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Bobby Jones course needs change, not bailout

And the county should face the truth about affordable housing.

  • By
  • | 6:00 a.m. July 6, 2017
  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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he city-owned Bobby Jones Golf Club has been going downhill for years. Unable to compete with many much nicer and similarly priced golf properties around Sarasota, it just can’t bring in the golfers needed to pay for running it, let alone improving it.

The course has only brought revenue above operating costs one year out of the past eight, losing over $1.3 million in recent years and consuming all of its reserves. So it’s no surprise that this year they have come to the City Commission to “humbly ask for a subsidy out of the general fund.” They anticipate a loss of $287,000 in the coming year unless they raise fees or get a bailout from the non-golfing taxpayers.

Note this comes after the city spent $115,000 to hire a golf architect to propose a multimillion dollar plan to upgrade the complex. Those millions will come, you guessed it, from the non-golfing taxpayers.

Given that Bobby Jones hasn’t been able to compete against other golf courses for many years, it makes no sense for city taxpayers to bail them out or spend millions to rebuild a losing competitor. The Bobby Jones Golf Club was once nice, but it lost the competition with rivals. Making it nice again, but keeping the same management, is repeating the same thing and expecting a different result, and we all know what that is the definition of …

So I am going to repeat what I said a year ago. The city should look into a private golf company to take over management of Bobby Jones under contract. Let a company that runs golf courses all over the nation, and makes money with them, invest its money in the improvements, rather than gambling taxpayer dollars. They would do the marketing to bring in more golfers and reap the rewards if they succeed — but also bear the costs if they fail. This kind of arrangement puts the risk of success or failure on the private firm, where it belongs, not on city taxpayers. But the city retains ownership of the course and control of rates and policies through the contract.

Cities like Chicago and Phoenix have done exactly this a few years ago and have experienced great success. The City Commission should look at this winning idea instead of spending millions on a failed formula.

Facing the truth on affordable housing

County staff will spend this summer creating potential changes to rules to encourage more affordable housing, due to the County Commission by Sept. 1. The good news is that they are already talking about examining rules and requirements that add unnecessary costs or delays, which turn into costs, and allowing more options for owners to rent properties.

That is a good start. One of the key goals is to figure out how to see more units on the market that are affordable for lower income and young workers. 

In light of that, a recent report by Abodo, a company that helps renters find homes, includes some interesting data on affordable rental housing.

Sarasota was not large enough to be in the study, but Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa and Orlando are, and previous research has shown a lot of parallels between those housing markets and Sarasota’s.

Notice in the accompanying chart that Florida cities are among the worst for rates of young homeowners. The report also points out that in Florida cities millennial home ownership averages about 5% less than the national average, and millennial-owned homes tend to be worth about 20% less than average for their region.

This is so because Florida cities do not allow housing construction to keep up with demand. When that happens, prices go up, pure and simple. Sarasota is firmly in that camp. Construction is happening, but it is not enough, and so restricted that lower income and young workers are effectively shut out. When there is enough supply, owners start to look lower down the market to rent or sell. With restricted supply they do not.

So if Sarasota County really wants affordable housing close enough to the cities to let the owners or renters use public transit, it has to allow more housing to be built.

Adrian Moore is vice president of policy at the Reason Foundation and lives in Sarasota.


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