City examines options to preserve golf course

The city of Naples is examining options to strengthen the easement that would preserve the golf course at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.

Naples City Council authorized hiring from Ausley McMullen law firm in September for $ 50,000 to explore options related to the easement, which was part of the hotel property redevelopment approval in 2019.

At a public meeting last month, city ​​council approved another expense of $ 50,000 for the Tallahassee-based law firm to complete the project on behalf of the city.

Ausley McMullen “is exploring options regarding possible revisions to the proposed easement for the preservation of the land associated with the golf course,” Jim Fox, city attorney, said in an email to the Daily News.

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When the city council of Naples approved the hotel redevelopment plan in 2019, the council also voted to accept an easement from the developer, The Athens Group, which would allow the city to preserve the golf course as an open green space in the future.

The council at the time chose not to include a third party, such as a community group, in the easement agreement.

Naples city councilor Paul Perry, who in 2019 was president of the Aqualane Shores association, said the move removed an enforcement mechanism if a future city council decided to abandon green space in the future.

A third party linked to the easement could hold city council accountable in the future for ensuring the space is preserved, Perry said.

The new city council chose to review the easement after the municipal election in March, Perry said.

“Once I became a board member, the members were in favor of overturning this decision. This is why we decided to acquire special expertise in the application of easements, ”said Perry. “We are not trying to rearrange the restrictions. We’re not doing any of that again. All we do is secure the enforcement mechanism.

City Councilor Ray Christman said he had also seen interest among city council in reviewing the easement following city council elections earlier this year.

“For my part, but I think others have also agreed that it is appropriate to revisit this issue, to see if there are ways to strengthen it to protect the property as open space in perpetuity,” Christman said.

Neighborhood issues

Recent meetings with neighbors on how the developer will handle construction have raised new concerns about how the golf course and other undeveloped land might be altered.

During a series of community outreach meetings, questions were raised about the golf course and other lands that The Athens Group has pledged to preserve from the start. The developer insists that his deals with the city won’t allow him to reduce the amount of open space, so there should be no worries about it.

“The 104 acres of open space are indeed preserved for recreation and open spaces, as defined and required in rights approved by the Naples City Council,” said Jay Newman, CEO of The Athens Group, in a statement. E-mail.

“Golf and tennis will continue to be among these uses.”

Children watch athletes compete in the 31st annual Fitness Challenge triathlon at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club on Sunday June 4, 2017.

However, the project’s recreational plan has not yet been finalized in the neighborhood and community.

Jack Ladley, who owns a house across the street from the hotel, said he and other neighbors feared the developer would downsize the golf course from 18 holes to 10 or 15. He plays on the course and does not. I don’t want to see drastic changes there.

He attended one of the developer’s recent outreach meetings, where new possibilities for open space have emerged, including the addition of more recreational uses, such as volleyball, pickleball, and basketball. -ball and other features such as a golf school or miniature golf.

“For the first time, they started talking about resizing the golf course, not having 18 holes,” Ladley said.

He pointed out that the current owners reworked and improved the iconic course just a few years ago, with the help of golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, who played the course as a child. Nicklaus, a leading course designer, has created hundreds of them around the world.

The renovation of the hotel’s par 71 golf course, completed in 2016, cost the current owners $ 9 million.

“It’s not a dirty, tired course,” Ladley said.

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Which is why he said he doesn’t see why the developer might want to change it, when everything is like new on the course, which some have dubbed Naples Central Park.

“It’s nice to be able to have a golf course and watch it. I think everyone wanted to keep that space open for so many reasons,” Ladley said.

As for the developer’s construction management plan, he said it appears to be well planned.

The plan was developed in conjunction with a “knowledgeable and experienced” general contractor from Southwest Florida, Newman said.

“It was reviewed with the city and its various departments before sharing the plan with the community for their advice,” he said.

The developer hosted nine face-to-face meetings and one Zoom meeting as part of its community outreach, which attracted nearly 250 neighbors and other community residents interested in the project.

Based on these community meetings, The Athens Group refined its construction management plans. These changes include moving the building entrance so that it is directly next to US 41, rather than South Golf Drive, which addresses concerns about increased traffic on the neighborhood road. , Newman said.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the city and all stakeholders, including our project neighbors, as plans for the new hotel, golf course and Naples Beach Club residences continue to develop,” said he declared.

The project continues to move forward ahead of the planned acquisition of the property by the developer in May of next year.

“We are pleased to report that we are continuing to meet the project schedule,” Newman said.

Construction is expected to start shortly after closing. The first phase, including the redevelopment of the hotel, is expected to be completed in late 2023, according to a website on the hotel property redevelopment plan.

Project history

City Council gave its final approval to the project about a year ago, voting 6-1 in favor of changes to the original development plan for the residences as well as the accompanying site plan.

Councilor Terry Hutchison was the sole dissenter. Before his vote, he said he saw the redevelopment project as one of the city’s greatest accomplishments, but it had “one of our biggest mistakes.”

The city councilor said all the right people were involved in the project, including a top-notch development team, but the protections to secure the golf course did not go far enough for him to vote in favor. of the amended development plan.

“There is no doubt that this was a great opportunity for our community,” he said at the time. “Did we understand correctly? In my opinion, this is not the case. We missed our opportunity to properly secure the more than 100 recreational acres, an open space for generations to come.

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A sunset at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club.

As the developer’s purchase of the property draws closer, the hotel has announced it will close on May 23, 2021, and its long-time owners are encouraging loyal guests to come back and others who haven’t. never visited to find out what it has to offer before it’s time. falls short of.

The Watkins family have owned the hotel for decades. At that time, Michael Watkins, president and owner of the resort, said his family took pride in their tradition of providing exceptional hospitality to their countless guests.

“We look forward to celebrating our final season with our guests and customers this winter and spring,” he said.

For those who cannot visit, the hotel’s beach and the famous sunsets can be seen on its webcam by visiting naplesbeachhotel.com.

Brittany Carloni is the City of Naples reporter for the Naples Daily News. Support his work by subscribe to our local news organization. Find her on Twitter as @CarloniBrittany.