Thursday, May 23, 2024

Council, District at Odds on Ocean Breeze; A Taller Ocean Palm

Ocean Breeze hits a snag

The Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District would like to close on its purchase of the former Ocean Breeze golf course in October. Based on my conversations with city council members, that doesn’t seem likely.

Why? The district still hasn’t given city staff materials that the city council requested. Lennar wants $24 million for the roughly 200 acres of Ocean Breeze, which includes a site zoned for a hotel. That parcel is not subject to the covenant that restricts use of the course property to golf.

Rollins, though, wants the city council and district board to hold a joint meeting in September. At that meeting, Rollins told me this week, “We will answer all the city’s questions.”

The city has a lot of them. Ten days ago, Mayor Susan Haynie asked City Manager Leif Ahnell for a summary of the council’s questions after the May 8 meeting of the council and district. Art Koski, the district’s executive director, had made an emotional but vague argument that the city underwrite bonds for the district’s purchase of Ocean Breeze. The district doesn’t have the cash, so the city would issue the bonds and make the annual payments, for which the district would reimburse the city.

As Ahnell summarized them, those questions are:

  • What are the “details of the requested bond financing?” In addition to bonds for the course, the city wants to know details of what Koski said would be a second request for “facility redevelopment.” The course would need a lot of work.

Among other things, the city wants to know how much of the bonds would be non-taxable and which would be taxable. That would affect the rate. To issue the bonds, the city would have to craft an agreement between the city and the district. Ahnell said the district “has not finalized details of its proposed transaction(s) to enable staff to proceed with drafting of interlocal agreement in detail.”

  • What would be the schedule to “purchase, design, reconstruct, and open (the) golf course?” Ahnell noted that the district’s contract with Lennar presumes a closing on Oct. 25, though Koski said “extensions would be possible.” That would seem necessary. Ahnell called it “unlikely” that the city could complete the financing by then.
  • What about a third party in the deal? It could be the operator of a hotel on the commercial site. Ahnell noted that the district presented information at the May 8 meeting that included $300,000 from Ocean Breeze in “hotel ground lease” revenue.

“Whether or not there is private activity is a key consideration in structuring the financing,” Ahnell said, “and the related questions cannot be clearly answered until the details of third-party involvement are finalized. The district is still considering these issues.”

  • What is the appraised value of the golf course? What is the appraised value of the hotel site? Could the hotel parcel be considered separately? Haynie had asked whether the district could separate the hotel parcel and thus lower the purchase price. Ahnell said, “We have not received any further information on this issue.”
  • How much did improvements cost at the county-owned Osprey Point course in West Boca? The city wants to know, Ahnell said, “so we would have a benchmark in looking at the Ocean Breeze redevelopment. We have not received a response to that question from the (district.)”
  • How much might property values rise in Boca Teeca, the largely condo community that Ocean Breeze surrounds, if the course reopened? Added revenue could give the city reason to back the sale. Haynie asked for the information. Ahnell said, “We have not received a response on this issue.”

Ahnell concluded by saying that Koski “has advised me that the district is diligently working … to give the city a complete picture of the proposed plans, transactions, and related matters, but there is not currently a firm timeline.”

I emailed Koski twice and got no response. So I called Rollins. He said the district will have a new appraisal of Ocean Breeze that will “improve upon” the previous ones, all of which valued the course at far less than $24 million.

“Improve upon” means that the appraisal will be higher. How will that happen? Rollins said, “Factors have changed” regarding the “highest and best use of the property. I feel very comfortable.”

Rollins also said the district will present research from the National Golf Foundation on the “financial projections” for a new Ocean Breeze. The foundation, Rollins said, has been gathering information over the last two weeks.

Rollins would like the district board and the council to meet on Sept. 18, an off-week for regular council meetings. He points out that the contract is contingent upon the council agreeing to the financing. Why did the district go ahead with the contract? “Lennar was getting anxious.”

I reached Haynie and two of the four council members. Of that October closing, Weinroth said, “I can’t foresee that happening. That timetable is very ambitious.” Weinroth noted that the council faces other big issues, and he added that city staff still hasn’t crafted an agreement for the three bidders on the city’s western course.

Jeremy Rodgers called the October deadline “extremely aggressive. We’re still waiting on the due diligence. I’m eager to see the proposal, but I can’t comment beyond that.”

Haynie said the district wants a decision “rather quickly for something of this magnitude.” Counting the costs to fix the course, we could be talking almost $40 million. Haynie also stressed the need for information. “I don’t want to waste my time hearing again Art’s impassioned vision for the course.”

The city faces another deadline for its decision on the western course. Three developers have bid $73 million, though the offers vary from there. Assuming that figure is real or even close to real, the council risks with every succeeding month a softer economy and thus a lower price.

The council, though, has resolved to keep golf in Boca Raton even if the city sells the western course. How long can the council wait on the district and Ocean Breeze? “We don’t want to lose what we have in our own hand,” Weinroth said. “I have some concerns about prolonging the sale of the western course,” Haynie said. Rodgers said, “I’m all for moving on the western course.”

Beach and park district board member Craig Ehrnst said the October closing “is possible, but several factors need to come together.” Each agency, he said, may be working on a different schedule.

But there’s more at stake for the city. The two golf course proposals represent a potentially huge return for Boca Raton and also a potentially huge investment, with a fair amount of risk. Would a new Ocean Breeze course be successful enough not to strain the beach and park district, which would strain the city? Three months after the council-district meeting that was supposed to produce all the necessary information, we don’t have any information.

Ocean Palm wants a penthouse

Last April, the Boca Raton City Council approved Ocean Palm as a six-story condo on the southeast corner of AIA and Palmetto Park Road. On the site now are a commercial building and a 20-unit condo.

Residents praised the developer for consulting with the neighbors to create a compatible project. An earlier plan called for a 110-room hotel. Everyone seemed pleased.

Not long afterward, I heard that Ocean Palm might come back with plans for another floor, possibly because more residents of the current condo than expected preferred to move to Ocean Palm Beach rather than elsewhere. Now Ocean Palm has submitted documents that call for six “residential” floors and a “penthouse” floor, still with underground parking. To me, that adds up to seven floors. The documents refer to seven floors, still with 70 units. The project could come before the planning and zoning board next Thursday.

I contacted Ocean Palm’s representative but did not hear back by deadline for this post. Next week’s planning and zoning agenda has not been posted. I will update this item when more information becomes available.

Median update

I had written about the county’s decision to close the median opening into the Palmetto Park Square commercial center on Palmetto Park Road just west of Interstate 95. Some criticism had followed, and the county held up the project, which was to have begun this month.

Mayor Susan Haynie told me this week that she plans to meet with business owners in the center, but it may be a short meeting. Mike Tomasso, who owns Tomasso’s Pizza and Subs on the service road into Palmetto Park Square, told me Wednesday that he hadn’t heard the opposition that he anticipated.

“It doesn’t affect me,” Tomasso said. If anything, it would mean more cars on the service road in front of his fine, venerable restaurant. But he thought that owners inside the center would have disliked the idea of customers losing an easy entrance point from the west.

With the project, the county seeks to lengthen the northbound turn lanes onto 12th Avenue from Palmetto Park Road. At morning rush hour/school openings, traffic can back so far that it holds up drivers who want to go through the intersection. What appeared to be a controversy may not be a controversy after all.

Still waiting on Mizner 200 changes

As of Wednesday, Boca Raton had received no modified development application for Mizner 200. Representatives of Elad Properties and Investments Limited had discussed changes to the design after the city council last month delayed a decision on the 384-unit downtown condo project.

Participants told me that the talks were cordial and productive. Still, the council asked for the item to come back at the Aug. 21 community redevelopment agency meeting. The deadline for that agenda, a city spokeswoman said, is Tuesday. Staff would have time before that to review a modified application. I will have an update on Tuesday.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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