What’s the former Dodgertown Golf Course property – 35 acres of mostly vacant land that has sat idle on the west side of Vero Beach since 2004 – really worth?
Right now, it’s worth $2.4 million, give or take $30,000, because that’s how much an out-of-town developer and Indian River County say, in competing offers, they’re willing to pay for it.
It was worth $2.1 million when Lakeland-based builder Mark Hulbert made his initial bid for the land last summer. The value went up when he increased his offer.
And if someone comes in before Tuesday’s City Council meeting and offers $2.7 million for the property, then the value will go up again.
But know this: It’s not worth anywhere close to the $9.9 million the city paid for it in 2005, near the peak of the real-estate boom, nor is it worth even the $5 million-plus the city still owes on the bank loan it used to buy the land.
Three years ago, the parcel was appraised at $3.5 million, but even the city-hired appraiser conceded that comps – comparable properties in terms of size, zoning and surroundings – were difficult to find in this county.
According to the appraisal done by Armfield-Wagner Appraisal & Research Inc., there were “few sales of larger commercial and multiple-family parcels” with which to compare the golf-course land at that time, and “no recent sales of comparable commercial acreage parcels have been found.”
The four comparable land sales the firm found and analyzed to come up with the $3.5-million figure indicated a range in value of $48,000 to $106,500 per acre, which, the appraisal stated, “is obviously a wide range.”
Certainly, the lack of usable comps makes an accurate appraisal of the former golf-course parcel challenging. The location of the property – and particularly its surroundings – make it virtually impossible.
To the east is the Historic Dodgertown complex, which includes Holman Stadium. To the north is the Vero Beach Regional Airport. To the south is the Main Relief Canal, then commercial property along the north side of State Road 60. To the west is a residential neighborhood that is outside the city limits.
The zoning does not allow for single-family residential development and, citing the surroundings, city officials have said they don’t want residential construction of any kind on that land.
This past summer, in fact, the City Council told Hulbert it would not consider selling the property to him unless he removed a section of townhouses from his proposal for an “urban market” development that would contain retail stores, restaurants, hotels, office buildings and plenty of green space.
“The highest price we could get for that land is for residential use,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said, “but who wants to back up to a baseball stadium and live that close to an airport?”
Besides, city officials don’t want to deal with the complaints they’d surely get from residents there, even though home buyers would be made aware of the potential problems associated with living on that site.
So residential development is out, which takes a bite out of the value of that parcel.
The current City Council would like to see the property generate tax revenues, but many folks in the city and county want to preserve public green space and are pushing for the land to be used for a park.
County Administrator Jason Brown isn’t opposed to using at least some of the land for that purpose.
“If we buy it, we’re not planning to put in a paved parking lot,” Brown said. “We’ll keep the grass and people can park there. And we’ll probably have an open field for things like a farmers market, food truck events and festivals.
“We could improve it with walking trails, or we might just leave it as a place to kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball or football around,” he added. “We don’t have a set plan yet.”
The county might need to buy the golf-course parcel to protect its investment in Historic Dodgertown, which occasionally uses that land as an overflow parking lot for big-crowd events.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley, chief executive officer of a five-way partnership that has been running Historic Dodgertown for the past six years, is engaged in negotiations between the county and Major League Baseball to take over the once-iconic sports complex.
O’Malley said MLB will not make a deal unless the county can guarantee the additional parking needed to accommodate the events it would bring to Vero Beach.
For what it’s worth, Hulbert said earlier this month that he will provide the overflow parking area Historic Dodgertown needs for its events if the city sells him the property.
No matter which of the two parties gets the land, the city will continue to lose money on it. It’s merely a matter of how much.
O’Connor said the golf-course property costs the city around $675,000 per year in loan payments, mowing and maintenance, and liability insurance. The annual loan payment is about $660,000, which the city will continue to pay until 2026.
In 2019, the city will write a check for $661,000 – $491,000 goes to principle and $170,000 to interest – and O’Connor said the payments never dip below the final installment of $658,994.
“People say, ‘You paid $10 million for it. Why are you selling it for $2 million?’” O’Connor said. “And it does make you stop and think – until you realize how much it’s costing us to let that land sit there and do nothing.
“Even if we sell it for what’s being offered, we’ll still be paying more than $200,000 per year,” he added, “unless we use the electric-sale money to pay off the loan, which we probably will.”
Or to put it another way: That $2.4 million wouldn’t cover four years of loan payments.
As for converting the property into a park, O’Connor said the city already has plenty of parks, all of which are also – and maybe mostly – used by county residents.
“It’s very difficult to determine what that property is worth,” O’Connor said. “We had the appraisal done because we were trying to establish a base price so we could put it on the market.”
No one has offered close to that price.
The closest anyone came was a $2.7 million offer last year from a developer who wanted to build 280 homes there – a bid that the city rejected because it was considered incompatible with the adjacent residential neighborhood and nearby airport.
Brown, too, acknowledged there were some “unique qualities” to the golf-course property that make it difficult to appraise, though he said the county has hired Armfield-Wagner to update its 2015 appraisal and will get a fresh appraisal from a second firm.
“My initial recommendation was a match of the developer’s offer of $2.1 million,” Brown said, “but the board was concerned that if we only matched the offer, the city might go with the developer, so we bumped it to $2.4 million.
“It’s still well-below the $3.5 million from the city’s appraisal,” he added. “That was done three years ago, and real estate generally increases in value. We feel the $2.4 million we’re offering is a fair price.”
But who knows?
In response to the county’s increased offer, Hulbert went to $2.43 million, which is what the property is worth now.
We’ll see what’s it is worth Tuesday.