Sailfish Sands Revisited

On Thursday, October 20th, there was the Grand Opening of Sailfish Sands, formerly known as “The Martin County Golf Course.” A large crowd was in attendance to hear from several county commissioners and officials The public could tour the facilities, which looked terrific. According to an article in Hometown News by Donald Rodrigue on March 17th, Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Abbate admitted the $11-million-plus renovation of the municipal golf course and construction of the new clubhouse and its high-tech hitting bays “was a big project for the county.” What are the overages to the $11 million renovation project? Let’s review the history of what is referred to in the business world as “scope creep” or project mismanagement.

On January 8th of, 2019, Mr. Abbate presented a 15-point plan to the BOCC to redo the
Martin County Golf Course. The main tenets of the plan included the following key
1. Reduce the course from 36 to 27 holes by re-designing the Red and White courses to
a 9-hole walkable and reversible executive course.
2. Construct a “modest” 4,000-square-foot clubhouse with a small bar, grille, and full
3. Upgrade the 18-hole Gold and Blue courses to include the greens, tees, fairways, and
cart paths.
4. Utilize $400,000 from 2019 budgeted allocations (Parks Paving Funds-$200,00 and
Fixed Asset Replacement Budget-$200,000) to improve golf cart pathways.
5. Utilize the design-build procurement method for golf course renovations which
includes golf holes and all practice facilities.

Mr. Abbate proposed a line-item budget and announced verbally and in writing that “The maximum amount of borrowing for the golf course improvements will not exceed $5.5 million.” Sixteen and a half months later, on May 19, 2020, Mr. Abbate again appeared before the BOCC to inform them that $2.4 million was spent on the 9-hole walkable, executive course which comprised the original budget of $2.3 million plus $190,000 in change orders. $3.1 million was left unspent of the $5.5 million that Abbate proposed in his line-item budget. This did not include an additional $1.5 million for the clubhouse which was 90% designed and $305,000 for the cart paths for the Gold and Blue Course. Which have not been completed as of this writing. No money was allocated to redo the greens on the old Blue and Gold courses. When questioned, Mr. Abbate punted and said this would come out of future budgets. He also elaborated that the “modest” 4,000 square foot clubhouse was being designed at 5,500 square feet and the construction costs were estimated to be between $400-500/ per square foot. Here we are four years later with a project initially approved for $5.5 million costing $11- million-plus with the clubhouse alone costing $4.6 million.

Who should the taxpayers hold accountable?

A. Mr. Abbate, the Director of Parks and Recreation? Who was responsible for managing the project.
B. His supervisor, the Assistant County Administrator, Mr. Stokus? Who should be keeping an eye on projects to see that they are on time and on budget.
C. The County Administrator, Mrs. Kryzda? Who should have been monitoring her direct reports to ensure that things are running smoothly.
D. The Board of County Commissioners? Who have a responsibility to their constituency to spend tax dollars wisely and not allow project “scope creep.”

In Mr. Abbate’s speech at the Grand Opening, he made several statements. One was that business plans were developed for the project. MCTA is requesting a copy of the business plan for the $11-million-plus renovation and the time frame for when it was developed. He also stated that the county subsidy for the golf course was reduced by $800,000 and then acknowledged that the subsidy in 2019 (pre-covid) was $670,000, climbing to $1.3 million when the course was closed for renovation. The subsidy for the Fiscal Year Ending 2022 was then reduced to approximately $500,000 ($1.3 million less the $800,000) due to the driving range being open, as well as the reversible 9-hole course and the 18-hole course being available for play. MCTA will be evaluating the return on investment of the project when the numbers for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2023, are available.

Another interesting side note is the lease of the bar and restaurant to Mike LaMattina, which MCTA applauds since we do not believe that government should compete with private industry. However, is this a change of heart since the Parks and Recreation Department canceled the leases for the snack bars at Stuart and Jensen Beach? Can we expect these two entities to go out as an RFP for the private sector to operate?

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