parks whom has a development record that has never failed wants to developed in to Boca National Golf Course ,and elected officials that don’t recognize what the people that elected them want.
    The only thing the city does is cut the weeds every 2 weeks.
    I hope the voters remember that when Election Day comes and we still don’t have a golf course in the city limits.
    James Ciliberti

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