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Vero may soon sell Dodgertown Golf Course for homes


Vero Beach City Manager Jim O'Connor said he plans to recommend the City Council accept a $2.7 million offer from a Palm Beach Gardens-based real estate developer seeking to purchase the 35-acre parcel on which the long-defunct Dodgertown Golf Club was built more than 50 years ago.

Murphy Garlinge & Associates, which has been trying to buy the land for the past year, wants to build a 280-unit residential development that will be compatible with the Historic Dodgertown backdrop.

"We still need to review some of the details in the contract, but in my opinion, based on the information I have today, this is a good offer," O'Connor said Monday afternoon. "This property has been on the market for a considerable period of time, and we've had some other offers that were considerably lower.

"The property has been appraised at about $3 million," he added, "but I think this tells us what the market will bear."

The sale will be placed on the agenda for the council's March 7 meeting, O'Connor said.

Though he hasn't yet seen any design plans for the development of the property, O'Connor said the preliminary proposal would "conform to the area."

The city paid the Los Angeles Dodgers $10 million for the golf-course property in 2005, near the peak of the local real-estate boom. The parcel is southeast of the intersection of Aviation Boulevard and 43rd Avenue.

The original 37.5-acre parcel was reduced by 2 1/2 acres as a result of the 2012 land swap between the city and county, which wanted the property for construction of a four-field cloverleaf for youth baseball and softball at neighboring Historic Dodgertown.

The remaining 35 acres now sit idle – the nine-hole golf course ceased operations in 2004 – while the city continues to pay more than $650,000 annually to repay the two $5 million loans it used to buy the land.

O'Connor said the city still owes "about $5.5 million" on the loans, which, according to the current amortization schedule, won't be paid off until October 2025. In addition, the city spends more than $15,000 per year to mow and maintain the property, which includes the old golf course clubhouse, now used for storage by the Recreation Department's maintenance crews.

"We would free up about $300,000 a year if we take this deal," O'Connor said. "Or we can hang on to the property for another year and pay another $600,000."

Patrick Murphy, founder of the firm that wants to buy the land, said he has already raised his offer twice and won't do so again.

"A year ago, I offered less than $2 million, then came up to $2.3 million," Murphy said. "The city rejected both offers, so last month I came back with $2.5 million and finally agreed to go to $2.7 million. That's a reasonable offer. That's my ceiling.

"To go any higher wouldn't make financial sense," he added. "What the city paid for the land is irrelevant."

Murphy's firm currently is building two local developments:

– Bridgehampton, an enclave of 31 single-family homes at 12th Street and 12th Avenue, immediately south of Crestlawn Cemetery.

– Southampton, a 56-duplex community on State Road 60, east of 50th Avenue.

Murphy said he's also planning a third project but wasn't prepared to offer details.

As for the golf-course property, Murphy said his firm is planning to offer a variety of options, including townhomes, single-family homes and residential-over-retail homes.

"We want to build a high-quality community with time-period design that blends in with the surroundings, particularly Dodgertown," Murphy said. "It's not going to be a cookie-cutter development. It's going to be unique."

Murphy said developing the property would be at least a three-year project, which makes it a gamble because, "We'll be at the mercy of fluctuations in the real-estate market."

When Vero Beach bought the land, city officials were determined to preserve green space during the building boom and envisioned the golf course being converted into a park.  Instead, the grounds were abandoned, except for the occasional grass cutting. Last spring, the city put the parcel on the market.