Build baseball stadium at Melreese, real estate researcher suggests
By Risa Polansky
Miami's decision to halt plans to develop a hotel at city-owned Melreese Golf Course and instead build a clubhouse and banquet hall is drawing mixed reactions from experts.
Forget a clubhouse, says Michael Cannon, managing director of Integra Realty Resources-South Florida — build a baseball stadium there for the Florida Marlins.
Integra studies show "the whole golf-course industry is going through a major change," Mr. Cannon said. Even "a fine facility such as the Coral Gables Country Club isn't financially feasible. Clubhouses on public golf courses and even sometimes private are not financially feasible. They don't generate enough revenue to justify operational costs."
But a stadium at Melreese — at 1802 NW 37th Ave., near Miami International Airport — would, he said.
The city also could build a transportation depot, a hotel and "other types of venues associated with sports and other events," he said.
A stadium aside, "there should be rational studies to ascertain why there shouldn't be a hotel at the Melreese Golf Course," Mr. Cannon said. "There is a demand for more airport hotels."
Competition from area hotels is one reason the city scrapped the concept, said Larry Spring, the city's chief financial officer. "There is a hotel right next to it. The competition a new hotel had to potentially endure — all of these unknowns were out there."
A hotel would not flourish at Melreese, said attorney George Knox, part of a private management team that operated the course until the city took control in 2004. "It won't become a resort destination. The golf course is of primary interest to people who golf, not travelers."
Luxury travelers would be unlikely to "see the golf course and its ambiance as a destination," he said. "I don't think the development of a hotel would enhance the profitability or success of the golf course. I think a clubhouse is necessary — not necessarily a hotel."
That is the city's stance.
"There may have been some potential revenue there. However, there were a lot of issues surrounding getting the project developed there," Mr. Spring said. "Now we have full control of operations of the golf course, of the reservations at the banquet-hall facility."
Because no outside operator would run the newly planned clubhouse and banquet hall, he said, returns would be comparable to what a hotel could have generated.
"With the clubhouse, Melreese becomes a very profitable golf course," he said.
"To God's ears," Mr. Cannon replied.
Mr. Spring said "the activity level there is fairly decent. Having a permanent pro shop and amenities will go to further those programs and that activity."
Melreese manager Charlie DeLucca said a clubhouse "will make us whole. We have a great golf course — the problem we have competing with the Beach course, and even the Biltmore, is that we have no clubhouse."
Because Melreese is the only city-owned and operated golf course, Mr. Spring said, it is reluctant to turn it over to a private operator. "A city of our size and caliber should have a golf course and a premium clubhouse at that golf course," he said.
Mr. Knox agreed. "It's critical to the city's image to have the course free-form and standing alone," he said. "A hotel would be an appendage but certainly not a device to increase activity, increase the number of golfers, increase revenues."
A clubhouse and banquet hall would, Mr. Spring said. He said partial funding for the $4 million to $5 million project is in place, with $2.6 million allocated by the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority. Because of that, a clubhouse facility could be built without a lengthy bidding process, he said.
"We'll be able to go ahead and move faster on the clubhouse project," Mr. Spring said. "So we'll use these funds to build the clubhouse with the additional enhancement of having a banquet facility there, which is something the community is looking forward to."