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To Buy or Not to Buy: That is The Question

It is, without question, one of the most historic decisions to come before any Westchase body.

At its Tuesday, Feb. 6 meeting, beginning at 4 p.m. at the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center, supervisors of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) will likely consider a motion to put the Westchase Golf Course under a purchase contract for $4 million.

How are they going to vote?

Your guess is as good as WOW’s.

If supervisors vote “yay,” it doesn’t meant you’ll own it. The vote will simply protect the property from another purchaser while supervisors spend months investigating the wisdom of buying it – and undoubtedly hearing Westchase homeowners’ opinions about it. A later supervisors’ vote will ultimately determine whether the CDD buys what many consider to be the centerpiece of the community.

A centerpiece whose recent financial struggles have triggered concerns about its long-term future.

When news broke that supervisors were to hold their vote at their Jan. 9 meeting, more than 50 concerned residents showed up to ask questions, and, in some cases, to raise voices. A number of folks who made it into that forum (more were turned away by staff who incorrectly told them the meeting would be rescheduled) sought what no one can provide – a promise that the golf course remain a golf course in perpetuity.

A golf course, which, for the past three years, has lost tens of thousands of dollars annually.

That January vote got postponed to Feb. 6 on a technicality: the vote wasn’t properly noticed as a district agenda item.

To buy or not to buy.

It brings to mind two other past purchase decisions.

In the late 1990s, Westchase residents were asked if they wanted the Westchase Community Association (WCA) to buy the parcel of land that sits at the end of Montague Street along the railroad tracks for the construction of a community center.

After months of planning and anticipation, the roughly $100 a year decision got a thumbs down.

Later, when Westchase’s developer announced it would sell the beautiful Westchase Welcome Center – now a Realtor’s office on Radcliffe Drive near the golf course, the Westchase Voting Members (VMs) were asked if they wanted to purchase it for the association (which, at the time, hadn’t built the current Parley Drive building in West Park Village).

VMs gave it a thumbs down.

Both largely forgotten decisions still get talked about by some longtime Westchase residents and leaders as missed opportunities.

To buy or not to buy?

Supervisors began asking themselves the question at their November meeting, when Supervisor Brian Ross said that he heard the golf course was for sale. Supervisors asked CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney to reach out it current owner, Chicago resident Nick Neubauer, 71, who holds it through his Sano Corporation.

Before Chesney reached out, Neubauer himself called WCA President Ruben Collazo, saying he had read about it on WOW Online. It wasn’t the first time Collazo had communicated with the owner.

“I had heard the golf course was for sale a long time ago,” said Collazo. “Before that I had sent several backchannel messages to Nick asking for the right to make the first bid if it was sold.”

Collazo said that Neubauer must have confused the WCA with the CDD. “He said, ‘I hear you’re interested in buying the golf course. Let’s talk about it.’”

After Collazo put Neubauer in touch with Chesney, he participated in subsequent discussions. Collazo, Chesney and the CDD’s engineer toured the golf course property in mid-December before sitting down to lunch with Neubauer.

The owner’s won’t-budge price?

A cool $4 million.

Still a fire sale compared to the $7.75 million Neubauer originally paid for the course in 2005.

Yet, in recent years, other course buyers apparently passed on the struggling course when Nuebauer declined their $3 million offer.

For now, Collazo thinks it makes sense for the CDD to make the purchase. “Now that the CDD is taking the lead, the WCA is monitoring the situation,” he said, adding he’s ready to propose to the WCA board that it consider making the purchase if the CDD doesn’t.

So what’s Ross’ motivation?

“I want to avoid a bad outcome,” Ross said at the January CDD meeting. “I don’t want a bankruptcy there.”

Ross stated he was concerned about a future owner that might neglect the property, badly affecting adjoining homeowners and Westchase’s image at large. Worse, if the property is pulled through bankruptcy proceedings, Ross worries that current restrictions that require the land to be used as golf course could be lifted by courts.

To buy or not to buy?

How much would it set each Westchase homeowner back?

According to Chesney, $65 a year. But he projects the CDD could currently pay it without raising assessments. This year the district makes its final payments for park renovations, leaving them $340,000-$350,000 in capital funds annually for the project.

For some, that seems a reasonable move to save a community centerpiece from neglect or eventual development.

Yet word that supervisors had briefly discussed converting the course into a linear park of bike and hiking trails if they couldn’t keep the course from financially sinking upset some residents. Many who appeared at the Jan. 6 CDD meeting stated the primary reason they had bought their homes – and paid a premium for them – was because they were on golf course land.

They seemed in favor of letting Nuebauer keep it. He couldn’t sell it, they argued. They added he’d be forced to maintain it properly – to maintain its value in order to eventually sell it to another golf course operator.

For some supervisors, that’s a roll of the dice.

A lot of questions remain unanswered. If supervisors vote to approve a purchase agreement in February, it will trigger a lengthy due diligence process that will answer a lot of them.

Yet it may very well prompt others.

To buy or not to buy?

That is the question.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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