The upshot of the City of LaBelle’s July 23 workshop on the proposed golf course is that, even with all the time and work that’s gone into the proposal over several years, there’s a lot more to be done.
The workshop opened with City Attorney Angela Hill posing several questions:
How much control does the city want to have?
How much risk does the city feel it can assume? What kind of risk would be acceptable?
Would the city consider participating in maintenance of the course if it should become unprofitable in the future?
Would the city want to set course fees?
She went on to point out that the site is acquired and the design was almost completed two years ago. Land entitlement (Comprehensive plan amendment, rezoning, establishment of a PU) are complete.
The discussion covered attractions and pitfalls of the plan and financial scenarios.
Past lessons were recalled with Ms. Hill’s statement: “The last thing we want is to have another Oxbow,” referring to the very popular golf course in Port LaBelle that went out of business. That property has been sold off for home sites, lost as a potential recreational area.
The current plan outlines what is called a popular new 12-hole public/private course that can also be used as an 18-hole championship course by simply playing three six-hole rounds. A 12-hole course requires less maintenance than an 18-hole course. As proposed, the course would include 3, 6, 12 18-hole options.
Another plus, say the developers, is that a shorter course would attract more families, senior and junior players, while still being attractive to serious golfers, according to Doug White, representing the Billy Casper Group at the workshop.
Elias Brothers’ attorney represented them at the meeting. Elias Brothers would build the course in exchange for parcels on the property to develop. If the sale of single family homes fails, he said, it would not affect the golf course. If it defaults the city gets the property back.
Developers provided an independent analysis showing that a city course could expect 32,000 rounds of golf per year from the city’s general population from January through April at an average rate of $21, for 68 percent of the course’s revenue. From October-April fees would run at $35-$45. A possible discount for city residents could be discussed in the future. Sale of beverages, a pro shop and outdoor pavilion would add to the course’s bottom line.
Maintenance costs for a 12-hole course would be lower than with an 18-hole course.
If the plan ultimately is approved, construction of the golf course would come first, then clubhouse and finally the homes.
Skeptics pointed out that Hendry County’s high unemployment and ag driven economy may not attract the number of golfers from outside the area proponents expect.
Also, Forrey Road, providing access to the park, will need a lot of work. In addition, it was pointed out that the plan still does not show the dedicated recreational Sports Park.
However, developers insist that the plan has “sizzle” and will appeal to both family and casual local players as well as the serious golfer from outside the area.
Mayor Dave Lyons remembered the old Oxbow course was a draw for residents and outsiders and called the new proposal a “win-win for us.”
Attorney Hill wants to see a reserve fund and risk management plan for the city included in any final plan, concerned about what would happen if the maintenance costs outweigh greens fees.
In any case, the discussion on a LaBelle golf course is far from complete.