COURTESY : St. Petersburg Times
HERITAGE ISLES - The taxing district of this golf course community, faced with a mounting debt associated with its country club restaurant, fired its restaurant operator Tuesday night in what both sides agreed would be an amicable split.
The decision came a month after the Community Development District board warned Crown Golf Properties to ease the financial bleeding because residents would have to be forced to foot the bill.
Crown Properties, which also runs the golf course, and has done so at a profit, will phase out of Heritage Isles in about 90 days, said its president, David Fairman. The move means that Crown will also end its role as golf operator.
"We're happy to meet and discuss with the board and come up with a transition plan and part as friends," Fairman said.
The tone of the conversation was friendlier than a month ago, when Fairman, over a conference call, told the board that the company would adopt a plan that was not "business as usual" in order to stay within budget, and offered to terminate its contract if the board so chose.
Crown, which has run the country club for less than a year, said its golf profits were about $135,500 this fiscal year while the restaurant was projected to lose about $189,000.
Heritage Isles' golf course and restaurant are, ideally, supposed to generate revenue to pay off bond debt. Households, which currently pay about $50 a month to run the restaurant, must make up any shortfalls.
"We don't have the funds to cover the shortfall without raising substantially residents' rates," CDD board president Stephen Stark said. "I'm not going to do that."
Board member Jack Meehan wanted to try to salvage the relationship, saying the taxing district has a reputation for high turnover in dealing with the companies it employs. Crown is the second country club operator to be fired.
Several months ago, the CDD hired a new landscaping company. And recently, its security company pulled out.
Meehan's comments irked Stark, who felt that he had conveyed residents' feelings accurately and that all of the firings had been justified.
Another member, Sherry Parrish, said the decision to part ways with Crown was "clear cut."
"The restaurant is in dire need of management," she said. "I don't think we've gotten the bang for our buck, personally. This is what is best for the community right now."