Commission corner: Commission Thomson talks golf  

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By: Councilman Andy Thomson
Special to the Boca Newspaper

There will soon be a new municipal golf course in Boca Raton. I feel strongly that it should be golf for the people – inclusive and affordable for all. Here’s an update on where things stand.

First, a bit of background: in 2018, the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District (an independently elected government body separate from the City of Boca Raton) bought the defunct Ocean Breeze golf course in the Boca Teeca neighborhood. The District paid $24 million for the land. They later hired a golf course architect, Price/Fazio, who designed a luxury golf course that would cost another $28 million to build, bringing the total cost to over $50 million. After about a year, the District eventually realized that they did not have the money to build this course and asked the City to donate $20 million to help fund the construction.

The Boca Raton City Council – recognizing that $28 million is an enormous amount of taxpayer money to spend on a golf course – declined to approve and fund a luxury golf course. Instead, the Council issued a Request for Information to other qualified golf course architects asking them if a high quality course (including 18 holes, infrastructure, maintenance facilities, and a minimalist clubhouse) could be built for $8 million – $20 million less than what the District proposed. Sixteen respondents replied with a resounding YES and provided concepts, ideas, and designs for how such a course could be built. In addition, an independent consulting firm analyzed the Price/Fazio plan and concluded that spending anything above $15 million would be unreasonable and would lead to no additional benefit. As a result, the City Council offered to construct the 18 hole course and infrastructure itself, with City funds, using an architect of the City’s choosing. The City insisted that $15 million was the most that should reasonably be spent on a municipal golf course and suggested that, to the extent the Price/Fazio design wished to remain in consideration, its cost needed to be reduced dramatically and be within the $15 million threshold.

At first, the Beach & Park District refused to reduce the cost of its design and instead pushed ahead with its $28 million design and planned to fund it by raising its property taxes and through private financing.  When residents vocally opposed a tax increase, the Beach & Park District commissioners eventually voted against a tax increase, which left them with no funds to build the course. Then, after many months of being asked to revise the $28 million design to reduce its cost (with the response being that such revisions were impossible), Price/Fazio eventually presented a revised design with a reduced cost: $14 million. Price/Fazio now states that its revised $14 million design would provide the SAME QUALITY at its original $28 million plan. In other words, the City’s process of due diligence has, to this point, already saved residents at least $14 million with no reduction in quality.

Given those results, the City will continue its due diligence process and seek additional designs from other architects to determine whether the most recently revised Price/Fazio design (now costing $14 million) is the best option. The Beach & Park District has also agreed in concept to the City’s offer: allowing the City to build the course with City funds using an architect of the City’s choosing with input from the Beach & Park District. That process should hopefully be concluded by April or May 2020.

Our job at the City Council is to spend taxpayer dollars responsibly so as to benefit as many residents as possible. By following the process outlined above, I believe we are doing exactly that.