Vero hopes to finally unload onetime golf course at Dodgertown
The old Dodgertown Golf Course has languished for more than a decade now, 35 acres of vacant land eating a hole in the Vero Beach city budget to the tune of about $600,000 annually. But the grassy white elephant – which Vero paid nearly $10 million for in 2005 – might be scratched off the city’s land inventory list in a distress sale later this year.
The city’s new high-powered real estate broker, Colliers International South Florida, is spreading the word among developers that Vero Beach wants to unload the former golf course that conjures up romantic memories of Dodgers spring training baseball.
Built in the 1960s by then-Dodger owner Walter O’Malley because his black players weren’t allowed on other golf courses in Vero at that time, it is located on the southeast corner of 43rd Avenue and 26th Street adjacent to the Historic Dodgertown sports complex and across the street from Vero Beach Airport.
“The nine-hole course, named Dodgertown Golf Club, opened in 1965 and was available to the Dodger players, as well as the public,” according to Walteromalley.com. “As an avid golfer himself, O’Malley could be found with Dodger players and executives on the links in his free time. To best aid his game, he personally oversaw the design of the course and the placement of its sand traps!”
While the course was a success for O’Malley and his team, the former links property has been a major-league loser for the city: Vero Beach bought the land for $9.9 million in 2005, but now it’s appraised at about a third of that amount – $3.5 million – and it soaks up substantial monthly maintenance costs along with the $50,000-a-month debt service.
Tim McGarry, the city planning and development director, said Vero Beach overpaid for the land because the purchase came near the height of the real estate bubble. The city wanted the property to serve as open green space at a time when Vero Beach was going through a growth phase, McGarry said.
It seemed then that the city was poised to become more dense and urban, but many of the subdivisions talked about at that time were never built.
City Manager Jim O’Connor said the city still owes a little more than $5 million on the property. Besides servicing that debt, the city also spends more than $10,000 a year to mow and maintain the property while not receiving a nickel in property taxes from the city-owned land.
Through the years, the city has floated several golf-related ideas for the site – such as a par-3 golf course, driving range, lighted pitch-and-putt course, or flying disc golf course – as well as a motocross track and skate park.
But Colliers Senior Vice President Kevin McCarthy, based in Palm Beach Gardens, has a more ambitious agenda. He is gearing up a marketing campaign aimed at developers who might be interested in light industrial, retail, hotel and/or multi-family housing uses.
Plus, having scheduled air service at Vero Beach Airport now adds more relevance to the site, McCarthy said. Elite Airways last winter began offering several weekly flights to the metro New York City area. The flights have been successful, with Elite’s jets mostly full, and the company said it is considering additional flights and destinations.
“It’s a unique location. With the airport growing and Dodgertown [next door], that brings lots of people,” McCarthy said.
Not much has happened to the land since the city bought it.
“It has remained vacant open space,” O’Connor said.
McCarthy said unloading empty acreage is challenging.
“Land is always the last recovering part of the cycle,” McCarthy said. “[But] we’re seeing activity in the northern reaches of South Florida. Development tends to creep up the coast. We’re at that cycle and phase.”
Vero Beach Airport Director Eric Menger said he thinks the site would be ideal for commercial or mixed use, which he hopes would be a driver in growing the scheduled airline service at the airport.
A small convention center or a small hotel would be good use, he said, because there’s a need for rooms to serve an influx of students at the neighboring FlightSafety Academy, which trains pilots. In addition, parents of youth ballplayers participating in Historic Dodgertown baseball games and training camps also typically need lodging.
On the southern portion of the golf course property, Menger would like to see mixed-use development with two- or three-story buildings that would include housing on the top level so people could both live and work there.
And he would like some of the green space retained for bike path.
“What I don’t want to see is a whole bunch of new houses,” said Menger.
McCarthy hopes to entice a buyer within six months. “We’re talking with developers in every discipline. These things tend to take a little time.”
Menger said he thinks there is more of an interest in buying land now that the economy is rebounding.
Upcoming road improvement projects on 43rd Avenue and 26th Street, which frame two sides of the property, make the site more attractive, Menger said.
“That will help the value and accessibility for that property,” he said.
McCarthy questions the $3.5 million appraisal, saying the true value of the O’Malley’s old golf course is more than that figure. But in the end, the market is king and will determine the purchase price.