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Boca National – Where do we go from here?

by Jack McWalter

After watching for years the City of Boca Raton and the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District’s inability to agree on the color of mulch for our parks, it comes as no surprise the same issues came out regarding the design and funding for the Boca National Golf Course.

A Little Bit of History

On Nov 14 2017, the city voted to sell Boca Raton’s Municipal Golf Course.  After receiving multiple unsolicited offers, the City Council selected GL Homes as the buyer for $65 million.  The only NO vote on the sale was Councilman Rodgers. Some residents feel the sale may be a mistake because it was done without specifying how the proceeds will be spent and how much of the money will be spent on the new golf course, if any.  Simply moving a golf course into the city limits to keep golf in Boca is not such as easy task. In the discussion on the motion to sell Boca Municipal Golf Course, City Manager Leif Ahnell said “the proceeds will be deposited into a special fund until there is policy direction on how the money should be spent.”  As of the present date, that discussion has not taken place.  

Also, during that meeting, comments were made by City Council Members indicating a commitment to keeping golf in Boca. Councilman Singer used the term “world class course” while Councilman Weinroth said “I’m so excited about the new digs, the new digs will be nicer than the old digs and we have the commitment from the District that it will be a championship course.”  You can review all the comments in the accompanying video.

November 14 2017 Boca City Council discussion on motion to sell Boca Municipal Golf course to GL Homes

Right or wrong, when Boca Muni was sold, there was consensus between the city and the District at that time about whether there would be a championship quality golf course within our city limits and about whether they would work together to keep golf in Boca.  Those conversations established a level of expectation with the residents, especially within the golf community. 

What Happened in the Last 18 Months?

In the last 18 months, the city issued a $19 million bond for the Boca Beach and Parks District (BPD) to purchase the western portion of the project. This is so the BPD can buy the eastern portion of the land for the Boca National Golf Course for $5 million. But the BPD took a year to work with architect Price/Fazio to come up with a design for the project. That design has an estimated cost of $28 million. District Commissioners were expecting it to cost a lot less. 

The Boca National Golf Course Design

BNGC Design
Price/Fazio design for Boca National Golf Course.

The design shows the west side, divided by 2nd Avenue to be an 18 hole course which is divided into north and south sections by Clint Moore Road. The east side will be comprised of a Putting Course, Par 3 short course, full size driving range, club house, and a learning center. A tunnel under 2nd Avenue is also planned in phase 4.

Let’s Take a Closer Look

According to the plans, there are 2 parcels of land labeled “Potential Development” to the left of the course layout. It is coded “G” just below the parking lot. In the past there were public discussions of a hotel.   On page 3 of the Interlocal Agreement signed by both the city and the BPD, it explicitly states “the project will be for Recreational purposes only.”    Is the District allowed to construct a hotel under the agreement?

BNGC interlocal agreement page 3

At the May 20th 2019 meeting, the city requested more information from the District including the following:

  • What are the details of the partnership?
  • How much money does the District want from the city?
  • Does the District want the City to take over?

These are the District responses to the City:

  • BPD has no money
  • BPD needs a grant of $15 million
  • BPD will run it and manage it

On May 28th 2019 the District and the City held a joint meeting, the first time in over 10 months.

Joint Meeting: District Viewpoint

The purpose of the meeting from the District’s standpoint was to get the approval from the city for its design. In the Interlocal Agreement, Resolution 10-2018, Section 7, page 10 it states “The City shall be provided the opportunity to review, comment and approve any improvement plan, which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld.” When it became apparent the city was not in agreement with the proposed design, Art Koski, the District’s former Executive Director pointed out that they were being unreasonable.

 (Definition:  unreasonable, adjective, acting at variance with or contrary to reason; not guided by reason or sound judgment; irrational)

Interlocal Agreement Section 7 pg 10

Another interesting section in the agreement on page 3 includes the stated Districts intent with the property.  ”The District has declared its intent to develop a championship caliber golf course.”  The City at that time signed the agreement and supported the District building a quality championship golf course.  

Joint Meeting: City’s Viewpoint

The City apparently never formally agreed to help fund The Improvement Plan which now stands at $28 million.  The current city council seems to feel blindsided. The District said they were able to fund it without the city’s help then later stated they were seeking private funding.

This brings to mind the question: Why are we all here?

The District asked the city for written approval of the design for Phase 1 which consisted of 18 holes on the west side at $7.2 million and the driving range at $2 to $3 million for a total of $10 million 

This brings to mind the question: If they don’t need money why does the City need to approve anything?

The District’s conversations got vague on what the other 3 phases would cost. Councilwoman Mayotte, remarked, “If you go to buy a house you need to know the total costs.”

Councilwoman O’Rourke commented, “We have to answer to taxpayers. This is presented as a ‘fancy dancy’ course,  more than what a municipal course should be.” 

Councilman Thomson wanted to go in a completely different direction for Boca National. Thomson wants to abandon the Price/Fazio’s plan and build 2 – 9 holes courses on the western side that would be a course everyone would be comfortable playing on and leave the eastern portion undeveloped for now.  He stated, “to me it’s golf for the people, if you want to play at a championship country club style course we have a lot of great options for you already in the city.”  He also mentioned the case study of the Winter Park 9 hole course.

It was clear that both the District and the City are concerned about future unknown expenses using taxpayers dollars.  Several times it was recommended that both organizations get an outside consultant to validate the Project. The City feels that city staff can help. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Open discussions have taken place that include many variables.

  • Should the City help pay for the construction of the golf course with some of the $65 million proceeds of the sale of Boca Municipal and go along with the Price/Fazio site plan as is?  If so, what should they get in return? 
  • Should the City take over the golf course and build a conservative course? 
  • Should the city develop the site similar to the former Ocean Breeze layout of 27 holes?
  • Should the city scale down the overall plan as a cost saving measure by still develop a legitimate 18 hole golf course leaving the east property for future use?
  • Per Councilman Thomson, should the city develop it with a more park-like atmosphere with an “easy to play” golf course and other family amenities?

There could be other options depending on ones’ imagination, however the next time everyone takes a vote on the color of the mulch – I prefer the red.  

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