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Burnt Store Marina Closes Golf Course

UPDATE: Residents were successful – the coure is open!

UPDATE MAY 31, 2007. Local papers reported today that the residents will be re-opening the course in June of this year. They are taking Stout up on his offer to lease for $1 per year and pay all operating costs through HOA dues.

Below is the original post on the course closing and rationale behind it.

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Hot off the press. Will Stout of RealMark closes the executive golf course to make way for new development. Here’s the story as reported in this morning’s local paper.

Golfers, expecting to play their usual round of golf at Burnt Store Marina on Thursday, were greeted instead by no-trespassing signs.

Owner/developer Will Stout shut down their course without warning but later promised new shops, restaurants and condos for the area.

At an 11 a.m. meeting, about 700 people greeted Stout for a meeting at Burnt Store Presbyterian Church. They wanted to know why the course was closed and what plans he has for the community near the Lee-Charlotte county line off Burnt Store Road.

“I am a member of the club, and I pay $3,500 for a couple to play here,” said George Peterson, 60. “I know the course wasn’t making money. I guess he did it to stop the bleeding.”

Stout said he closed the executive style, 27-hole layout and its restaurant because it’s losing money and he can’t afford to subsidize a golf course that has drained more than $1.1 million from his Realmark Group company since he paid $5.5 million for it Dec. 31, 2005. Golf course employees were told of the closing Thursday morning.

“I have let go 46 employees from the course and restaurant with 60 days’ pay,” Stout said. “I have put $401,000 in pro-rated refunds to club members in the mail yesterday.”

He also told the crowd he has $750 million worth of projects on the way. The idea, Stout said, is to bring a shared downtown to the more than 30-year-old community.

He said he would rent the course for $1 to any group that wants to bear expenses such as insurance, employee salaries and other associated costs of running a golf club. “We closed the club to first give notice to the employees rather than have them be uncertain,” Stout said. “Now, we gave 60 days’ notice to anyone who can come up with a business plan to keep the club going. Come and see us.”

Many in the crowd applauded, others booed.

The crowd shouted down Mary Gelinas, who interrupted the meeting three times. “I was just so angry at what he’s doing,” Gelinas said. “He is just not right.” Countered resident Jim Hinch, 60: “About 80 percent of the people in Burnt Store Marina agree with Stout’s plans. The others just don’t want anything to change.”

Zoning for the property will have to be changed for a new entertainment and shopping district to be developed, Stout said.

He said he was led to believe the land was zoned for commercial projects, but it’s not. “The land is zoned (agricultural) with an exception for the golf course,” Stout said. “I wasn’t told that until November.”

Craig Dearden, Realmark chief operating officer, said he hopes to have the rezoning done within 90 days. Groundbreaking for the projects probably won’t begin for two years. Golf course struggles Realmark officials blamed lack of play for the course’s failure.

“We have about 30,000 rounds played on the course a year,” Dearden said. “To stay open we’d need at least 60,000.”

Coral Oaks Golf Course in Cape Coral, a championship 18-hole layout near Burnt Store, had about 60,000 rounds last year. Of 1,898 residents in the Burnt Store Marina complex, 157 are active golf club members.

“The problem is that it’s an executive course and not as challenging,” said Burnt Store resident Tom Purdy, 69. “I still played there twice a week.” An executive course typically has shorter holes than a full-length course. Development plans The proposal for the marina area would include a hotel, a computerized boat house, retail shops and restaurants.

The plans are only concepts but are similar to the development Stout built at Cape Harbour in Cape Coral.

“There is no sense of community here,” Stout said. “The key to having a sense of community is to have a downtown.” At Cape Harbour, Stout built restaurants, boutiques and a modern boat-storage facility, all overlooking a marina and waterway to the Caloosahatchee.

Although disappointed the course closed, Burnt Store Marina resident Paula DiDonato, 65, was happy to see Stout bring a popular plan to the table. “… I fully support Will Stout’s plans to bring us a downtown at the marina,” DiDonato said. “I’m on my way to Cape Harbour now because I have company. We always take them to restaurants downtown in Cape Harbour.”

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