Thursday, December 1, 2022

Ocean Breeze Presentation Today, Delray City Manager Out-of-Staters

What to do with Ocean Breeze?

Some things will be clearer this afternoon after the Boca Raton City Council hears a presentation on the former Ocean Breeze golf course.

Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Director Art Koski will tell the council that the National Golf Foundation recommends a 27-hole layout—renamed Boca National Golf Club—to replace Ocean Breeze, which closed last year. The council will hear an estimate of $15 million to create Boca National. That would be in addition to the $24 million to buy the 212-acre site that is surrounded by the Boca Teeca development. The district wants the council to underwrite bonds, with the district reimbursing the city for the bond payments.

The council, however, also will hear about a new appraisal that values the property at nearly $23 million, or conveniently close to the purchase price to which the district board has already agreed. That contract is contingent on the city underwriting the bonds.

But that new appraisal, from Callaway & Price, should draw much council scrutiny. It arrives at $22.7 million by presuming that the highest and best use for roughly 30 acres of the Ocean Breeze property is for townhouses. In 2007, a developer got permission from homeowners at Boca Teeca for such a project, but it never got built.

As a result, the development approval expired. Anyone wishing to buy and develop land within Boca Teeca would have to get a new approval. A covenant restricts use of Ocean Breeze to golf unless a majority of unit owners agree to lift the restriction.

So presuming that those 30 acres are zoned for townhomes strikes me as a stretch. On that premise seems to rest most of the increase in this appraisal from those that had valued Ocean Breeze at more like $5 million. Of the remaining property, 180 acres are zoned for park use and three acres for a hotel.

The council must determine the validity of that appraisal before any discussion about the projections for a new course. Still, the district has supplied lots of information, from a study by the National Golf Foundation.

Not surprisingly, given the district’s eagerness to buy Ocean Breeze, the foundation envisions Boca National—which would open in the spring of 2020—as a “valuable recreational element” that could run a surplus of between 15 percent and 20 percent. Boca Raton’s municipal course, which the council may sell, runs a deficit.

Rounds at Boca National would cost $59 for district residents— the city itself and the area west to Florida’s Turnpike— and $79 for non-residents during the season and $31 and $42 in the off-season. There would be no membership program with discounted rates. The foundation estimates 66,000 paid rounds annually by the third year of operation. That compares with 97,000 rounds at county-owned Osprey Point, which would remain Boca Raton’s main public competitor.

The foundation recommends a Goldilocks course that finds a “sweet spot”—not too challenging for less-skilled players but challenging enough for better golfers. There would be a 130-room, four-star hotel and a golf academy. A private company would manage the course.

The district wants to close on the Ocean Breeze purchase next month. The city received the documents from the district six days ago. Today’s meeting between the council and the district board is set for two hours, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the city facility on North Congress Avenue. The regular council meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the downtown council chambers.

In a letter, Koski said the documents “adequately, fully and appropriately respond to all inquiries” from the city. I can’t imagine the council being satisfied enough after the meeting to move ahead. There isn’t even time allotted for staff comment. I will have an update for Thursday’s post after the meeting.

Slight change on how the course will be sold

The agenda for tonight’s regular city council meeting includes a tweaking of the ordinance that would govern a sale of Boca Raton’s western golf course.

The new version sets Oct. 11 as the tentative date for the council to choose from among three bidders. The update also requires additional information about the bidders’ finances, to ensure that the winning company actually could deliver.

All three offers are for $73 million, though the city won’t hear until this week— when the bidders must submit contracts—what contingencies each deal might include. One contingency could be whether the price depends on how much development the county might approve. The course is within the county, not the city.

Who would golf there?

Here’s one other point that the National Golf Foundation report unintentionally highlights:

Though Boca Teeca residents would benefit most from a new course that enhanced their property values, Boca Teeca residents would be less likely than other city residents to play at the course. The report notes that Boca Teeca residents have “moderate incomes,” so the course would need most of its players to come from outside the area around the course.

Indeed, Ocean Breeze went into decline because so few Boca Teeca residents bought memberships. When the course opened in 1969, residents had to buy memberships, and the revenue kept the course healthy. When that requirement lapsed and residents got older, rounds dropped way off.

Buying and renaming Ocean Breeze might work out. Improving the area might improve the city. Never forget, though, that the proposal for Ocean Breeze amounts to a bailout for Boca Teeca.

Unrelated golf note on PGA Champions Tour

Golf in Boca Raton also came up at Monday’s city council workshop, though the issue has nothing to do with Ocean Breeze or the city’s course.

After this year’s event in February, Allianz ended its sponsorship of the PGA Champions Tour event at Broken Sound’s Old Course. Though Boca Raton Regional Hospital took over as the title sponsor for 2018, the plan was to seek another long-term title sponsor.

On Monday, representatives of the hospital and the tournament—which a private entity organizes—asked the council for $1.1 million toward the February 2018 tournament. Organizers said they have been unable to find a replacement for Allianz or to persuade one of the lower-tier sponsors to take over the title spot. The PGA is willing to help, but there’s still a shortage.

The major chunk of city money—$800,000—would go for television coverage, which gives the city a marketing opportunity. Council members heard that December is the deadline for a decision because the PGA will be meeting at the Boca Raton Resort & Club and setting TV coverage for all of its tournaments next year. If that slot doesn’t go to the Boca tournament, it will go to another event.

Council members asked whether county or state money might be available. The response: a definite maybe. Obviously, the council would like the organizers to find a new Allianz. The city already contributes nearly $500,000 in services.

Nevertheless, City Manager Leif Ahnell acknowledged that the city has enough money in its economic development fund to fill the gap. If the city did that, however, would it discourage a company from signing a long-term deal?

Sentiment is strongly in favor of keeping the tournament. My sense is that if the organizers can’t find a corporate angel soon, the city will step in.

Slim pickings for city manager?

Delray Beach’s search company has recommended five semi-finalists for city manager. On the surface, it’s not an impressive list.

For one thing, none of the five is from Florida. Not even close. Two are from Illinois, one is from Missouri, one is from Utah and another is from Washington State. For another, there are red flags.

Edward Collins accepted and then rejected the manager’s job at a city in Maine. William Malinen was fired in May as city manager of Branson, Mo. It’s a city of dinner theaters and other venues that draw mostly white bread entertainers who are nearing their sell-buy date. That’s hardly the training ground for a city like Delray.

Based on the scant information supplied to the commission, the best choice is Mark Lauzier. He’s an assistant city manager in Tacoma, Wash., which is part of the Seattle metro area. Tacoma’s population is 211,000. Lauzier was a semi-finalist for the manager’s job in Coral Springs, and he will get an interview next month for the manager’s job in Jupiter.

The commission will meet at 5 p.m. today in a workshop session to discuss the applicants and possibly choose two or three to interview. City Commissioner Mitch Katz had a more optimistic take than me on the candidates. “They all seem pretty professional,” he said Monday. “There are some good choices.” Katz also said he would be willing to interview all of the recommended applicants.

Commissioner Jim Chard said he hoped to replace Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus with someone who has experience not just in the standard categories—finance, personnel—but also mobility, economic development, planning and the environment. If the commission can’t agree on candidates from this list, Chard said, “I would be willing to ask” the search company “to see who else might be out there.”

Though Florida experience isn’t a requirement, coming to a new city would be hard enough. Coming to a new state as well would be much harder. The commission can’t settle for someone just because a headhunter produced the name.

With de Jesus out with pneumonia, from round-the-clock work during and after Irma, he seems unlikely to reconsider his decision to return to the fire department. Extending the search thus might mean asking Assistant City Manager Caryn Gardner-Young to take over on an interim basis. But unless the commission is really sold on a candidate, the best decision could be to wait.

Delay budget nears approval

The Delray Beach City Commission will give final approval to the city’s budget tonight. Based on last week’s workshop discussion, there is not support to raid reserves and give a symbolic reduction in the tax rate.

Support came from commissioners Katz and Shelly Petrolia. There was much talk about how Delray Beach has a reserve fund that is equal or above what is recommended for cities. Why couldn’t a small portion go for tax relief?

Mayor Cary Glickstein responded that Florida cities—especially coastal cities—need the reserve fund especially for hurricane response. He pointed out that de Jesus has estimated the city’s Irma costs to be at least $10 million. Assuming a 75 percent reimbursement rate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that would mean a $2.5 million drop in reserves that the new budget could not—and did not—anticipate.

Keeping sufficient money in reserve helps Delray Beach. I would expect the commission to approve the budget as presented.

On the Boca agenda tonight:

With Irma having wiped out the first round of Boca Raton meetings in September, the city council faces a packed agenda for tonight’s regular meeting. The most noteworthy topic is a resolution that would allow the city to issue no more than $55 million in bonds to finance capital improvements. The revenue for the bond payments would come from Boca Raton’s share of the one-cent sales tax increase that voters approved last November.

The proposal comes as something of a surprise. When council members last discussed the sales tax, sentiment was for putting the money in an account while they decided how to spend it. During the sales tax campaign, the city did not submit a list of projects. Mayor Susan Haynie said the city had no infrastructure backlog.

Apparently, there now is a list—or at least an approach. City officials began discussing the idea as they crafted the new budget. On Aug. 28, city staff made a presentation to the city’s financial advisory board, which will oversee the spending of the sales tax revenue.

The report broke down the spending into four main categories—$19 million for parks, $17 million for roads, $6 million for facilities and $4 million for lighting. Most of that park spending would be for Lake Wyman and Hillsboro/El Rio parks and the Wildflower property. Most of the facility spending would go to Fire Station 6, at Clint Moore Road and Military Trail.

A city spokeswoman said it is the only one of the city’s eight stations that hasn’t been renovated in the last 10 years. In addition, the outdated door bays don’t match some of the department’s newer vehicles.

In general, the spokeswoman said, the bond would allow Boca Raton to complete planned projects earlier. Delray Beach already has approved a similar bond issue for its sales tax revenue. The $55 million figure is fairly conservative. County projections are that Boca Raton will receive between $52 million and $61 million over the 10 years of the one-cent increase.

Guess who likes bond proposal

During Monday’s workshop meeting, Councilman Scott Singer praised the bond proposal. His comment was interesting, since Singer spoke critically of the sales-tax proposal last year. The increase got support from roughly 59 percent of Boca Raton voters.

Other agenda items

Also on tonight’s agenda is approval of roughly $47,000 in economic development toward Project Cloud, code for a company that Boca Raton and the county are courting. And the council will introduce the ordinance that would govern approval of sober homes.

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.

Related Articles

Latest Articles