Boca golf course deal could drag on... with several jobs on the line

BOCA RATON — The elected bodies involved in buying a $24 million championship golf course in northeast Boca Raton are bogged down by technical — but seemingly critical — details that could delay the deal.

On the line is more than just golf links. There are at least 15 full-time city employees who could lose their jobs. 

The Boca Raton council on Monday was expected to finalize a loan that would allow a separate entity, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, to buy a 212-acre course on Northwest Second Avenue, formerly Ocean Breeze Golf Club

But council members raised concerns about details of the deal, which requires more negotiation that could lengthen the process. 

The deal includes two deeds: 

  • The beach and park district would buy the golf greens east of Northwest Second Avenue for $5 million out-of-pocket. 
  • The city would get a $19 million loan for the greens west of Second Avenue, and the park district would pay the city back. 

The reason for the complicated split? The park district might build a golf school and hotel on the property. If the city seeks a tax-exempt loan to buy the golf course, stringent rules prevent a loan for public purpose to be used for private ventures. 

But the double-deed has officials bogged down by details about which entity would own title to the properties. The city wants sole ownership of the western portion, to ensure the park district pays back the $19 million loan. 

The park district wants a shared deed. 

Pressed for time with a Feb. 28 deadline, the separate bodies must come to an agreement or the deal will be delayed. 

They are trying to time the opening of the golf course with the anticipated closure of Boca Raton Municipal Golf Course, a public course on Glades Road that recently sold to a home developer for $65 million

If times properly, city employees working at Boca Raton Municipal Golf Course could transfer to the new course.

Boca Raton Municipal will cease operation some time before May 2019. Developer GL Homes bought the land and plans to build more than 500 homes there. 

The park district will hire at least three of the 15 full-time employees. There are also 35 part-time employees, but many of them work at multiple parks in the city. 

Another point of negotiation: The city council wants the park district to hire more employees. 

“If those employees have done a good job at Boca Municipal … I’d like to see them stay on,” Vice Mayor Jeremy Rodgers said. 

Thecity could transfer employees to other areas, or the employees could lose their jobs, said George Brown, deputy city manager. 

The council also raised concerns about the design of the golf course. Fifteen firms — many of them involving high-profile golfers, such as Tom Lehman, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman — have sent the park district proposals to design the golf course. 

It could cost taxpayers up to $18 million. 

But some council members warned that the district shouldn’t be enamored by A-List names, as the course is expected to replace a community destination. 

The golf course should cater to residents, not “just rich people,” Rodgers said. 

The designers will be interviewed by the district in private, but selected in a public meeting. Councilman Scott Singer called for transparency in that process and more public input. 

The city council and beach and park district will try to meet by next week to iron out details.

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