Where Do We Stand on Boca National Now?

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In Part 1 (link below), I summarized the current positions of the City and the District towards joint participation on the Boca National Golf Course project. I believe that these two governments are still so far apart that any hope of going forward together is quixotic at best.

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If you haven’t read it yet, here’s part one of this article: “Is This The End of Keeping Golf Public in Boca?”

In my opinion, it would take nothing short of epiphanies to move the elected officials off their current positions to agree to work together!!!

To recap the latest Boca National developments:

At the request of the District, the City Council members devoted most of their workshop on Monday, June 10, in dialogue with the District. District Commissioner Ehrnst with design team representatives presented the current status of the project and answered every question presented from City Council members.

On behalf of his colleagues, Commissioner Ehrnst proffered that that City take the time to fully understand the logic of the design; the development trade-offs made; and, a business proposal where the City has a 45% share in the operating expenses and revenues in exchange for the City’s approval of the course design and a $20,000,000 grant moving the project forward (presumably from the $65,000,000 sale of Boca Municipal).

What transpired for the next 3 hours revealed a ‘golf cart’ path to hell paved with water obstacles and sand traps for both the City and the District.

Presented here is a summary of the stated public positions taken by City Council Members at their meeting.

Some of the Council Members’ remarks may be attributed to their not being familiar with the plan presented by Commissioner Ehrnst. However, the City Council seems so engaged in zero-sum politics against the District losing sight of outcomes where both the City and the District could win.

After two years of planning, the District Commissioners created a course design with a high degree of public participation. The District’s effort, however, has received a tremendous degree of resistance from the City Council; a Council that collectively and individually failed to participate in any of the design process. In light of this resistance and with overwhelming support from the golf community, the District seems to lack the political courage to tell the City to “Go Pound Sand” and walk away from the City’s abusive behavior.

The sum and substance of the City Council Members’ stated positions revealed both an unrelenting, irreconcilable resistance to the District and lack of business sense to bring closure to this on-going political saga.

 

To begin:

Council Member O’Rourke expressed her doubts that the District was capable of managing a project of this magnitude. She went further to say that the City should consider “taking over the project.”

 

 

Really?

  • The District has a 40 year history of successfully managing large projects. Some have had cost overruns but others have been delivered at savings of millions of dollars compared to the City’s projected budgets.
  • The City’s inept record of project management includes:
    • Nearly 4 years to build a 2+ acre park at the Wildflower site (still incomplete).
    • 20+ years to turn the first shovel on El Rio Park Phase 2.
    • Years spent starting – stopping – and bringing on board another contractor to complete the Spanish River Library.
    • Insisting on the lead role for the DeHornle Phase 1 project only to ask the District to complete the project when the designs were 60% completed.
    • 5 years of non-action on the pumps at Gumbo Limbo only to see costs double before even a final plan is in place.

Why should the City design, develop and operate the course?

  • With the track record reported above and the City’s financial ineptitude displayed in the business of golf, the City should look to get out of the business of golf.
  • Hasn’t the City lost millions of dollars in the business of golf at Red Reef and Boca Municipal over the years?

 

Council Member Andy Thomson took a strong, nearly unwavering position that the design was too expensive and green fees could be much lower by following a business model at Winter Park. He suggests starting fresh.

 

 

 

Really?

The 10 elected officials that made the initial Inter-local Agreement for the City’s financial participation all understood that a quality “championship” 18 hole course would meet local residents’ historical demand and devotion to high level recreational facilities. Thomson was not on the City Council at that time.

  • His approach ignores the expertise of the golf course designers vetted by the District; ignores the District’s mandate for economic, market-driven considerations in the design parameters; and, ignores the Boca-specific market analysis of the National Golf Foundation.
  • A quick calculation of his suggested green fees times the rounds of golf that could be played in his favored model shows the financial disaster that would follow.

Council Member Mayotte’s points were emotive rather than good business practices befitting a Director.

 

 

 

Really?

  • She agreed with everything her colleagues said.
  • She wanted sustainable, native landscaping despite the ‘buyer beware’ from Price-Fazio that grass is the least expensive landscaping to maintain and natural Florida features would slow down play to the detriment of financial success.
  • She expressed interest to move the club house back to the west side of contrary to Price-Fazio’s recommendation that the east side would best maximize total revenue for the project.
  • She decried being placed between a rock and a hard place by the District because without City’s contribution to the golf project, District funds would not be available for other District projects.
  • She ignored the obvious return to the City residents on all District capital project expenditures since City residents are 75% of the population of the District.

 

Council Member Rodgers seemed prepared to consider anything but the District’s plan for Golf In Boca. He says he’s over the issue of purchase price, but then he set the project up for economic failure.

 

 

 

Really?

  • Rely totally on City staff for the design and operating plan from a staff that 1: has proven incapable to operate a profitable golf enterprise, and 2: is conflicted to keep City Recreation Services in control so to preserve their jobs and pensions.
  • Lay a trap to burden the project with road improvement costs by calling for traffic studies. Studies that likely would not take into account that the project would be resurrecting rounds of golf that the Boca Teeca roads previously sustained for the Ocean Breeze course.
  • Like Council Member O’Rourke, he wants to consider what else could be done with the property in addition to the golf features, which would move the design away from maximum revenue attributed to golf.

 

Mayor Singer failed to lead his colleagues from a bad deal to a better one that is clearly available.

 

 

 

 

Really?

  • Pointed out in Part 1 was that City Council is the Board of Directors charged with managing the residents’ ownership and cost of operating golf in Boca. Mayor Singer is Chairman of the Board.
  • The District needs $20,000,000 to go forward and offered a 45% share to the City in an enterprise with the stated objective to break even or make a modest profit.
  • Mayor Singer expressed his reservations to grant the full $20,000,000 request. He stated that if the ask were for one dollar, he would have no problem in approving the design but with a $20,000,000 ask, he has problems. Isn’t that a matter of degree and not substance? Should he not then opine favorably on the design and not ‘unreasonably withhold’ his consent to the design while negotiating the grant amount?
  • Is not the better deal for the City to grant the $20,000,000 without any further involvement; i.e., walk away and let the District deal with it.
    • The City Council would ‘Keep Golf in Boca’ with 75% of the $20,000,000 to inure to the benefit of City residents.
    • The City Council would leave the District with necessary funds to complete additional projects that would otherwise be delayed; projects that also inure 75% to the City residents.
    • The 2018 – 2019 Municipal Golf Course budget is $2,180,800, 79% of which is Personnel. So the time to break even for the City is about 10 years considering discounted cash flows and increases in wages and benefits will likely offset.
    • The City Council would not take on any risk of 45% share of any losses from the proposed partnership, which would stem mainly from ever-rising salaries and benefits to employees.
    • The City Council would relieve City Manager and Recreation Services management of indirect overhead expense of their time on the enterprise.
    • The City Council would pocket a $45,000,000 gain from the $65,000,000 sale of the Municipal Golf property!

Of course, the City Council is so wound up in posturing and bullying that it is blinded to the obvious benefits to go back to the days when the two bodies truly were partners for the residents.

The District also seems caught up in the current political noise.

The Commissioners have spent nearly 2 years and hundreds of hours with public input and discourse to get this far. Despite encouragement from the public that the design is correct, they lack the confidence in their own due diligence to tell the City “Go Pound Sand!”.

Instead of conveying leadership, District officials are afraid they might damage the relationship with the City.

Really?

What relationship?

The District Commissioners have stated their positions publicly on countless occasions. They outlined the proposed working relationship with specificity. They have responded to the never-ending stream of questions posed by City staff and they have done so in a patient and gentile way.

The District has completed its due diligence and now must act.

How the District proceeds is in question.

Budgets are being prepared now and millage rate decisions are eminent. Raising the millage rate to obtain the necessary funds needed to complete the project is a distinct alternative to the City’s abusive posture. (See sample millage rate increase exhibit below.)

A millage rate increase to raise the necessary funds would, for sure, “Keep Golf in Boca.”

Is a Millage Increase Politically Viable?

Convention would dictate that support for an increase in millage would be political disaster for any candidate seeking re-election. However, the results of a poll we ran earlier this year showed unexpected support for increasing taxes to increase green space. Instead of requiring a lot of courage to raise taxes, when it comes to Boca residents’ desire for more parks, more recreation, people want taxes raised. It would only take political courage to refuse to acknowledge what residents clearly prefer: paying more to keep Boca green.

Let the elected officials know the public’s desire to “Keep Golf in Boca” in a manner consistent with resident’s expectations for the Boca brand.

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.

4 COMMENTS

  1. A brilliant summary of a traffic wreck. I am an avid golfer, but I am also old. Looks like I won’t be around to see a first class new public golf facility in Boca. Probably not because I’ve died, but because I’ve moved. Our convoluted city governance structure– Parks District, City Council, CRA, sclerotic staff, etc.– is cumbersome enough when our elected officials work together. When they are at odds it makes the decision-making process impossible. Where is the leader who is going to step up, take charge, and get something DONE? Somebody? Anybody? Please get moving before I do.

  2. Breaking News:
    This morning, City Councilwoman Andrea Levine O’Rourke published a policy statement concerning her new position regarding the Boca National Golf Course development project. Ms. O’Rourke published this on her campaign website and distributed it widely throughout the community. Putting aside for the moment the possible Sunshine Law implications involved, she attempted to explain this new position considering her previous on-the-record statements.
    At first glance, Ms. O’Rourke suggests that she is supportive of the District’s proposed development plan. However, on closer review, today’s explanation is inconsistent with and directly conflicts with previous comments. Readers are invited to visit her campaign website (‘Andrea Levine O’Rourke for Boca City Council’) and compare her statements, then and now.
    The Councilwoman’s epiphany on the Boca National matter is surely welcomed. Now, if the other four City Council members would adopt a similar position, perhaps this new posture will provide reason for the two government agencies to move forward and finalize negotiations.
    Thank you Councilwoman O’Rourke…Your evolution may give rise to hope that the City and the District can now find common ground and actually ‘Keep Golf in Boca.”

  3. The two recent articles by Al Zucaro pertaining to the proposed new golf facility where the former Ocean Breeze golf course was located are outstanding and give us insight into the stalled relationship between the City and the Park District in moving ahead with a replacement facility. It seems to me that both the City and the Park District have been obsessing about the financial aspects and “control” issues of this important project. We have heard endless talk about the plan to make it into a “world class” vacation resort venue that would attract golfers from all over the world and would resemble a “high end” resort style golf experience.
    This sounds just peachy but what about “us”.…. Boca’s own present golf community made up of year- round residents and those many snow birds who regularly come to Boca Raton for its climate and sports facilities where golf is high up on the list. I believe that geographical considerations and type of golf facility should be given the highest priority and be tailored to our residents first and then to vacationing visitors second. It also seems to me that high end visitors will travel to Miami to play the Doral or perhaps locally to play the two very excellent Boca Raton Hotel championship courses. My take on this entire subject is that a replacement golf course for the current Boca City course should be first and foremost for us, the present residents who live in Boca and are looking for a good public golf course at descent rates and be within a reasonably proximate location to where we live. It is well known that Palm Beach County operates several public golf courses in close proximity to Boca Raton but mainly West of the turnpike. These include the County Southwinds facility (near Yamato and Lyons Road), the championship level Osprey Point facility that is further West on Glades Road. The county also runs other public courses such as Okeeheelee in West Palm, Park Ridge in Lake Worth, and the very nice teaching facility known as the John Prince Learning Center also in Lake Worth. These other public courses are not in close proximity to the City of Boca Raton. What is most striking is that the only regulation size public course East of the entire length of the turnpike from Deerfield Beach to Delray Beach is the public course in Delray Beach. Yes, in Boca Raton there is the 9 hole Red Reef “Executive” course. It is categorically not a true golf course but merely a “practice” venue. It should be noted that golf facilities come in four basic sizes from “miniature” golf courses such as may be found at Boomer’s on Airport Road and Putt’n Around Mini Golf on 5th Avenue in Delray Beach just off Federal Highway. Slightly larger in size are the “Pitch ‘n Putt” facilities such as we once had at the Boca Airport on Airport Road some thirty years ago. Then there are the “Executive” practice size courses such as the Red Reef course mentioned above and the now defunct Boca Raton Executive course at West Hidden Valley Boulevard that closed several years ago and remains in disrepair. Finally, there are the standard length “regulation” golf courses that appeal to most golfers. These do not exist in the Eastern portion of Boca Raton. A few private golf clubs that are West of the Turnpike allow non-members to play their courses, such as Boca Greens and Boca Lago. Several businesses such as “CanAm” utilize these private club golf courses to provide golf tee times to groups of visitors such as those on vacation from Canada. The private club courses that are open to the public remain open at the whim and caprice of the developments wherein they are located as opposed to public courses that remain open to all golfers.
    So what about the rest of us who live mainly East of the turnpike? Right now none of these supplemental facilities are readily available to us. Again, to make my point, the only public course East of the turnpike in close proximity to the high and mid-rise condo and rental apartment buildings is the Red Reef nine hole short practice course on A1A. Hardly a substitute for a standard regulation golf course.
    Finally, with the closing of the Boca Raton City owned regulation length public course [not located within the City of Boca Raton] there will not be any full size golf course available for those of us who live within the City limits of Boca Raton to play regulation golf. What is really upsetting is the suggestion by City Council member ANDY THOMSON that the present Boca City course be replaced by a “Pitch and putt” style course similar to that found in Winter Park near Orlando. Such a suggestion as a replacement is laughable and shows both ignorance and a proclivity to serve one’s pocketbook rather than the needs of Boca’s golfers.
    I would respectfully point out to the members of Boca Raton’s City Council and the Park District that the major portion of Boca Raton residents live in Eastern Boca Raton where there is a much higher density as many of us are housed in high and mid rise Condo and apartments buildings. The decisions the City and the Park District make and the ability to carry them out effectively directly affect us and, as in this case, if the City Council and Park District members are not addressing our recreational concerns, it may impact upon their ability to continue to serve. Just remember that in local elections residents vote but visitors do not.

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