O’Malley: Dodgertown golf course would make ‘terrific’ park
The man whose father designed and built the now-defunct, long-abandoned Dodgertown Golf Club more than 50 years ago would like to see the property become a city park.
He didn't come right out and say it, of course – at least not initially. He publicly shared his opinion only after some prodding.
Despite his lifelong connection to the community, Peter O'Malley wouldn't dare to presume he knows more about what's best for Vero Beach than the people who live here.
"The city owns the land, and it's more important to listen to what the community wants to do with it," the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner said last week from his Southern California office. "As I understand it, a large number of people cared enough to take time to attend the City Council meeting and share their thoughts and feelings.
"And they were heard."
In fact, the council unanimously rejected a $2.7 million offer from a Palm Beach Gardens-based developer who wanted to build a 280-home community on the 35-acre parcel adjacent to Historic Dodgertown.
In its 4-0 vote, the council also agreed to take the property off the market until city officials give further consideration to what it wants to do with the parcel, located immediately southeast of the intersection of Aviation Boulevard and 43rd Avenue.
"Personally, I think a park would be a terrific use of the property," he replied, offering his opinion only after repeatedly saying it's the community's call. "Vero is growing very nicely, and you can never have enough green space. Parks are always needed."
O'Malley, who heads a five-way partnership that has leased the Historic Dodgertown complex since 2012 and operates a multi-sport facility there, said he recently drove through the property on which his father built a nine-hole golf course.
His father, Walter, who owned the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1950 until his death in 1979, originally designed a pitch-and-putt course around the complex's heart-shaped, man-made lake for the team's players to use during spring training in 1954.
Among the players who used the shortened course was Dodgers All-Star and eventual Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, who had broken baseball's color barrier seven years earlier but, because of the racial prejudice prevalent in the South at the time, was not allowed to play at Vero Beach's two golf courses.
When O'Malley's father decided to expand the facility and build a nine-hole course adjacent to Holman Stadium in 1965, he personally oversaw the layout's design and made sure it was properly maintained.
"Spring training was an important time of year for us," O'Malley said. "The golf course was just another piece to the puzzle, another part of my father's plan to have everyone living together, working together and playing together.
"The old course was a very special part of Dodgertown," he added. "There's certainly a lot of history to the place, and I do feel nostalgic about it. I have a personal attachment to the golf course, just as I do to Dodgertown and all of Vero Beach."
The O'Malley family sold the Dodgers to Rupert Murdoch's Fox Group in 1998, and Murdoch sold the team to Frank McCourt six years later. By then, however, the Dodgertown Golf Club had been closed, ceasing operations in 2004.
It was McCourt who sold the golf-course property – then a 37.5-acre parcel – to the city for $10 million in 2005, three years before the Dodgers ended a 61-year marriage between the team and town and moved their spring-training headquarters to Arizona.
The parcel was reduced by 2 1/2 acres when the city and county completed a land swap to allow for the 2012 construction of a four-field cloverleaf for youth baseball and softball at Historic Dodgertown.
The remaining 35 acres continue to sit idle, and the city will pay $660,000 this year to service the two $5 million loans it used to purchase the property near the height of the local real-estate boom.
The city still owes about $5.5 million on the loan, which is scheduled to be paid off in October 2025, and spends roughly $17,000 per year to mow and maintain the property.
Murphy Garlinge & Associates founder Patrick Murphy said he has been negotiating with the city's broker for the property for the past year. City Manager Jim O'Connor and the city's Finance Committee both recommended the council approve the sale.
However, the council killed the deal at a meeting earlier this month, which was attended by about 50 residents, most of them opposed to selling the property to a developer.
The most recent appraisal of the property put its value at $3.5 million, but the city had not received an offer anywhere near that price.
O'Malley said Historic Dodgertown would not have been impacted by the proposed development, but he refrained from speculating on the impact the sports complex's lights and noise would have on an adjacent residential community.
"The airport is right there, too," he said, "so a park might be the best option."