When General Development Corporation built the North Port Golf and Country Club in 1970, it was celebrated as a sign that the young city could support the same prosperous attractions as neighboring Venice and Sarasota.
Although the course changed owners over the years, its manicured grounds continued to appeal to those who desired, as one real estate website described, “elegant country club living.”
“It was beautiful,” recalled Rhonda Cope, who’s lived on nearby Pocatella Avenue since 2003. “It was the way it should be, the way you expected it to be.”
Today the course is so overgrown with vegetation that it is barely recognizable. Grass and weeds jut through cracks lining the paved walkways between holes.
“It’s reverting to old Florida,” nearby resident Kenneth Koslow said. “Birds are dropping seeds. Crabgrass is growing. Things are sprouting up everywhere.”
These grounds haven’t been cared for since a closure notice appeared on the clubhouse’s door in May 2015. Charlotte Golf Partners’ plans to rebuild and rebrand the course featuring replicas of signature holes from the nation’s most iconic courses vanished with an unpaid bank loan.
Now the course may get a second life. GNP Development Partners of Tampa wants to buy the property’s mortgage note from Wells Fargo.
But there’s one major catch: the company says it only has a budget to build an executive course half the size of the current one.
In addition to a nine-hole course, a new aqua driving range and a new clubhouse, Mark Gerenger of GNP Development Partners said he envisions building 200 to 300 single-family homes and some ponds on the approximate 9-million-square-foot property.
“It’s all we can afford to do, but it’s a very generous offer,” he said. “It’s not feasible to maintain or put together an 18-hole golf course.”
That’s because the golf course is mired in liens, overdue taxes and money owed to a former engineer, Gerenger said.
While the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website listed the property and its buildings having an assessed value of $1,673,650 in 2015, Gerenger estimates it could cost up to $4 million to buy the course from Wells Fargo and pay the associated debts.
It would take another $2 million to build an executive course, and there would be a recurring monthly $30,000 cost to keep the property’s grass and vegetation up to par with city code, Gerenger said.
“It makes for slim margins,” he said. “That’s what’s dangerous about it, but we feel we can control it.”
GNP Development Partners specializes in buying foreclosed properties, and then investing the money necessary to mitigate their problems. Gerenger said they have a track record of success in the Florida Keys, Orlando and Seattle.
“This is what we do,” he said. “The more problems, the better it is.”
Gerenger said he hopes to close on the property by the end of July. His company will immediately start repairing and maintaining the grounds. After that, construction on the golf course and its amenities could start within six months.
But before any of that happens, he wants the OK from the Sabal Trace Homeowners Alliance.
The alliance represents the interests of the approximate 1,200 residents living in neighborhoods around the golf course, treasurer and former city commissioner Jim Blucher said.
“Obviously we’d still like to work out a deal that we’d get an 18-hole golf course,” he said.
Blucher said the alliance is currently collecting data to determine how its members feel about Gerenger’s plan. He and the alliance’s president, Jim Glass, will meet with GNP Development Partners soon.
Regardless of the negotiation’s outcome, its a favorable sign that an outside company is interested in the defunct golf course. City commissioners have been slow to discuss whether North Port should buy it.
“In this last year it’s the farthest we’ve gotten,” Blucher said.