Editor: Former Vero Beach Mayor and City Councilman, Richard Winger, wrote this analysis of the current controversy surrounding offers from the County and a private developer to buy the historic Dodgertown Golf Course property.
The 2016-2017 City Council (Howell, Sykes, Young, Moss, and Winger) promised what Alma Lee Loy, in her three impassionate requests, has asked for. That is, an outside study to decide the best use for this 37-acre Dodgertown golf plot, to benefit the Citizens of Vero Beach and Indian River County. But, Council wants to blindly move ahead with a very risky sale for massive development.
After the public outcry at the Tuesday September 4th meeting, there was a moratorium set until the Council’s meeting October 2nd. Unless we rise up and say no, it is apparent the majority will go for mass development.
The City purchased this part of Dodgertown for $9.95 million to preserve green space when the County bought the balance of the property in 2005. It is appraised for $3.5 million, and the prior Council turned down $2.7 million. We, taxpayers, owe $6.0 million, and the property is sure to appreciate. We still need Greenspace on the Mainland. It seems stupid to take a low-ball offer from a developer with NO FIRM PLAN.
The Developer, Mark Hulbert, of Hulbert Homes, Inc, Lakeland, FL, offered Council the give-away price of $2.0 million and then modified the original plan to remove the homes and instead provided a very sketchy commercial land improvement map.
On Tuesday, September 4, the County had an emergency meeting and came in with a written “rescue the City of Vero Beach and Dodgertown Offer” offer of $2.4 million. Later Tuesday, Hulbert upped his offer to $2.430. Nobody knows what Hulbert would really build, except he says a hotel, some shopping, and some offices. Lacking zoning restrictions not now in place on the parcel, once ownership is transferred, development could be anything under Florida law. Hulbert Homes could go back to including homes.
Three Council members (Zudans, Sykes, Howell), despite the plea of the audience and Chairman of the County Commission, Peter O’Bryan, wanted to close the Hulbert deal Tuesday night. It was inferred the County might renege on their written offer, and why lose the offer from Hulbert? At one point, Councilman Zudans said: “there is a big risk to not doing this right now.” Yes, there is a risk — for them! The risk is, given time, this poor deal may get stopped by us, the voters and owners.
Alma Lee Loy’s course is the correct course. But if the property is to be foolishly sold like so much of the rest of the City, clearly the County’s offer is in the people’s interest. Hulbert’s offer is decidedly hurtful to the people of Vero Beach and Indian River County. Here is a comparison:
Hulbert offer positives
- Assuming something really got built, and using a as a comparison the appraised value of $10.3 million for the 79 acre Indian River Mall, the City would get $22,000 annually in property taxes. The County offer would provide no Tax money. This is a nickels and dimes difference, and no justification. Despite the claims the property goes on the tax rolls, the tax revenue is small.
- Any sale at $2.4 million pays down about 40% of the debt, but 60% remains. Therefore, debt payment under either offer goes from about $660,000 annually to approximately $400,000. There is a reduction, but the problem of paying off the loan is not eliminated, as Council infers. So the annual Budget still pays and pays and pays.
Hulbert offer negatives:
- The development would compete with the Airport Enterprise and in all probability cost the Airport money in rent revenue.
- The development would compete with the Mall, which has its own problems.
- The development would compete with Main Street and shift focus from our core.
- Two hotels are going up nearby. The claim we need yet another hotel is undocumented and likely false.
- While 43rd and Airport roads will, in time, be upgraded, that well may take more time than the development. This means limited access or traffic problems for the airport area.
- The risk of the project failing is substantial.
County offer negatives:
- It is better for the City to have a Plan. It would be better not to sell to the County until this step is taken.
- It would be better for the City to be a partner in any expansion of Major League Baseball. That could be an option, worked out with the County, if the City retains ownership.
- No risk. Ironclad Offer.
- The County is negotiating with Major League Baseball to take over Historic Dodgertown and expand activities.
- The County is promising green space and a water park to help with the pollution from the Main Relief Canal. The area desperately needs green space. We need a Main Relief Canal clean-up for the Lagoon.
- The County wants to reunite the Dodgertown parcels to gain anticipated needed space for sports expansion. The County feels this will improve their chances of sports expansion at Dodgertown.
- This plot is now used for overflow parking. Its loss hurts Dodgertown.
- Fireworks and other amusement could not occur over a Development.
- The County wants to preserve this Historic Parcel where Jackie Robinson and black baseball players first could play golf.
- The County made the best offer, allowing someone to raise a low-ball offer is not ethical.
So, if this Council is going to sell, at least sell to our County!
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