Homes, links to area and water among options for WPB golf course

Ever since West Palm Beach razed the post-War Era clubhouse of its municipal golf course a year ago, residents have waited for news and grimaced at rumors of how the city might reconfigure one of the south end’s most beloved features.

Now they have the beginnings of an answer.

At a city commission workshop Sept. 8, consultants from Redevelopment Management Associates laid out possibilities ranging from sprucing up the 196-acre championship course with new entrance ways and a few amenities to shrinking the course to add hundreds of homes and condos, bike trails, a waterfront clubhouse, fishing pier and kayak-launch area.

The price tags — to be shared by residential developers who partner with the city — range from an estimated $5.9 million to $19.5 million to redo the course, which runs from south of Forest Hill Boulevard to the C-51 Canal, just east of I-95.

Natasha Alonso, RMA’s director of urban design and planning, said residents in a March charette and other meetings made it clear they wanted the course to remain at 18 holes, with a clubhouse that would “make it more than a golf course — a true gathering place.”

They wanted the grounds to look better, with more trees. The course needed better entrance approaches and more of a connection with the surrounding communities, residents told the consultants.

The city also directed the consultant to look for ways to link the course with the city-owned shopping center property at 8111 S. Dixie Highway and the Palm Coast Plaza just north of it, and to coordinate all three in a way that enhanced the south end.

The challenge, RMA economic development director Kevin Crowder said, is that a market study indicates the area doesn’t generate enough economic activity to support major commercial redevelopment. But he added, “the market analysis just tells you where you’ve been.”

Different developers take different approaches in deciding whether to enter a market, he said. Some go strictly by current numbers but others look at a location and say, “What can I add to make it work?” he said.

He related an example told by Miami developer Jorge Perez of The Related Group of Florida at a conference a year ago. Perez said that when planning one project, he didn’t have a market study that told him 10,000 Brazilians would buy $1 million condos in downtown Miami, but he knew how to execute a project so that they would.

The message: Smart redevelopment can enhance the area and catalyze the commercial market, he said.

The golf course options all leave the course at 18 holes, but three of the four alternatives would shorten the course, from slightly to significantly.

It’s a matter of the city and its residents deciding what trade-offs they accept, Alfonso said.

The options presented, she cautioned, “are just capacity studies to help us understand what fits and what doesn’t.”

The city commission, by general consensus, authorized Economic Development Director Chris Roog to continue pursuing redevelopment plans for the 8111 S. Dixie property and the golf course. The commission also indicated its willingness to work with the adjacent Palm Coast Plaza owners in coordinating redevelopment plans.

Mayor Jeri Muoio asserted, as she has in the past, that despite rumors to the contrary the city is not selling the golf course. “We’re looking for redevelopment partners,” she said. She added that the city would present the options in meetings with the public soon.

Commissioner Shanon Materio, whose district includes the course, said afterward that she favored the two options that leave the course intact, as a full-sized, championship course, if no water features are placed inside the course.

Those options, scenarios 1 and 4, “are more than just palatable, they’re the most do-able for a developer that may be interested,” she said.

She also said she did not oppose putting homes around the course, as long as they’re not in the middle of the course. “We have to build up the quality of the housing in the south end,” she said.

She added that she did not oppose scenarios that would place housing on the site of Mary Brandon Park, which is on the northeast corner of the course, because the park is little-used and the scenarios would replace that park land with waterfront park space on the south.

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