West Palm Beach to close municipal golf course at end of the month

Updated Sept 04, 2018
Chuck Rubin says, ‘It’s the best draining course in three counties.’ (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The city commissioners, acting as the Golf Commission, reached consensus Tuesday to close West Palm Beach’s municipal golf course Sept. 30, to save on maintenance costs while completing a deal with a developer to rejuvenate the course, add condos, a hotel and a Topgolf entertainment complex.

“The irrigation’s not in good shape. We’re losing about $60,000 a month, not including debt service payments. It’s the end of the fiscal year and nothing’s budgeted to fund it for next year, so we think it’s a good time to close the course,” City Administrator Jeff Green said Tuesday afternoon.

The final decision will be made by the city commission Sept. 24.

At the urging of commissioners, Green said he would work on a contingency plan, so that if negotiations do not move forward within a specific timeframe, the city will take steps to reopen the course.

Developer American Links in February signed an agreement to orchestrate a $86 million rejuvenation of the 196-acre course — initially hoped to reopen as soon as January — along with the Topgolf franchise, a boutique hotel and a clubhouse next to Interstate 95 in the southwest corner of the course. Up to 200 apartments or condos would be built along the C-51 canal on the site’s southern property line.

The course anchors the city’s south end and has been a favorite spot for city residents for decades. But with the course deteriorating and the city putting little into maintenance in recent years, the course’s popularity has dropped to about 25 rounds played per day.

Details of the refurbishment are in negotiation, making it uncertain when the course will reopen, Green said.

In addition to negotiating with American Links, the city has a sticky issue to resolve with Palm Beach County.

According to Green, back in the 1940s, when lots were conveyed to the city to create the course, the county never transferred the titles to the lots. The city needs those titles to redo the course.

But relations between the city and county are miserable and snappish, as they’ve been sparring over the county desire to extend State Road 7 next to the city’s Grassy Waters Preserve, which the city has spent millions opposing in court, and the city’s desire to allow a 25-story office tower near the Royal Park Bridge, which the county and Town of Palm Beach oppose.

Green said he spoke to County Administrator Verdenia Baker about the course. Her response was that she’d need to await direction from the County Commission.

In addition, the city needs the state to sign over a piece of land to ease the redevelopment without shortening the course. That negotiation also is taking longer than expected, Green said.

Both the city and developer are anxious to see the project move forward quickly. Meanwhile, Topgolf arch-rival Drive Shack already has begun building a multi-floor, computerized driving range next to Palm Beach International Airport.

If the deal with the American Links moves forward, it would pay the city rent totaling about $500,000 a year for the Topgolf, condo and hotel parcels, or alternatively buy those parcels from the city for an undetermined amount. The city will keep the course land, which will keep much of its current configuration, without water hazards but with more trees.

The Parker Avenue entrance to the course would close, and Forest Hill Community High School would gain use of parking spaces at the current entrance. With the new clubhouse next to Topgolf, the new entrance will be off Georgia Avenue.

The developer would pay the entire cost of the project, while profiting from revenue from the course and the entertainment business. It would bring the city $1.8 million in revenue for use for parks and recreation. The project would create more than 600 jobs, the developer estimated.

The annual revenue would come from $500,000 for the land leases, $1.08 million in property taxes and $250,000 the city would no longer pay to support the course, American Links estimated.

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