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Sport 'Shamefully mishandled' Florida municipal course expected to get $8M renovation

21:50  24 april  2021
21:50  24 april  2021 Source:   golfweek.com

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ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida — St. Johns County has OK’d spending up to about $8 million to renovate the St. Johns Golf Club — a county-owned golf course about 45 minutes south of Jacksonville — and pursue a joint fire rescue and sheriff’s office station on surplus golf course land in part to address population growth.

a view of a lush green field © Provided by Golfweek

The projects received unanimous support from the County Commission this week.

“We are looking at a completely renovated golf course, which is a critical tourism and recreational asset for St. Johns County, not only in that area but countywide,” Deputy County Administrator Joy Andrews said in an interview on Friday.

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While the St. Johns Golf Club gets a lot of traffic from locals, tourism accounts for 53% of the business there, she said.

The project will also meet a need for more emergency services personnel in that part of St. Johns County.

“We are finally on the path to … designing and building a fire and sheriff joint facility in that area that has been experiencing a gap of service,” she said.

The St. Johns Golf Club is a public facility located in Cypress Lakes, a residential community of about 500 homes off State Road 207 and west of Interstate 95.

a group of young men playing a game in a park © Provided by Golfweek

Players enjoy a round at St. Johns Golf Club. File photo by Peter Willott/USA Today Network

‘Shamefully mishandled and is in disrepair’

The county has been mulling what to do with the golf course.

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In February, commissioners put the brakes on a plan to sell a portion of the county-owned golf course in Elkton to a private developer who planned to build homes on the property.

Tuesday’s approval of the renovation project allows the county to seek contractors to do the work, and the contracts will come back to the board for review.

Here’s the county’s plan for the golf course:

• Repair irrigation, drainage and golf course conditions for more than $5.19 million. Because of aging infrastructure, “the golf course loses an average of 20 days of play annually because of heavy rainfall, which amounts to approximately $100,000 in lost revenue,” according to a presentation by Andrews.

• Revamp the clubhouse and cart barn, which were built in 1989. That portion of the project is estimated to cost more than $1.42 million.

“Due to size and age, staff has identified numerous shortfalls with the facilities such as non-ADA-compliant bathrooms; potentially dangerous breezeway and cart flow into traffic; lack of space for group outings; lack of storage; small check-in area; and failing window seals,” according to Andrews. “Recommended improvement will increase capacity and address several safety and ADA compliance concerns.”

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The total estimated cost for just the golf course is $7,945,192. The funding will come from five different county funds: recreation impact fees; the Transportation Trust Fund; the utility fund; the bed tax; and the general fund.

The county has built a buffer into the cost to adjust for construction cost increases. The cost estimates are based on 2018 numbers, Andrews said.

The project is expected to take nine months when construction begins, and county officials hope to begin construction in January 2022, according to Andrews.

County commissioners said the golf course is in poor condition and needs to be fixed up.

Commissioner Jeb Smith said he doesn’t believe government should be in the golf business. But he said the county has already committed to it and should live up to its obligations, including to people who bought property in the community.

“It is my firm conviction that we are to be good stewards of what we possess, and we need to take care of the assets that we have … This asset has been shamefully mishandled and is in disrepair,” he said.

While he supported the project, he asked the board to consider looking into a fee increase to ensure the golf course can sustain itself. He also encouraged the Commission to look into a public-private partnership for operating the facility.

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“In fact, I’ve been approached by several suitors already,” he said.

Commissioner Henry Dean said the “golf course has really great bones.”

“It’s just been sadly neglected,” he said.

a view of a lush green field © Provided by Golfweek

An aerial photograph shows the St. Johns Golf Club and the Cypress Lakes community in Elkton on Feb. 17, 2021. Photo by Peter Willott/USA Today Network

Fire chief says department needs a new station

As part of hashing out a plan for the golf course, the county has been looking at what to do with about 80 acres of unused land at the St. Johns Golf Club.

What the Commission settled on Tuesday was using it for a Southwest Fire Rescue Station and Sheriff’s Office Southwest Regional Command Center joint facility.

The Commission unanimously approved spending $335,000 on design and engineering from fire rescue impact fees. The total cost of the station is expected to be $7.5 million, and paying for that is expected to be discussed during budget sessions this year, Andrews said. County officials want to complete the fire station in fiscal year 2022, which will be from Oct. 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022.

The county could also use part of the unused land for walking trails and a disc golf course, but that hasn’t been decided yet, Andrews said.

St. Johns County Fire Rescue Chief Jeff Prevatt said one of the top priorities in his department’s master plan is to get a fire rescue facility west of Interstate 95 on State Road 207.

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“It is critically needed,” he said. “You see the growth on 207. You see what’s going on at 207 and 95 with a bunch of commercial [construction] going on. This is really a critical need for fire rescue.”

St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick said if the facility is built, the sheriff’s office wouldn’t need to lease a building in Hastings for $2,000 a month. He also said the facility is needed because of the growth that’s coming.

The closest fire rescue facility to that area is at West King Street and Holmes Boulevard. Having one closer will not only help with response times for homeowners in the area but will also help with insurance rates for those within 5 miles of the new station, Prevatt said.

― Reporter Colleen Jones contributed to this report.

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