Mulligans in the Making for Boca National

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One of the quirks of golf is the “mulligan” – the do-over for a bad shot. Although outside of the rules of golf, it’s nevertheless a well-accepted courtesy in amateur play; amateur play being the operative phrase with the negotiations to date.

The last few rounds between the City and the District over Boca National have been witness to numerous possible mulligans in both chambers.

At the July 24 City Council workshop attended by District Commissioner Ehrnst, and at the City Council meeting the next evening, Council Members took swings at the particulars contained in the District’s design plan with, the City Council, seeming to lean towards approving the plan.

The workshop was the longer of the two ’rounds’ at City Hall. It seemed clear that each of the Council members was finally engaged in the design’s details; an advancement that Commissioner Ehrnst had requested the previous month.

This potential advancement was evidenced from the Council members:

  • They seemed to move away from phasing portions of the plan. Instead, they seemed to be taking a mulligan to approve the design.
  • They seemed to have arrived at the realization that:
    • The 18-hole course most likely cannot be built without tackling all of the infrastructure, like drainage, on both sides of Boca Raton Blvd.
    • The driving range might not be adequate on the west side with the 18-hole course.
    • The tunnel under Boca Raton Blvd. might have to be reconsidered rather than golf carts competing with cars on the roadway.
    • Asking how the course can open without a maintenance facility and equipment barn.
    • Questioning where the clubhouse fits to store the golf carts.
    • Discussing the updated National Golf Foundation(NGF) study reinforcing the family-friendly putting area and learning center as fundamental to any commercial success. and,
    • Mayor Singer seeming to withdraw his interest in joint financial participation as proposed by the District, favoring a one-time grant as the better ‘mulligan’ for both bodies.
  • However, they also face some ‘in the rough’ course terrain:
    Should the City put any skin (money) in the game?

Right now, the City Council does not have any money in the project except for holding the note from the District to purchase the land on the west side of Boca Raton Blvd. The District being obligated to make annual payments to the City.

The District has asked for a $20 million grant from the City, arguably from the proceeds of the sale of the Boca Muni course. The District argues that the proceeds from the sale of a taxpayer funded golf course should be used for the development of a new taxpayer funded course within the city limits.

Council seemed to still have reservations whether to participate financially with the District by approving such a grant.

Their considerations seemed to revolve around the following points:

  • Coming to grips with their perception/objection to a $55 million total price tag for the land and development.
  • Aligning the District design with what they, the City Council Members, think public ‘Golf in Boca’ should look like and what will be the residents’ cost to play.
  • Any financial participation with proceeds from the sale of the Boca Municipal course.
  • Confidence in the District developing and managing Boca National.
  • On Tuesday evening, the City Council seemed to have arrived at a sensible consensus around Council member Andy Thomson’s view; to wit: they will seek advice from experienced golf course designers before taking a next shot to get out of the rough – mulligan or otherwise.

Really….more advice???

Let’s hope the City Council does not decide to hire a ‘consultant’ for this advice. That’s a sure guarantee of adding years to the projects timeline ….

Staff has been instructed to issue a Request for Information from interested golf course designers on the following:

  • Primary interest is in 18 holes (a la Boca Municipal) at $8 million plus infrastructure.
  • Consideration of the driving range on either side of the street.

Staff input to include:

  • An area competitive analysis of green fees compared to those in the NGF study.
  • City capability for development with professional an outside 3rd party construction manager
  • City operations and maintenance costs
  • Financial path going forward toward the District’s $20 million ask.

City Council members expect to hear from responding designers at the next Council workshop on Monday, August 26.

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It was then the District’s turn to considered taking their own ‘mulligans ‘at its Special Meeting on July 25.

Like any golfer disappointed with the ‘lie’, there were initial comments ranging from the hazards of playing in City Hall – to complimenting the good swing by Commissioner Ehrnst even if they are ‘stuck in the rough’ moving forward – to lamenting that they could have been in a better position now if they had ‘tee’d off’ earlier to involve the City.

Then the District Commissioners got down to considering their next play. They agreed, with varying degrees of optimism, that the City’s participation would be better than no participation – subject, of course to the demands.

There was unanimous consensus on the following:

  • In their unequivocal support for the approved Price-Fazio course design as previously submitted to the City,
  • Open to consider from what golf course designers responding to the City’s RFI on August 26

The District Commissioners would use the next several weeks to explore financial options available to proceed.

They have retained an independent certified financial/bond consultant to explore non-City financing packages and costs. Following a presentation by Merv Timberlake, the District’s Financial Adviser, on mileage rate increases and how much additional revenues would be generated, the Commissioners declared a millage rate of 1.196 mills to send to the Property Appraiser to notice all District taxpayers.

  • The proposed rate is anticipated to generate am additional $9,000,000 per year;
  • The public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the millage rate at two public hearings in September before the Commissioners formally enact it as noticed or at a lower rate for next year’s tax bills.

So, there are ‘mulligans’ in the making for the City and the District

The City can either:

  • Hold to its first shot and not approve the District’s design.
  • Take a ‘mulligan’ and approve the District plan (perhaps with some modifications acceptable to the District).

NOTE: City approval of the design cannot be ‘unreasonably withheld’ according to the terms in the interlocal agreement covering the District’s purchase of the property on the west side of Boca Raton Boulevard.  Since the City Council’s reluctance to approve the design has been primarily based upon financial objection, if the District goes forward without any City funding, Council’s concerns about financial considerations are mute.

The District can either:

  • Arrange up to $20 million funding without the City’s further involvement and shut off the possibility of any new conditions from the City.
  • Accept some money from the City and agree to conditions associated with that capital infusion.

Finally, the morning fog is lifting off the course of action for Boca National.

There are still some shots to take over the next 2 months, but it looks like ‘Golf in Boca’ may have taken a serious step forward and may, the operative word being ‘may’, happen after all…say the eternal optimist….Of course…When. is the open question!!!

Al Zucaro
Publisher of BocaWatch

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Alfred Zucaro has resided in Palm Beach County since 1982 and has been a resident of Boca Raton since 2008. A graduate of Fordham University, he holds a Magna Cum Laude degree in Economics. Mr. Zucaro attended Nova University receiving a Juris Doctorate Law Degree in 1986. He is a member in good standing with the Florida Bar, practicing in the area of Immigration Law for the majority of his career. Currently he is manager/member of Palm Beach Investment and Finance LLC, a USCIS approved regional center identifying foreign investment leading to permanent resident status. Mr. Zucaro served as a City Commissioner in West Palm Beach from 1995 to 2002 and as the President of the City Commission in 2000/2001. He has also been a member of and/or served on the Economic Council, the Business Development Board, the Film and Television Commission, the Tourist Development Council, the Workforce Alliance and the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Of particular interest is his founding of the World Trade Center Palm Beach, an organization that focuses on international economic development. Married to Yvonne Boice, they are avid world travelers having visited 6 continents and dozens of countries since their 2008 nuptials.

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