VERO BEACH — It does not appear to be likely that the once historic Dodgertown Golf Course that allowed black Dodgers play during the civil rights era will be returned to its former state.
Instead, a cloverleaf of four baseball fields are poised to consume two or three holes of the 9-hole course in a move that could make Minor League Baseball’s venture at the Vero Beach Sports Village more successful.
In advance of this morning’s Vero Beach City Council meeting, the Vero Beach Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission held a special meeting to hear a request from longtime golf course proponent M.J. Wicker.
The meeting was called by Councilwoman Pilar Turner, who told the commission that she wanted their opinion on whether or not the city should proceed with ball fields or consider restoring the golf course.
Nearly an hour and a half into the meeting Monday afternoon, Wicker appeared to give up the fight for the golf course.
“I concede,” he said, after three city council members spoke about the challenges they face in keeping the golf course over the ball fields.
Members of the advisory commission, too, were reluctant to support moving forward with restoring the golf course as is.
“Don’t lose hope,” commission member Bea Gardner said, “because there is hope.”
She, and others on the commission, said there is a possibility that a smaller 3- or 6-hole course could still be a part of the sports complex.
After the meeting, Councilman Craig Fletcher said that a 6-hole course could work, noting that golfers could play three rounds and still get in 18 holes if they wanted.
He had told the commission that as much as he wants to keep the historic golf course, it can’t be at the burden of the tax payers.
He said he would much prefer the golf course go into private operation that either succeeds or fails on its own, without affecting the public’s tax money.
Wicker’s concept, he has told the Vero Beach City Council and the commission, would require some low rent lease of the golf course to be viable – suggesting maybe $1 annual rent or $1 monthly rent.
But that was when he had investors ready to jump in, Wicker told the commission Monday.
Earlier in the year, he explained, several investors were ready to get moving but the concept fizzled with the former city council. The investors – many seasonal residents, he said – then went back north for the summer.
When they returned, Wicker said, they learned that MiLB wanted ball fields on a portion of the course.
“A lot of wind has disappeared from the sail so to speak,” Wicker told the commission.
Wicker went on to tell the commission that he had been led to believe that aside from inspecting the irrigation and preparing the greens, the course could be reopened with little effort.
Commission Chair Richard Yemm disagreed, pointing out that site permits would be needed, along with water permits from the regional water management district.
“It’s not going to be like I can walk in and take over this site,” Yemm said.
Mayor Jay Kramer addressed the commission, telling that issue is more complex than that.
He explained that the widening of Aviation Boulevard/26th Street will necessitate a drainage pond and must be under construction by June 30, 2011, or else the city could lose $5 million in FDOT funding for the project.
Originally, the city planned to put the required drainage pond where the ball fields were going to go. The city has since redesigned the plans to move the pond elsewhere on the Vero Beach Sports Village complex property.
If the city were to keep the golf course as is, the pond would have to be relocated again, costing more in design fees and possibly in lost revenue, Mayor Kramer told the commission, explaining that the pond might have to be located to airport property. Such a move could impact the availability of retail/commercial space.
In response, Wicker said that he had not been made aware of such issues, including the pond and financial considerations when he brought forward his concept.