Homestead council members decided to move forward in applying for a $10 million county grant to renovate the Keys Gate golf course and turn the community clubhouse into a small convention center.
Tuesday night, council members directed city staff to submit the application quickly for the economic development funds — even though all the funds are already allocated.
Late last week, the golf course’s owner, Wayne Rosen, sent the city a proposal to transform the community clubhouse into a 50,000 square-foot convention center. He also pitched bringing in a well-known golf course architect, Jim Fazio, to revitalize the greens. The plans wouldn’t be funded by him, but by county tax dollars reserved for infrastructure projects.
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The county grant is part of a $75 million economic development fund, all of which which has already been earmarked, including $10 million for ventures at the Opa-locka airport and $14 million for a theme park by Zoo Miami, county officials say.
Homestead can get in line in case a project falls through and any of the already-allocated money becomes available, said Mike Hernandez, a county spokesman. Applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis by county staff. After being processed, if the administration recommends the project, it is passed on to county commissioners for a vote, Hernandez said.
The money is distributed as a reimbursement after a project is built and the creation of jobs has been verified. According to the Rosen, the project would bring in 200 jobs.
In his proposal, Rosen —one of the top contributors to Miami-Dade commissioners’ reelection campaigns in 2014 — said he would not sell the golf course, but would lease it to the city at no cost for an unspecified period of time. Homestead would oversee construction and maintenance for the duration of the lease.
Neither Rosen nor members of his team were present at the council meeting.
Rosen purchased the operating golf course and clubhouse in 2014, promising to fix them up and reopen them as a lavish country club that would attract locals and tourists. The site sits at the core of the Keys Gate community, a cluster of 15 gated neighborhoods. Instead, Rosen closed them and the property has been neglected since then.
Homestead council members said they were worried that the proposal was still missing details, and that the application would come back to the council with questions after it is submitted.
“I’m in favor of getting in line as quickly as possible. I particularly don’t need to see the form filled out. [City staff] is going to fill out the form and explain to the county how we’re going to benefit from their money,” said Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter. “From there, if there are any questions, it will come back to us and we will follow the trail and see where it takes us.”
Councilman Jon Burgess disagreed saying that the city was “filling out this application blind.”
“If there’s an annual deficit on the golf course, who’s going to pay that? There can be big financial consequences for the city if we don’t have clarification. And who’s going to put down the initial $10 million? The city or the developer? We don’t have $10 million that can just be reimbursed. We have it in reserves but that’s not what our reserves are for. To me, they are for catastrophes or financial breakdowns,” Burgess said.
Whether renovations to a golf course would be considered an infrastructure project is uncertain.
“A convention center is probably going to have more of a game-changing impact on a community,” Hernandez said. “I can’t say a golf course is disqualified from that but what commissioners are looking for are projects that would help transform Miami-Dade, game-changers that have a lasting impact on future generations.”