WEST PALM BEACH: Developer American Links will orchestrate an $86 million rejuvenation of the 196-acre West Palm Beach municipal golf course — to reopen as soon as January — along with a Topgolf entertainment franchise and a hotel or clubhouse.
The selection by commissioners is huge economic development news in West Palm’s south end.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how this all comes out in the end, because it’s going to be an important investment for the south end but it’s very important for the whole city that we have a municipal course,” City Commissioner Shanon Materio said Tuesday.
The developer would pay the entire cost of the project, while profiting from revenue from the course and the entertainment business, which is a high-tech, multi-floor driving range. It would bring the city $1.8 million in revenue for use for parks and recreation. The project would create more than 600 jobs, the developer estimated.
The annual revenue would come from $500,000 for the land lease, $1.08 million in property taxes and $250,000 the city would no longer pay to support the course, American Links estimated.
West Palm Beach Golf Links LLC, doing business as American Links West Palm Beach, won the right to negotiate a contract with the city, beating out finalist Greg Norman Golf Course Design.
American Links agreed to a key city requirement, that the course’s historic Dick Wilson design be kept largely intact. The only homes proposed along the course were along its south side, bordering the canal, but an official of the development firm said it would consider a request by Materio that that 5-acre area instead become a public park.
The golf course land would be leased from the city, for 29 years, under the preliminary proposal.
Among the key changes for area residents and users of the course:
• The badly deteriorated greens would be brought back to life, in what a city release called “a sympathetic restoration.” The course would be closed to golfers during the project.
• The layout of about 16 of the 18 holes would remain unchanged.
• The entrance to the course would shift from Forest Hill and Parker Avenue to the south, off South Dixie Highway at Gregory Road, along the C-51 canal that borders Lake Worth.
• Forest Hill High would get an acre for parking.
• Mary Bra ndon Park at the northeast corner of the course, would not be touched. Earlier proposals would have replaced the park with townhouses.
• Topgolf and an 80-100-room hotel or clubhouse, or a hotel that serves as a clubhouse, whatever the city prefers, will occupy the southwestern corner of the course, giving the entertainment venue visibility from Interstate 95. Topgolf would include a restaurant and a meeting room with space for 250 guests.
• The canal bank would get have boating access and possibly a sculling venue for rowers.
Materio stressed that many aspects of the proposal are fluid and will depend upon final negotiations and agreement of the city commission.
“This project could really be a game changer for West Palm Beach’s south end,” Mayor Jeri Muoio said. “I am really pleased that, now, we will have something that’s really going to energize people — young and old, residents and visitors — around our golf course. I’m excited to move forward with West Palm Beach Golf Links, as their proposal gives us a chance to do something really innovative and creative with our municipal golf course.”
According to the city, the contract would also promise:
• Guaranteed affordable access for West Palm Beach resident pass holders.
• Player development programs and leagues, including Inner City Youth Golf Association and The First Tee.
• Forest Hill and Dreyfoos High Schools golf team home course status for practice and matches.
Materio, whose commission district includes the south end, said the project provides hope because the city was unwilling to spend the millions required to maintain the course and it was in bad shape. “This is going to be the economic driver for the south end. We hope things will change now.”
The city commission recently approved plans for a Topgolf competitor, Drive Shack, to open next to Palm Beach International Airport. An American Links official said marketing studies show the area will support both businesses, the Topgolf site having the advantage of its visibility from the interstate.