Homeowners face bill for country club cafe

The Heritage Isles restaurant has lost $189,000 this year,

which means residents might have to pay higher fees.

COURTESY : St. Petersburg Times
Published July 23, 2006

HERITAGE ISLES - Residents of this golf course community once again are faced with rising debt associated with its flailing country club, which prompted its taxing district this week to mull charging its homeowners a fee to cover the loss.

With more than two months before the fiscal year ends, Community Development District supervisors risk running out of funds because of the money-losing Sea Breeze Cafe, they said at their meeting this week.

During a sometimes heated three-hour discussion between district supervisors and representatives of Crown Golf Properties, which operates the golf course and restaurant, Crown promised to do its best to fulfill its contract while supervisors said they want to try their best to avoid raising residents' fees.

Heritage Isles, a community approved for 1,600 homes, features a public golf course and clubhouse which, ideally, is supposed to generate revenue to pay off the bond debt. Any shortfall must be made up by residents.

Households currently pay about $50 a month each to run the restaurant, said Community Administrator Buddy Brannen.

By owning property in Heritage Isles, homeowners have access to such amenities as the recreational facility, swimming pool and tennis courts. They do not get membership to the golf course, Brannen said.

Crown, which has run the country club less than a year, submitted an account to the taxing district that shows that the golf operations have made about $135,500 this fiscal year while the restaurant has lost about $189,000.

Brannen warned the board that with just $60,000 in cash left in the bank to stretch until Oct. 1, they would have to get a loan if nothing is done to ease the financial bleeding flowing from the restaurant.

CDD board member Dr. William Martello polled residents who attended the meeting to see how much they would be willing to pay a month to keep the operation afloat.

It ranged from "nothing" to $50.

Board members, meanwhile, wanted assurance that Crown would do its best to keep costs down. They were not, however, satisfied with the assurances of Crown Golf's President Dave Fairman, who addressed the group over a conference call.

"We will fertilize the golf course, turn your water off if you want us to," Fairman said. "We want to work with you . . . As contentious as this has been, if you don't want to go a dollar over budget, we'll prepare a plan. It will not be a business-as-usual plan."

Another idea thrown out was to shut the restaurant down completely, which drew criticism because golfers need a place to eat and drink.

In a cost-saving effort, the restaurant two weeks ago cut its hours of operation, eliminating dinner service Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And at least one resident suggested the board seek out a different company to manage the restaurant and golf operations.

Board attorney Tracy Robin issued a plea.

"Everyone's emotional state of anger is very high," he said. "I understand the feelings expressed today. You want all the services sold to you when you bought your home. That may not, however, be achievable with what you have in front of you. There are some hard decisions you have to make. I encourage you, be careful and not overreact to the circumstance you are confronted with."

The supervisors voted to accept no more than a $55,000 loss between now and the end of September.

"Status quo is not satisfactory," said CDD board member Jack Meehan.

Residents push for business evaluation