Winter Park City Commission, during its Jan. 26 meeting, approved staff to move forward with a contract to purchase Winter Pines Golf Course at 950 S. Ranger Blvd. The sale, which is set to close on or before April 29, is meant to keep the 93.15-acre property as a green space.
City Manager Randy Knight stated that the owners of the property previously approached the City about redeveloping the site for residential and multi-family use, however the proposal did not fit the City’s Comprehensive Plan for growth management and future land use. According to the meeting agenda, the appraised value of the property, if it were developed, would be more than $24 million over the appraised value of the golf course.
“Either with this owner or a future owner, there will always be that pressure to try to figure out a way to develop (the land) because of the additional value,” Knight said. “And so we began those negotiations.”
The contract purchase price is $7.4 million, and includes the 18-hole golf course, pro shop and snack bar, driving range, maintenance buildings and equipment, and golf carts. The recommended funding source is revenue bonds, consistent with the provisions in section 2.14 of the City Charter.
“It is a successful operating business as is,” said Mayor Phil Anderson “So we are acquiring, effectively, a business, not just land.”
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper voiced her support for additional green space but, despite staff reports that current golf course revenues will cover all costs, was concerned about future revenues and the impact on residents. “For me, avoiding taxpayer subsidy is pretty paramount,” she said. “I would like to know that we are in a position as a commission to do enhancements within the Parks and Recreation purview on that golf course to ensure that it never becomes a financial burden.”
In response to Commission questions regarding the addition of a Dubsdread-style restaurant or fitness facility, City Attorney Kurt Ardaman pointed out that, despite zoning and comprehensive plan restrictions on residential, commercial and mixed-use development, the expansion of golf club services is allowable “as long as the expansion improvements do not negatively impact the surrounding residential areas,” he said. “There is the ability not to develop residential, commercial or mixed-use, but with respect to those particular clubs or recreational related facilities, there is the ability to enhance profits.”
Parks & Recreation Department Director Jason Seeley said the transition to City ownership would include attempts to keep the current golf course staff. “We have a proposed staffing query that we would put into place, and then we would obviously give the folks that work at the course, currently, an opportunity to interview for those positions,” he said. “And then with whatever we couldn’t fill in from that process, we would open up positions.”
Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio proposed a committee be formed to assist with the transition to City ownership and assess the need for upgrades to golf course facilities, which also was approved.
The meeting included comments from four Winter Park residents who voiced their approval for the purchase. Additional hearings will be held to discuss financing and the formation of the transition committee.