Associations will buy club property to make recreational organization solvent

The Meadows Community Association has found a way to rescue the Meadows Country Club from financial ruin while preserving the community's valuable green space and protecting the amenities the club provides residents.

The sports and recreation complex consists of three 18-hole golf courses, tennis and fitness centers, a pool and restaurants. The private, member-owned country club has been hemorrhaging around $1 million annually. Cost-cutting, reserve improvement and membership drives have all fallen short.

Under the terms of a letter of intent signed Tuesday by the country club and the community association, the association will buy all of the club’s land and buildings for $6 million and lease the property back to the club, for the first three years at $10 annually.

“All the parties are working together to get this done,” association vice president Marilyn Maleckas said.

In an email sent to Meadows residents — the more than 3,450 residences include garden homes, villas, condos and single-family homes scattered across 1,650 acres — association president Claire Coyle outlined the major provisions in the agreement, yet to be finalized but expected to be signed in June.

• The club already owes the association $2.9 million after the association purchased the club’s bank debt in March as an investment. The club will repay that $2.9 million immediately upon closing the property sale. That cuts the association's cash outlay to $3.1 million.

• The association will pay the club the balance of the $6 million in agreed-upon increments in 2019 and 2020.

• The payment plan allows the association to make the purchase without a mortgage while giving the club operational and improvement funds.

“Over the next month or so,” Coyle told residents, “we will be finalizing an agreement for the purchase of the property and a lease agreement.”

In a January Herald-Tribune report that publicly divulged the Meadows predicament, Coyle spoke of the potential pitfalls of failed negotiations with the club: “For the community to succeed, we have to take charge of the destiny of the country club. We can’t let it go to a hostile developer or go into bankruptcy and lose control.”

In his message to club members, Gene Mercer, the president of the club's board of governors, presented similar information, including this statement: “Please be assured, the club will continue to function as a private club under its existing by-laws and will continue to be managed by Billy Casper Golf.”

He did, however, revisit the idea of the development of some club land and its application for rezoning, but cited unfavorable construction trends and costs — concluding that a project would only generate “a greatly reduced sale price.”

“We want to assure you,” he wrote to members, “that we have looked at this situation from many angles and this strategic partnership is the best solution to ensure that the goals of both the club and the community are met.”

Coyle also mentioned future upgrades and development possibilities in one statement: "It gives the MCA time to complete its Renaissance Plan for the community before beginning any development."

The multi-year Renaissance Plan, Maleckas explained, "represents the upgrading and modernization of our community, including but not limited to upgraded and redesigned entrances, new signage, as well as new lighting, upgraded new landscaping, including around all of our lakes and ponds. This modernization applies to our common areas in the community, as well as to our residential and commercial properties. Enthusiasm is widespread amongst our owners and condo associations."

Regarding development, the Meadows did secure Sarasota County approval of a request to have 32 acres of non-golf course land rezoned for residential use. "Any new development that would take place in that rezoned area would indeed be part of the Renaissance Plan," Maleckas said.

Both Coyle and Mercer concluded their messages with identical promises of forthcoming details on the Strategic Partnership:

“We know that this is a lot to digest and that you probably have many questions. We plan to send out additional messages with details on various parts of our plan over the coming days.”