1. The Very Beginning
Plantation Palms is a lovely gated community located in Land O Lakes, Florida just north of Tampa close to the intersection of SR 54 and Collier Parkway. This community, along with much of the land along Collier, was once orange groves owned by Evans Properties. Evans Properties, founded in 1951 in Dade City, Florida, was a family-owned agricultural and land-management company with properties in eight counties across Florida. Most of the company’s land holdings were devoted to citrus and cattle. Beginning in the 1990s, Evans expanded its business operations to include real estate development. Through a management contract with a related entity, Skyland Development and their general partner, Perfection Partners Limited Partnership the Evans developed what is now known as Plantation Palms.
Evans has developed several communities in the Tampa Bay area. These include Valencia Gardens and Collier Place. In its initial sales materials it positioned Plantation Palms by targeting younger families. The home builder they selected was Ryland Homes, which built similar communities for Skyland, including Valencia Gardens, on the other side of Collier. In 1999 Pasco County approved a 5-phase development known as Hillside Golf and Country Club. It was announced that homes would start at about $125,000 and top out at about $350,000. In 2000 the name was changed to Plantation Palms. The Plantation Palms Golf Club, designed by David Harman, was opened on December 28, 2000. Under Evan’s, as lots were sold they were transferred to Ryland who was supposed to be the sole builder in Plantation Palms. However, Ryland pulled out before Savanna was developed. Nohl Crest Homes built Savanna homes before they went bankrupt leaving a few remaining lots yet to be developed and a few unfinished homes.
The Plantation Palms HOA was incorporated on May 20, 2000 and showed 3 initial board members, all connected to Skyland/Perfection. Now that an HOA was legally in place, Perfection Partners drafted and registered the master DCCR (Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) on June 20, 2000. The master DCCR, and follow-on DCCR Amendments called out the entire structure of our community and how the HOA Board would govern. We use these same rules along with our By Laws and Florida Statute 720 to manage the community today. Most of our rules were developed before we even had houses. We still live with the issue that any changes to the actual DCCR’s requires a HUGE vote to change even a simple item.
The DCCR’s had a built-in plan for the assessment of Owners as “members” of the association along with 2 classes of “voting membership” These were defined as Class A and B members. In general, Class A Members were actual homeowners. Class B were unsold lots owned by Perfection/Skyland. Once a lot was sold the Class B membership was replaced by a Class A lot owner. However, the voting was lopsided. Each Class B has 9 votes per lot, but each Class A lot had only 1 vote. The idea was that over a period of time as houses were sold the HOA itself would be transitioned over to the actual homeowners and the developer would be gone.
The PPHOA By-Laws, executed on June 20, 2000, first structured the HOA Board of Directors and their responsibilities. As previously mentioned, the first 3 board members were connected to the developer. Their term of office however was limited to 7 years from the 1st lot sale in Plantation Palms, or 85% of the lots being sold. At this point the community was entitled to add 1 elected board member. By 2005 with the community pretty much built out, the community finally took full control of the HOA Board.
Similar to the master HOA the Reserve sub-HOA’s DCCR’s are dated February 2, 2001, long before any of their houses were built.
Before either the Reserve HOA or the master HOA was turned over to homeowner control, both boards were run by a combination of Craig Linton as representative for Perfection, and employees from Ryland and Melrose Management. The Reserve, also known as the “villas”, transitioned first. Their “Focus Group” which had been working towards a transition with the Perfection group submitted names of villa owners who would serve on the Transition Committee. That committee presented items to Perfection dealing with infrastructure deficiencies including the pond adjacent to hole #12. At that time, the title to the Reserve community pool and streets were deeded over to the PPVHOA, Plantation Palms Villa HOA. Ryland was listed as the Developer. The master association’s documents are written by the same legal associates and follow along the same wording as the villa’s documents. The Savanna’s HOA documents were not written by the same legal team and differ greatly from the other two sets.
During the time that the community was being built out with homes, the golf course was in full operations. The Evans family managed the course and it became one of the most prestigious club in the greater Tampa area. However, as the economy crashed in 2008, housing prices dropped and the Plantation Palms Golf Club suffered also. We don’t know if the course ever really made money, or was it just a way to sell community lots. We do know that after the 2008 financial crisis the course was losing money and the Evans family wanted out.
2. Evans puts the Course up for Sale – 2010
The Evans put the Plantation Palms course up for sale in September 2010 for $2,350,000, they commissioned Marcus Milcamp, a well-regarded agent, to sell it. The listing documents reported that from Oct 2009 to September 2010 only 26,626 rounds of golf were played, vs, 37,325 in 2007. It listed revenue for same period as $1,387,930 and EBITDA (profit before taxes, depreciation and amortization) of -$248,854. Of interest is also the mention of a buyer’s opportunity to “carve out” 12 acres of the driving range for medium density housing. This carve-out would become a key issue again for both Bill Place and Dusty Dean/Rocky Morgan and their desire to purchase the course. Here is a link for the Offering by Marcus Milcamp.
3. MJS Buys the Course – April 2011
The course sold pretty quickly, at a price close to the offering price. MJS Golf Group LLC bought the club on April 30, 2011 for $2.18 million. MJS was comprised of 3 Native American Indians, Mitch Osceola, Jayson Ray and Steve McDonald. Given the economy, the course losing money and other issues, MJS in all probability substantially over paid for the course.
Because of their native background they were able to secure a BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) guaranteed loan. The loan came through the Native American Bank in Denver, Colorado. Here are two quotes from MJS, “We were groundbreakers in getting a BIA guaranteed loan to purchase a golf course,” said McDonald. Ray said their company was one of the first non-tribal enterprise to get a guaranteed loan from a capital financing program specifically established to assist Native people.
They also received a line of credit for operating expenses through the Seminole tribe of Florida. It is unknown if they actually put any cash into the business or if there were other loans.
(Picture: from left, Mitch Osceola, Jayson Ray and Steve McDonald)
Steve was raised in Kansas with the Prairie Band Potawatomis. Mitch Osceola was from the Seminole tribe of Florida, and Jayson Ray, belonged to the Klamath tribe in the Northwest.
Although I have no detailed information on the running of the golf course from 2011 to 2014, there are various reports that initially they were able to attract golfers. In 2011 they increased the playing rounds from 26,000 to 30,000 a year. They claimed their goal was 40,000. They also claimed to growing membership from six when they acquired the property to 103, their goal was reported to be 175 members.
As expected, the course ran into financial problems and closed for one week in August 2013. When it reopened it reduced staff from 21 to 13 employees. It closed for good in April 2014. At the time of the closing MJS owed Pasco County back property taxes going back to 2012, shortly after they bought the course. Court records showed debts to John Deere Landscaping and Lake Master Aquatic Weed Control, both filed lawsuits for nonpayment of services and received courts awarded judgments. In interviews with The Laker/Lutz News, Jason Ray told a reporter that the recession and bad weather limited the rounds of golf and hurt efforts to make the course a success. However, many people believe that MJS also suffered from partnership disputes, mismanagement and lack of golf course operating experience. This along with a huge debt obligation was just too much to handle.
Since MJS wasn’t paying taxes to the county, opportunistic investor’s stepped in and started paying the taxes and were given Pasco County Tax Certificates. County records show TLGFY, LLC- Capital One filed a Tax Deed for one of two parcels comprising the club house and a large piece golf course on June 30, 2014, 2 years after gaining the Tax Certificate. Investors buying Tax Certificates must wait 2 years to surrender them as Tax Deeds. The application covers tax years 2012 through 2014. All other golf course parcels had delinquent taxes, also for 2012 through 2014. There were multiple Tax Certificates owners and after 2 years these people also applied to the county for their Tax Deed’s. At this point Pasco County had no choice but to put the properties up for a Tax Deed sale on the court house steps to then return the funds to the Certificate owners.
Not only was MJS not paying Pasco taxes, they were not paying their mortgage through the BIA either. With money having run out and being completely “underwater” on their taxes, mortgage and multiple liens MJS abruptly closed the course. It was now a financial disaster.
In 2014 MJS hired Rob Rochlin of Dennis Realty as their broker to sell the golf course. It was offered as a short-sale, meaning that the expected proceeds from the sale would be less than the outstanding debts and the mortgage holder would accept less. Under a short sale, MJS still had to approve the sale, and all the lien holder obligations had to be satisfied. In an interesting twist, the mortgage holder, the Bureau of Indian Affairs – Department of the Interior at one point told us that they could veto an offer in this short-sale but were not actually required to “approve” an offer. This wasn’t how it turned out.
4. My Involvement Begins – May 2014
This is where the story of my involvement begins. After 20 years with my Philadelphia based company, I retired from being CEO/President in 2011, we sold the business. My software company, RainMaker Software had become a market leader selling financial management systems to large law firms all over North America. RainMaker was part of a holding company, ASA International. RainMaker was a very profitable business and we spun-off a lot of cash. I was always very proud to attend ASA board meetings along with the presidents of the other holding companies to compare financial and operating results. Most of the growth I had at RainMaker came from me acquiring my competitors over the years. The business was so successful and sought after, that we sold it for about 60% more than our highest asking price in a bidding war. I stayed on with the acquiring company under the purchase agreement until October 2012 as Vice President – Global Marketing. I was fortunate enough to be financially secure by this time and retirement was an easy decision. In 2012, still living in PA, I thought I’d turn a long-time hobby, stock investing, into a business. I spent a fair bit of time and money taking professional trading classes for equity, futures and options. I set up an LLC business that I used for all financial investments, from day trading currency futures to looking for small technology businesses to invest in as a private investor. I loved my stock trading and did pretty well, I remember once making $35,000 on a single, complex trade in about ½ an hour. Because I had a very disciplined trading plan, I never lost more than a thousand dollars or so on a single trade. I could have done this forever, although it was stressful. But my goal wasn’t to make money, it was to retire and enjoy life after a career of extensive travel away from home, long hours and continual stress.
My wife Diane and I had a longtime dream, to move to a warm climate with palm trees. For many years we would hike our two kids, then our granddaughter to Florida and locations in the Caribbean. We had a many-year ritual of vacationing in Cancun in the spring and Turk & Caicos in the fall. Not wanting to move outside the US, Florida was a logical decision. My needs were simple, I wanted a house with a large patio and pool, palm trees and a 3 car garage. After 6 months of house hunting trips, we found our house in Plantation Palms. We were drawn here by the country club setting, a beautiful house on a nice lot, Pasco’s low taxes, the low HOA fees and no CDD fees! We bought the house on Plantation Palms Blvd and closed on the house in March 2014. We sold our PA house and moved in May 2014, only to learn that the golf course had just closed. Are you kidding me!
In retirement, my goal was to spend the rest of my life giving back to the overall community that had given me so much in my life. High on my list was to continue consulting with business owners. I discovered a chapter of Score and joined it. At my first Score meeting, they were so happy to have me that they offered me a board position as Chairman of the Fund Raising Committee. Actually I later found out, no one else wanted the job. Pretty quickly I was able to secure a few grants and assisted in getting long term funding through Pasco EDC. I still enjoy consulting with my business owner clients. Currently I only focusing on buying, selling or other more complex transaction consulting. My additional volunteering efforts included, serving on the PASCO EDC Growth Task Force and becoming certified by the IRS under its VITA program to do taxes for United Way.
Now I was really ready to kick back and enjoy my life, or so I thought.
By the way, I’m NOT a golfer!
5. Meeting the HOA Board
In late May 2014, I met my first neighbors who explained the golf course situation and its history. They also told me that our HOA board met monthly. I’d never knew much about a HOA, but I sure knew board meetings. So, I attended the June 18, 2014 meeting where I met David Gunsteens, Ray Bedgood and Tim Hodes for the first time. Tim at the time was not on the board, David was President and Ray was Vice-President. During my 3 minute allocation of time to speak as a resident, I asked the board what they were going to do about the closed course, they had few answers. It was private property and not part of the HOA. I could quickly sense that they were not going to get too involved.
From that point on I decided that being newly retired, having plenty of time on my hands and having a business background, I’d become involved with trying to get our course sold and reopened. I mean, how difficult could this be, there was already a real estate agent and a few million dollars should do it.
I have attended every single HOA board meeting, but one, since my first meeting. I quickly determined that I was one of the very few residents who was attending these meetings, other than those disputing fines. During meetings I attended from June- September 2014 I made it known to the board that I was very interested in seeing what I could do to find a buyer and solve the problem. After that had gotten to know me they did not object.
At the November 19, 2014 board meeting, during my 3 minutes of allocated time, I asked the board to consider a proposal to study the purchase of the golf course directly by the HOA itself. Again, I was not on the board, just a new resident looking to get involved. Rafael Candelario, a board member, made a motion to put the question of doing a feasibility study to purchase the Golf Course to a homeowners vote at the January 2015 annual meeting. This “study” never took place and the vote was never included in the proxy that was presented at the January 2015 Annual Meeting. Monthly board meetings at this point just reported that they knew little other than unsubstantiated rumors of a purchase and believed that the HOA Board should have a hands-off approach. Their view was that this was a private 3rd part business, not HOA business. I don’t mean to be critical of the HOA Board at that time, as they too were homeowners and equally frustrated. Specifically, David Gunsteens and I began a friendship based on mutual respect and our desires to protect community property values. David turned out to be one of my biggest supporters and provided a lot of leadership.
6. January 2015 – Annual Homeowners Meeting
At the Annual Homeowners meeting in January 2015, David Gunsteens, Board President explained that the HOA had heard of a few “offers” to buy the course and there might be more information in the coming months. Hopes were pretty high and the community felt pretty good. Unfortunately all of these deals fell through and things were getting pretty ugly. The community was losing hope that a buyer would ever come along. What was ugly was that a once beautiful golf course now had 6’ tall weeds and the club house was being broken into and vandalized.
Still a relative newcomer to the community, at the January 2015 Annual Meeting I ran for election to the HOA Board of Directors, I did not get enough votes to win a position. I was disappointed, but I was even more determined to make something happen. I was much too competitive and confident to let a loss election deter my efforts to solve this problem. Although I wasn’t elected, Tim Hodes was, which turned out to be a very important first step. Tim was a clear supporter of doing something to protect our property values. Tim and I quickly became friends with a common interest.
7. The Land Study Committee
With Tim Hodes’s help, the HOA Board at the February 2015 meeting approved an official board designated “Exploratory Committee” to study the future use of the golf course land. Tim was named as the board member to chair this committee. I became a member along with Michael Fittipaldi, Ian Hamilton, and Dave Schwarz. The committee became known as the Land Study Committee and we met with the Plantation Palms community 3 times at the LOL Library, April 14th, April 28th and May 12th in 2015.
Before the Land Study meetings even began, I was already drafting a financial model to see what it would cost to buy and run the golf course. I was also considering talking to a few investors and just outright buying the course. Thank God I came to my senses and didn’t invest in it. Instead, I became focused on having the HOA buy the course and have a management company run it. Tim, Michael and I were now completely engrossed in getting the course purchased, from our community’s point of view. Tim was a licensed professional engineer and president of the Savanna HOA. He was very smart, a calming influence and had a lot of great background information on the community. He had been volunteering his professional services to the master HOA for many years. Michael Fittipaldi was with the US Justice Department and had a lot of experience working with businesses getting set for sale after being seized by the US Marshals.
Each month we attended HOA Board meetings only to hear that another potential buyer had come and gone, there were at least 3-4 of these “buyers” who came and went, before our first Land Study meeting even took place. Pretty depressing.
I had a strong feeling that all of these past “financial offers” to buy the course came from poor quality buyers. In my opinion the entire sales process to sell the golf course was flawed. Almost anyone could provide the real estate agent with an “offer’. This was merely a LOI, Letter of Intent. Having acquired numerous businesses in the past, and a user of LOIs I knew they were pretty much worthless, unless accompanied by a nice check. The idea behind a LOI is that the proposed buyer first agrees to a sales price, prior to doing any “due diligence”. The due diligence period might have a 60-90 day time frame at which time the “buyer” must tender a formal offer with down payment or decline to move forward. I was convinced that no buyer in their right mind would conduct a “due diligence” to spend $2+ million on a closed golf course without coming directly to the community or HOA Board asking for some level of support. Since none of these “buyers” came to the community, they were never serious buyers or had no money, in my opinion.
At the Land Study meeting on April 28, 2015 Tim Hodes had invited Alan Cale, as a guest speaker. Alan was CEO/Co-Principal of Cornerstone Gold Partners, a Hilton Head based golf management company. Alan had over 35 years of golf course management experience. Alan provided his presentation at no charge. We found Alan to be knowledgeable and friendly, Alan was of course looking for a golf management engagement.
Alan indicated that, based on his experience, our HOA could purchase the golf course and hire a management company to operate it, i.e. his company. He claimed that with the right conditions and management the course would be self-supporting and profitable after an initial start-up period. He had toured the course that day and indicated that property values of a community like ours were based on having a vibrant course and the closed course had already impacted our values by 5-12%. Alan discussed with us the story about another HOA in Georgia that purchased their golf course by setting up a separate LLC. The LLC had an executive committee. Alan’s company managed the golfing operations. Alan believed that based on current market rates our golf course was worth about $700,000, not the $1.2M it was currently listed for as a short-sale. That was an interesting number, since I had already presented my own preliminary financial model, showing a purchase price of $700,000, this number would circle back around again in the future many times.
Although we hadn’t called ourselves the BBOC (Bring Back Our Course) quite yet, Tim, Michael and I were already meeting on a regular basis to try and determine a course of action to bring back the course. We would trade emails, chat on the phone and meet at Prime Bar at Wiregrass Mall for a drink and snack in the evenings. As the 3 of us began working on possible solutions we were joined by another resident, Gary Bradford. Gary had retired from 30 years of law enforcement and owned a business that provided consulting on government relations. Gary would help us with political connections throughout the entire process. He too was a very calming influence, I could always count on Gary for a sharp insight into anything that I brought to him. Another resident joined us for a few sessions, however we had a disagreement and the resident quit. Can’t make everybody happy.
At the Land Committee meeting on May 12, 2015 I made a presentation finally showing a business plan for the HOA to buy the course and a multi-year financial model. The model I put together included a golf course purchase price of $700,000, the HOA taking out a $2.9 million dollar mortgage and a pay-out over 5 years. Over the next few weeks I tweaked the plan as more information became available. Here is a copy of my plan dated 6/12/2015. It’s sort of interesting that with what little information I had to go on at that time that my financial model was VERY close to the Alan Cale report actually received in January 2016 and the EXACT final purchase price that Bill Place paid for the course in May 2016.
At the June 17, 2015 HOA Board meeting, Tim, Michael and I presented the results of our Land Committee meetings. As part of this presentation I provided my financial model to have the HOA buy the golf course. Overall the board was impressed with our presentation, it was entirely based on protecting property values, not golfing. The board clearly indicated that, although impressed and intrigued with my financial model and their desire to protect property values, they had little desire to do much more “officially” than what had been done under the Board established Land Committee. At my suggestion, the board officially disbanded the Land Committee. This would allow us (BBOC) to work as private residents to find a buyer or arrange a purchase without the hand-cuffs of the HOA Board. The HOA Board however indicated in open meetings that it was completely supportive of our efforts and would allow me to update the board at all future board meetings. This board support was very important. By this time I had a good understanding with David Gunsteens that I would personally keep him up to date on all of my behind the scenes activities and communications. I honored this understanding by including David on most email communications, mostly blind copies, updated him via phone and meet with him on a regular basis. At the time I was frustrated that the flow of information was going one-way. Although I was telling David pretty much everything I knew, David, probably knew more as president of the HOA Board that he never shared with me. He had been on phone calls with past potential buyers, etc. all of these deals fell through and he never revealed these details. I however respected his position and never let it deter me from my goal or interfere with our relationship.
As a follow-up to my previous financial model presentation to the Board, at the July 15, 2015 HOA Board meeting, acting as a private homeowner, I asked that the board fund a 3rd party study to determine the feasibility of the HOA buying the course and the financial impact of the course being closed. The idea was that this would be a fallback plan in case the course never closed, the HOA Board would have at least explored the possibility. The board turned my request into a board motion and approved the request to fund up to $10,000 for the study. I was asked to seek quotes from businesses specializing in these studies and forward the quotes directly to David Gunsteens. We all knew that Alan Cale would submit a proposal. The Alan Cale study, although criticized by many as a waste of money, turned out at a later date to be very important in convincing the government to accept a much lower price for the course. After researching and providing alternative bids to the HOA Board, Alan Cale was the successful bidder and David was able to get Alan to do the study for a discounted price of $7,500. More about the $7,500 price and the report later.
8. David Johnson – Key Government Figure
During the summer of 2015 I first became aware of the complexity of the government structure that was taking over the responsibility of the defaulted loan made by the Native American Bank in Denver, Colorado to MJS. The BIA had underwritten this loan and now the people in Washington DC were in charge. Rob Rochlin, the real-estate listing agent, put me in touch with David Johnson, he was Acting Chief, Division of Capital Investment, Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development, U.S. Department of the Interior. David was at the time, the ultimate decision maker. He had however assigned this case to his staff. During my communications with David I found him to be very sympathetic to our issues, we had a community golf course that had by then been closed for a year and 821 homeowners were facing substantial reductions in their property values. He explained that he was a lawyer and had been president of his community’s HOA. He was always very courteous and professional. He made it clear that the government would give us every opportunity to find a buyer, but this property should have already gone to foreclosure. He’d be patient just a little while longer.
9. Rocky Morgan, A Potential Buyer First Appears
I don’t remember the very first time I heard of Rocky Morgan, but it was sometime in late June or early July 2015. I had been in constant contact with Rob Rocklin, he liked the idea that I was trying to “get something done” and was willing to build community support. I of course was not a real estate agent and had no legal standing in the matter. By early July 2015 Rob had been trying to sell the course for over 13 months and was frustrated with failed offers. He needed all the help I was willing to provide. Even though I was spending a lot of time contacting people and working on the general idea of the HOA buying the course, I was also convincing myself that running a golf course like ours was not a great business opportunity. An outside buyer would be much better, with a lot less risk than the HOA trying to buy it.
Rob Rocklin had become acquainted with Rocky Morgan through Jimmy Wright, a PGA Pro who played in 13 PGA championships and the only club professional to play in 4 majors. Jimmy later became Director of Golf at the famous The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton. I’ll tell more about Jimmy’s role a little later on. By mid-July Rocky Morgan had provided Rob an offer (Letter of Intent) to buy the course for approx. $1.8 million. Something had to be strange because the course was listed at $1.2 million. Rob told me that MJS had approved the offer and the Government was currently studying it, but asked Rob to proceed as if accepted. Rocky was now in his due diligence phase, a closing date had not yet been set, there was no direct down payment.
The exact details of the Rocky offer were however a little “fuzzy” because it included a stipulation that the Plantation Palms community adopt his concept of a lawn maintenance subscription business. The offer price of $1.8 million included an amount for payment of all liens and back taxes. I never saw a copy of the actual Rocky offer that was sent to MJS or David Johnson. David just said there were some “missing details” that needed to be better defined.
Much later in the process some detractors were critical of our group for working with Rocky. They failed to understand that we didn’t go looking for Rocky Morgan, Rob delivered him to us as a “qualified” buyer, with an “accepted offer”. Our choice was really quite clear, to either work with Rocky’s ideas or live with the 6’ high weeds that had already taken over the course. There were NO other offers to buy the course. The course had now been closed for 15+ months. I decided to at least understand Rocky’s business model, as unusual as it was, and see if we could possibly implement it. Rocky’s financial backer(s) commitment was also based on getting our community to subscribe to the grass cutting plan. Admittedly, a very non-traditional plan.
I was aware that Rob Rochlin had contacted the HOA Board in July 2015 about Rocky Morgan as a buyer, and the Board had asked Rocky to provide them with additional information. Rocky never followed through with the Board. All of the discussions with Rob and/or Rocky and various board members were done privately and not in an open Board session. This agitated me, I was leading the charge to get and work with a potential buyer and I wasn’t getting all the information I thought I was due. Rocky then told me he had no plans to give anything to the Board, but would work directly with me and our BBOC. From that point forward I would pass any information onto the Board that Rocky wanted presented. He never attended a Board meeting.
10. The “Secret Meeting”
On July 24, 2015, after various meetings and discussions with Rob Rocklin, Tim, Michael, and Gary, I sent the following email to a handful of selected residents. This became known as the “secret meeting”, it was only a secret because we could not find a larger local meeting location and had to settle for the Pasco library on Collier. They had a strict fire code for the number of attendees (25) in the room. I asked the community on Facebook for the first 15- 20 people interested in attending, the first people emailing me received invitations, we hand-chose other participants, including 2 board members and Ana Vasquez President of the Reserve HOA.
“Dear Fellow PP Residents,
You are invited to attend a private meeting at the Collier Rd Pasco Library, Story Time Room, on Tuesday, July 28th from 6:15 – 8:00 PM. During this meeting we will hear from both Rob Rochlin, real estate agent and the proposed buyer(s) of our golf course. We are only allowed to have 25 people in this meeting room so please do not invite anyone else. If you are unable to attend, please let me know ASAP.
I’m providing the following information to you on a confidential basis so please do not post it on Facebook or discuss with others until after the Tuesday meeting.”
In this email I explained for the first time the general idea of supporting the purchase price and renovation of the golf course by subscribing to landscaping services, Rocky Morgan’s idea.
Prior to the meeting I had started to research Rocky on the internet and the results were not very encouraging. Rocky was a deal maker and trying to buy closed golf courses is a very messy business. Rocky’s name has been in the news the last few years regarding two deals where he failed to purchase a golf course after making commitments. These were Turkey Creek and Waterville. I immediately started to research these two situations. In addition he had been charged with an unrelated minor offense. Of course others in the community did their own similar research.
The “secret meeting” on July 28th with Rocky Morgan actually went pretty well, it lasted over 2 hours, the library had to kick us out. Rocky was a “charming” person, a down-home, southern guy. He told the attendees exactly what they wanted to hear, he would buy the course, he had financial backers and we needed to subscribe to his landscaping services. Rocky’s business was GSP Business Alliance LLC, Morristown, TN.
The following morning, July 29, 2015, I met with Rocky for over 3 hours at the Hampton Inn, while there I spoke on the phone for the first time to Steve Hummel, claiming to be one of his financial backer. Rocky’s wife Dagmar also joined us. She too was charming.
11. The Rocky Landscaping Idea – A Possible Solution
There will always be a lot of debate over whether Rocky’s landscaping idea was ever doable. The general idea was that golf course like ours were only built to help sell houses in a gated community. Florida and Arizona had dozens of these and most had either gone out of business or were close to it. By 2015 there were already too many golf course in Florida and a lesser number of golfers. The business of golf courses is a “lumpy” business, it requires an extensive amount of cash flow. During peak season, cash flow is great and the business makes money. During off-peak it can quickly drain cash, if it rains no one plays, yet all the costs are still there.
Rocky proposed a different business model, he would generate the much needed cash flow to both rehab the course and its on-going operations by selling landscaping services. A resident would agree to let his company cut their grass and they would get a club membership. The club would be private, only landscaping clients could use the facilities. The landscaping services were to be sold at two different price points, the price for people in the community- lower price, and a higher price for those outside the community. The idea is that the price our community residents pay for Rocky’s landscaping services would be very close to the prices they were currently paying. Rocky would contact the current larger landscaping companies in our community and work out deals with them to do the actual grass-cutting. He would make an override on each property. He was sensitive to the desire of our residents who wanted to keep their existing major landscapers but would be OK with a slightly adjusted price. His plan was to also benefit landscapers giving them opportunity for substantial growth and economy of scale, or the fear of losing their customers to a competitor who signs with Rocky. These selected landscapers could bundle in a golf club membership with their services, a competitive advantage. This program was to reaches beyond Plantation Palms and includes Pasco County where he would solicit golfers and commercial businesses who would sign-up for landscaping services to include club memberships at attractive prices (much higher than what Plantation Palms residents would pay).
So far so good, right! The general idea had some positive points. Under the Rocky proposal, his financial backers would fund the upfront costs, Rocky would hire an existing golf management company to actually operate the course. The growing reoccurring landscaping revenue would help pay the investors back and provide on-going cash. Considering the fact that we had no other buyers, we (the BBOC team) decided to help Rocky get to the community and determine their level of interest in his plan.
Of course, being a long-time business person I wanted to see financial plans and actual contracts, what did the landscaping agreements look like? After repeated requests Rocky sent me a confidential copy of an agreement draft for a course in Arizona that was never used. The proposed agreement was a mess, wasn’t clear, mixed club rules with landscaping service issues. There was no way we could let anyone see these, they were not usable. Well, being a former President of a business and having written hundreds of agreements, I told Rocky I would take on the task of developing a whole series of agreements, which I did. After a few days of non-stop effort I provided Rocky and Dagmar with these Agreements: Link Samples
- Weed and Pest Services Agreement
- Plantation Palms Golf Club Membership Bylaws
- Plantation Palms Golf Club Membership Plan
- Plantation Palms Golf Club Rules
12. Starting the Community Campaign
On July 29, 2015 after spending the entire morning with Rocky, I became aware of the sense of urgency to get this program going. In order to keep his commitment to both the government and his financial backer(s) he needed 300 verbal commitments, thereafter they wanted 625 of our 821 homeowners to sign actual contracts. I told them that we could probably get the 300 verbals, but it was impossible to get 625 contracts, a realistic expectation was maybe 400 contracts. On the evening of July 29th I sent an email to people who had already provided me their email address and posted on Facebook a complete recap of my Rocky meeting and details of his program and BBOC tasks we would undertake.
I also contacted David Johnson to tell him that as far as I was concerned, we would try our best to get community support for Rocky and that I would continue to contact him as we learned more. There was already pressure building to get this program going fast or risk losing government support. David would again give us a little more time.
On August 2, 2015, I meet with David Gunsteens and Ana Vasquez at David’s house. The purpose of the meeting was to bring Ana up to date on the Rocky plan. As Ana clearly pointed out the Reserve had a master landscaping contract already in place and it was unclear how the Reserve could help us out with the Rocky landscaping concept. The Reserve was about 230 of our 821 residents.
13. August 2015 – Going 100 Miles per Hour All Month
By this time in early August 2015, the “bring back” golf course project was becoming more than a full-time job for me. It seemed like every day there were dozens of emails, multiple phone calls and meetings. A few things were becoming quite clear. Tim and Michael had full time jobs and I was spending most of my time on the project. It was now getting to be too much to get everyone’s opinions and discuss every topic that was surfacing. I decided the only way to get all this launched as to just do things on my own and keep everyone updated by emails all day long. Both Tim and Michael were fine with this as they were already having a hard time keeping up on all the emails and details flowing back and forth.
Here is just an example of the “full-time” effort, a series of emails.
On August 4, 2015 Rob Rochlin had to update David Johnson on our BBOC plans, here is a copy of the communications:
Since I had already been in touch with David Johnson and explained our July 24th “secret meeting” he was curious as to how it had gone. Here is David’s inquiry and Rob’s response.
Still traveling at 100 mph, between August 3-5, 2015 alone I had over 80 emails between the parties involved. There were multiple phone calls and a few meeting. Things were getting a little crazy. Rob, the real estate agent, threw a monkey wrench into my plans by now claiming to have an offer from a housing developer to buy the course, I didn’t take the comment seriously. Rocky thought that I was trying to peddle his offer and landscaping ideas to other buyers. The craziness was becoming overwhelming. This was all background noise to me, we needed to focus on our project plan and get our community landscaping verbal sign-ups ASAP. I was worried David Johnson’s patience would run out.
A key challenge was trying to communicate directly to the entire community, all I had was a small following on a Facebook site. This was never going to work, I needed a master list of all residents and their email addresses. I knew the HOA had a list like this and I immediately requested a copy, I had read our DCCR’s and it’s actually allowed, but not with email. I really needed email and phone numbers. Condominium Associates, the HOA property manager, made a huge fuss over this and wouldn’t provide anything more than a list of all residents’ names. I was running out of patience, I needed this information and quickly. To his credit and support for our efforts, David Gunsteens again came through for us, approving the complete spreadsheet within a day or so of my request showing all the contact information, no emails. This spreadsheet later became our master list for the BBOC to track all of our residents who gave us verbal approval for the Rocky plan.
On August 7, 2015, after these discussions with David Gunsteens and other HOA board members, the HOA approved having CA send out an email blast on behalf of the HOA to their entire email list announcing the existence of a new BBOC web site I had built. The email blast suggested that if residents were interested they could opt-in to the BBOC email list. Most importantly however, the email served as a public endorsement of the BBOC efforts. The email said “A committee of residents, endorsed by the Plantation Palms HOA, has put together a program called BBOC (Bring Back Our Course) to help the buyer of the course get it open and operational.”
Things were still moving very fast and I was feeling uncomfortable not seeing, first hand, the kind of financial information from Rocky and his financial backers that I thought was needed. So, with the promise of gaining access to this financial information, on 8/5/2015 I signed a Non-Circumvent and Non-Disclosure Agreement with GSP Business Alliance (Rocky Morgan).
I discussed this with my BBOC team in great detail, we needed access to all the inner workings of Rocky’s business plans and Rocky was afraid we would steal his idea and do this ourselves with the HOA or another buyer. I did get a chance to see various spreadsheets Rocky had on his notebook, but never long enough to really study and digest them. I was shown emails from his financial backers and much more. The only option I thought we had was for me to sign this agreement.
However, what I discovered after I signed the confidentiality agreement was that much of what Rocky was revealing to me he was also revealing to others without having them sign such an agreement. In the end the agreement was worthless. Actually this agreement was used towards the end of my Rocky Morgan relationship as a legal threat against me personally. Fast forward, in early 2016 I refused to have any contact with Rocky or his attorney until I was released from this agreement, I was finally released. To further compound a legal situation, Rocky needed to set up Florida based LLCs or register his Tennessee LLC as a “foreign corporation” in Florida. I remember sitting on the steps of the club house in August with Dagmar Morgan and showing her how to fill out the paperwork to register 1 new LLC, and register his Tennessee LLC as a foreign corporation in Florida. Since I had extensive involvement with LLCs before, I further explain much of this to Dagmar. As I’m helping her with the form it required a Florida address for a “Registered Agent” (Rocky). Rocky didn’t have a local address, he was living in hotels. This seemingly minor issue, no local address was not going to delay the overall program. So I agreed to let him use my home address as his mailing C/O address until he had a local address. At the time he had made an offer on a house on Dinhurst and was waiting for a closing (he however never closed, didn’t have the money). This address became an issue later when I asked him to notify the State of Florida to remove my address. For months I confronted Rocky, his attorney and the State of Florida to remove my address. It’s never been removed even as of today, however Rocky’s Florida LLCs are both “Inactive” for failure to pay annual fees and file annual reports. No surprise I guess, I shouldn’t have been so kind.
On August 6th I was finally able to talk to a newly involved person in the Rocky Morgan saga, Steve Mercer. I was researching Florida golf courses that were having financial problems to better learn how they were dealing with them. I ran across Walden Lakes Golf Course in Plant City and saw that Steve Mercer of Vision Golf had been in the papers with a dispute in the community over selling the golf course property to developers. I contacted Steve, and after a few attempts he returned my call. After talking for a while and learning about his situation I discovered that he too was dealing with Rocky Morgan, what a small world. I later learned that Jimmy Wright, also a principal at Bridgepoint Capital had tried to buy Walden Lakes in 2014, another indication of how small the world was. From this point on I saw and spoke to Steve Mercer many times. He appeared to be “consulting” with Rocky as he continued to deal with the issues at Walden Lakes. I believe Steve (Vision Golf) owns the property at Walden Lakes and after losing money for years found someone else to operate the golf course. Walden Lakes was involved with disputes from the residents about converting some of the course into housing to generate money. This is another entire story unto itself.
14. Simon Fitzpatrick and Block Captains
Now, back to the roll-out of Rocky’s landscaping services in Plantation Palms. Still in early August the small BBOC group needed to find a way to reach the entire 821 member community quickly and get them onboard. I came up with the idea of establishing “block captains”. These would be residents who lived on a street and would be willing to get additional volunteers to literally go door to door to explain the Rocky program. It was a great idea but lacked a key component, someone to dedicate a lot of time to recruit and manage the Block Captains. This is where Simon Fitzpatrick came in. Simon had attended all the Land Committee meetings and was always providing his support to everything I was doing. At one discussion I mentioned the need for the Block Captain Manager and Simon immediately volunteered. He shared all of my passion and completely organized the entire process. Fortunately Simon was very outgoing and friendly. Simon immediately became by trusted partner and best friend. Between Facebook and personal contacts he had a dozen Block Captains signed up and ready to go.
In less than 2 weeks, with Simon leading the way, he held the first Block Captains meeting in his living room on August 12, 2015. During the meeting he explained the details of Rocky’s plan, handed out information flyers that he spent his personal money getting printed. He gave each Captain a BBOC laminated name tag and copy of a spreadsheet showing all the residents on their assigned streets. We were asking the Block Captains to canvas their streets during the week of August 16, 2015 and finish by Sunday, August 23. To show the community we had HOA Board support, both David Gunsteens and Keith Rodrigues attended the meeting at Simon’s. This kind of support was much appreciated, we knew we had a challenging task ahead of us.
Simon and I, with the help of a few volunteers did my street, Plantation Palms Blvd. The door to door communications was to accomplish the following: a) confirm the owner’s names, get email addresses and phone numbers, find out if they had a current landscaper, who it was and if they would verbally approve the Rocky proposal. There was nothing legally binding, and the assumption was that their costs of landscaping would remain pretty much the same as they currently paid. We were looking for 100% coverage of the community, except for the Reserve.
We received tremendous support from the community, with about 92% of the people we were able to contact providing us with their information and verbally agreeing to consider the Rocky proposal. Maybe this crazy idea would work after all!
I had told David Johnson about our Block Captains and door to door solicitation idea well ahead of the meeting at Simon’s house. He was interested in our program and wanted to be kept up to date, here is an email response from him on August 5, 2015:
Johnson, David <david.johnsonxxx.xxx.gov>
To Jim Hammond
CC Michael Luger Rob Rochlin 08/05/15 at 1:21 PM
Thanks for your message; it’s consistent with a phone call I just had with David Gunsteens. We support whatever solution works best for the borrowers, the homeowners, and the taxpayers. If this works out the way it’s been described, let’s cross our fingers that Rocky’s proposal will be met with open arms.
Best of luck,
David B. Johnson
Acting Chief, Division of Capital Investment
Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development
U.S. Department of the Interior
15. Facebook, BBOC Web Site and BBOC Email Blasts
As earlier mentioned, communicating with the community was always a challenge. As you can tell by now, we really were on a fast track, the government had deadlines imposed. From the start the only tool we had before the web site was Facebook. I had a Facebook account before moving to Florida, but never used it.
Facebook had benefits and disadvantages. Even this early in the BBOC we had already developed a handful of residents who resisted the ideas of the Rocky plan and the idea that the BBOC even existed. They didn’t like the landscaping idea, didn’t like Rocky because of his background, didn’t like me personally, didn’t like that the board was supporting the BBOC, and in some cases that felt no need to have a golf course any longer. At times the Facebook posting on the Plantation Palms Neighbor’s site against me were getting very personal. There were only a handful of attackers, but quite honestly, they were really getting to me, it was easy to get depressed after reading nasty comments. It was always OK to disagree and present a completely different point of view. But I was being called a liar, getting Facebook PM’s that were ugly and having people post stuff that I thought I had told them in confidence. I learned a valuable lesson, even at my age, some people who are your friend today, won’t be tomorrow.
I just couldn’t let the 1-2% who were posting negative comments get in the way of what the BBOC was trying to do, bring back our course and improve property values. These attacks continued right up to and including the final vote to approve the Ace Golf Services Agreement in 2016. These attacks prompted me to set up a dedicated Facebook site, we still have the site it’s called BBOC-Plantation Palms. I’d let anyone post any opinion on that site so long as there were no “personal” attacks. It was OK to disagree and post an opposing point of view, but it had to be professional. I have to admit my responsibility for some of the Facebook fighting, I’m a passionate and competitive person. I’m right wing, left brain, type A all the way around. People like me don’t do well getting blasted on Facebook. After finishing up the new Facebook page, on August 5, 2015 I launched the BBOC blog site, https://ppgolfcourse.wordpress.com/. Now we could post continual updates for the entire community, not just those on Facebook. I still use it today as a way for a “resident” to communicate to the rest of the community.
This was a major step forward. Shortly after launching the BBOC web site, I started doing “Community Updates” almost weekly. I then set up an email distribution account on MailChimp.com that we also used to communicate with the community. People in our community were very interested in exactly what was happening with the BBOC. How passionate was the Plantation Palms community, how important was our BBOC project to them? The brand new BBOC web site had over 10,000 page views and 1,500 unique visitors in just the first 30 days of its launch, and I had the web search engine feature TURNED OFF! Even today it has 1,000 – 4,000 weekly views.
16. Getting the Grass Cut, The Maintenance Building and Vandalism
We are still running at 100 mph here! As the BBOC was trying to build momentum and deal with all the uncertainties involved, I felt that Rocky Morgan needed to do something really, really bold. Therefore, as part of my verbal understanding with Rocky, the BBOC would continue with our efforts but we needed a sign of good faith from him. I asked him to CUT THE DAMN GOLF COURSE GRASS! It had not been cut at this point for over 15 months! I was able to get his commitment and announced it on Facebook, wow people were pretty excited. We already knew that specialized equipment was needed to cut down the 6’ tall weeds. We had costs that ranged up to $15,000. In the end, Rocky subcontracted with a community member, Jason Baldree and his father, to cut the grass. They had the equipment from their farm. The community was elated to see the clean-up taking place. As part of getting things kicked off at the golf course and cut the grass, Rocky Morgan needed to get MJS permission and sign a “hold harmless” agreement, this was completed on August 7, 2015 thanks to the efforts of Rob Rochlin. At this time Rocky also had keys to the club house, with no electricity.
Jason and his dad did a lot of work for both Rocky and our community that was never made public. They spent a good part of a week in the maintenance shed repairing golf course mowers, after vandals did quite a bit of damage earlier in the year. They initially thought that the air had just been let out of all of the tires. They brought in generators for electric power and compressors to pump up the tires, only to discover all the tires had been slit. They then removed 40 tires and loaded them into trucks, taking them out to be repaired, returning and reinstalling them all. Over the time span of the BBOC’s efforts in 2015, Jason cut the grass multiple times and did other work, it is unclear to me that he was ever compensated beyond the first cutting. Jason was our hero!
Jason and Rocky
During August 2015, another club house break-in occurred, vandals broke windows, stole a wide-screen TV and cut cords to other TVs. The thieves gained access through a previously broken window. Immediately upon hearing this the HOA Board members David Gunsteens and Ray Bedgood were up at the club house and working with the security guard and gatehouse to ensure our community was secure. I know they didn’t return home till well after mid-night. By the time I arrived the sheriff was dusting for prints, there was a big hand print on one TV that was left behind. That evening I posted on Facebook that the following morning I’d go over to the club and see what was needed to really secure the back door, I asked for any volunteers to join me. To my surprise, after a sleepless night, at 8 AM the next morning, Kenny Kroog, a retired contractor living on Abercorn was ringing my door bell. He introduced himself and said he had tools and wood and offered to help secure the door at the club house! Away we went. Within a few hours we had 2 x 4’s bolted in place across the doors, no one would easily enter through there again. In addition, David Gunsteens organized a schedule with the BBOC to have our residents do club house inspections from their cars all night long until Rocky arrived in town on Friday that week. I can tell you that Rocky was just amazed at the desire of our community to help him protect the golf course he was trying to purchase. Kenny was also a hero!
Picture of Kenny Kroog
Further updates to and from David Johnson at the government:
Jim Hammond <email@example.com>
17. Community Sign-ups Final – Pressure from Financial Backers
So, back to Simon Fitzpatrick and our Block Captains. Today it is almost hard to believe that our Block Captains and volunteers spoke to or visited 444 residents in a matter of about 2 weeks. Unbelievable. Nothing like this had ever been done before in our community. Clipboards in hand and with a list of names the Block Captains asked people to verbally commit to the Rocky plan.
Below is a report I continually published almost daily showing the BBOC door to door progress. I can tell you that our entire effort within the BBOC to get out the “Rocky” message would have completely failed had it not been for the hard work, drive and passion from Simon!
Notice in the report that the # of residents is 581, because it didn’t include the Reserve. The idea of people signing up to have Rocky or his partners do their landscaping just didn’t fit the Reserve HOA, I’m sure they felt left out but we didn’t have time to figure out a solution at the time. You will notice that on some streets we had very strong support for the BBOC efforts, on one particular street we had a tough time. There were a few residents, vocal on Facebook, that just clashed with the BBOC. They weren’t offering much in terms of alternatives, they were against Rocky, the idea and in some cases personally attacking me. I remember going door to door myself where our Block Captains just didn’t want to go, because of Facebook comments. I had residents scream at me, cuss me out …. Oh well, it came with the effort.
Here is the final analysis of the verbal sign-ups the BBOC was able to get done by August 23, 2015.
As proud as we were contacting 444 residents and getting 409 verbal agreements, we were starting to hear that Rocky’s financial backers now wanted more, much more. They now wanted actual signed contracts with credit card, etc. Another challenge and open issue!
18. Rocky Closing Date Now Set – November 3, 2015
In communications with Rocky on August 19th I learned that David Johnson had given Rocky until November 3, 2015 to get this deal closed. I spoke to David Johnson myself on Aug 19th and asked for a letter from the government verifying this agreement. I wanted something that said the government was in fact going to accept the Rocky deal as it was, subject of course to MJS and lien holder settlements. Mr. Johnson said there would not be a letter, but told me he was OK with what we were doing. He felt that if we (BBOC and Rocky) could find a way to get this business model to finally work, not only the Plantation Palms deal get done but would there were other similar HOA/golf courses that it could be taken to.
There was now a definite line in the sand, the Rocky deal had to close on or before November 3rd.
19. The Reserve Situation – What Could We Do?
The BBOC was invited to attend the Reserve HOA board meeting on Wednesday, September 9, 2015. This meeting usually draws just a few residents. Well before the meeting actually started the room was packed, Publix squeezed in all the chairs they could and people were standing everywhere in the Community Room. I counted over 50 attendees plus the board members, more were lined up in the hall and couldn’t get in. I was scheduled for a 15 minute update followed by 15 minutes of questioning, as you can imagine we ran well over an hour. After the presentation, the BBOC were asked to leave so the Reserve residents and board could discuss our issues in private.
Understandably, these residents felt left out of the BBOC information process because no one was coming door to door to explain the sale and the business model. We quickly brought them up to date. We also reiterated what they already knew, that the Reserve has all-inclusive, somewhat complex contracts that cover various services including grass cutting. We discussed how important the 230 or so residents of the Reserve were to the overall “participation” in getting our golf course to open. We were unable to provide the group with a specific plan of how the community could accomplish this, but agreed to provide the Reserve Board with information and suggestions regarding this in the near future.
When I was finished speaking, Tim Hodes, President of the Savanna HOA, and a board member for the master HOA spoke briefly on the sense of urgency and the pending delinquent tax deed sale possibility. Many of the residents knew Tim, very few knew who I was other than leading the BBOC. The entire crowded gave the BBOC a hearty round of applause, thanking us for all of our volunteering efforts. We also provided them with our newsletter sign-up sheets so we could add them to our email blasts.
In the week or so that followed the BBOC presentation at the Reserve meeting we tried to brainstorm about how Rocky might generate revenue from the Reserve, negotiating a deal with their landscaper PROscape was a remote possibility. We were never able to really come up with a plan for the Reserve, other than possibly getting funds from their Board to approximate the funds anticipated from the rest of the community. In the end, many people in the Reserve felt left out and some fought hard against the entire BBOC plan, even after Bill Place became involved.
20. Dealing with Landscapers – The Heart of the Business Plan
The foundation of Rocky Morgan’s business plan was to tie golf club memberships with landscaping contracts, this included both commercial and residential. For example, a local hotel might contract with Rocky’s landscaper at a competitive price (over $1,000/mo.) and get 2 golf memberships that could be used by hotel managers, favorite customers etc. Residents outside of Plantation Palms who were also golfers could buy a lawn cutting and golf membership package less expensive than they might currently be paying for each separately. However, the entire concept was based on either Rocky going into the landscaping business himself or cutting deals with existing lawn care companies. Early on Rocky liked the idea of starting up a landscaping business, employees would wear GSP shirts of a certain color. This idea quickly faded as it was clear that Rocky already had too much on his plate just trying to buy the golf course. Therefore we started introducing Rocky to landscapers already doing work in our community.
There were over a dozen landscapers already doing business in the community, from the largest like McGuires to very small owner/operators. In general, each business wanted to keep their existing customers and hopefully gain more. Rocky met with many of these owners, I had a little involvement at various times but tried to stay out of the details, I already was maxed out working on the community end of the deal. Rocky claimed that he could provide them with workman’s comp insurance, access to capital for new machinery, reduced maintenance costs, reduced billing overhead etc. In return he needed back from them an override on their revenue. I remember discussing these details at great length with both Rocky and Dagmar as well as a few landscaper owners.
Almost from the very beginning, Rocky had committed verbally to residents that his landscaping price would be what they were currently paying and they might be able to keep their current provider (almost sounds like the early Obama Care announcements). In all of my communications I tried to soften this commitment by saying it would be “pretty close” to their current costs, hopefully leaving some room. We quickly found out that the prices residents were paying for landscaping were all over the place. The same vendor could have customers next door to one another and they had different prices. There was no standard price! Prices were all over the place.
This was a problem. After a lot of discussion, we started talking about a change to the business model, let the landscapers quote the prices and the homeowner would sign a contract directly with GSP Property Maintenance, LLC (Rocky Morgan). Each month the resident under contract would have money charged to their credit card for the contracted amount, and Rocky would then pay the landscaping companies. This major shift brought on the “Membership Agreements”. See the earlier section on the Agreements.
By October 2015 we thought we had made a lot of progress from where we started. We had Membership Agreements ready to go, the golf course grass was being cut and Rocky continued to indicate his financial backers were all ready to close.
21. Turkey Creek – Failed Attempt & Good Case Study
Beginning in August 2015 I started communicating, as part of my due diligence, with John Tinque and Forest Hope, residents at Turkey Creek outside Gainsville. Turkey Creek was in a similar situation as Plantation Palms, a closed golf course in a gated community. In their case with 1,200 residents. The course had closed in 2011, and Rocky Morgan had made an attempt to buy it, using a “maintenance services” business model. In January 2015 a deadline passed and Rocky Morgan had failed to close on the deal to buy the golf course, he never got to the point of even signing up residents. I had multiple discussions and emails with John and Forest as we compared notes on our closed courses. In the case of Rocky, he was proposing a much more inclusive full house maintenance service at Turkey Creek, he brought in financial backers, did community presentations and it all fell apart. They indicated that their community was really splintered and some people resisted all attempts to find a new buyer. The bottom line was Rocky’s full maintenance plan was too broad and his financial backers bailed out, no deal.
They were unable to find a buyer and instead the community bought the course in December 2015 so that they could at least cut the grass and keep the club house open. Their HOA got enough voted to take out a $2 million mortgage, accessing all homeowners for the payments to cover the 15 year mortgage. They then owned a course that had been closed for 4+ years. In order to reopen and recondition their new course, in September 2016 they attempted to raise $750,000 by selling gold and platinum memberships to help fund a golf course management company to bring back and run the course. The top memberships were $45,000 per family for a life time. The cheapest was $18,000 for a single member good for 10 years. This apparently never worked out and unfortunately the course is still closed, but they are paying on a mortgage and maintenance.
I have followed John and Forest, staying in touch with them. After our Rocky deal fell through I was much more interested in how they got 1,200 residents to spend $2M. I had told them that no way would our 821 residents approve a mortgage to buy the course. I also wondered why they went ½ way, getting enough money to buy the course, but not rehab it. Later they were delighted that we were able to do a deal with Ace Golf and were interested in how we did the deal.
22. The Big Hampton Inn Meeting
On Wednesday, September 2, 2015 the BBOC hosted a community-wide Meet & Greet at the Hampton Inn to introduce Rocky and Dagmar. We had sent out emails to our limited email list and posted on Facebook, this would be a wide open meeting, not a “secret meetings”. Actually the Hampton didn’t have a room for us and so we just use the lobby and breakfast area. Can you imagine their surprise when about 100+ residents showed up and packed into the place? It was standing room only. In attendance were Board members and Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore (thank you Gary Bradford). I kicked off the meeting, explained the overall plan of the BBOC and our recent efforts. A key part of my presentation was to continually reinforce that the BBOC’s main goal was to protect property values, this was not about playing golf. I then introduced Rocky Morgan. Rocky, as expected charmed the crowd, they all wanted someone to buy the golf course and Rocky was saying all the right things. Everyone who attended was pumped up and many stuck around well into the night. I didn’t stay very late, I already had an early morning meeting scheduled with Rocky and Dagmar the next day. The Hampton Inn was just glad to get rid of us.
The Hampton Inn Meeting September 2, 2015
23. Jimmy Wright PGA – A Real Gentleman – Unclear Business Interest
Just to backtrack a little, I’ll introduce Jimmy Wright. Rob Rochlin, the listing agent for MJS indicated that he met Rocky Morgan through Jimmy Wright PGA. Jimmy Wright is a golfing legend, 3 year All American at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma State Amateur Champ, participated in 21 major championships, participated in 13 PGA Championships, participated in six U.S. Opens, participated in Masters Tournament (1970) – finished T-29th, 14 National Club Pro Championships (finished 2nd in 1969; 4th in 1968; 5th in 1978 and 1981) and was the youngest golfer ever inducted into the Metropolitan Hall of Fame at age 42. In 2005, Wright accepted a position as the Director of Golf at a new premier private club in Bradenton, Florida called The Concession Golf Club – a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course designed in association with Tony Jacklin. The Concession, which was honored as the “Best New Private Course” of 2006 by Golf Digest, commemorates one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship in the history of golf, when Nicklaus conceded a two foot putt to Jacklin in the 1969 Ryder Cup matches. Jimmy’s love commitment to The Concession Golf Club and the traditions of the game and competitive play continues today in his role as Tournament Director. Jimmy also has a relationship with “Golf 4 Millions”.
I first met Jimmy and his delightful wife Joyce in August 2015. Jimmy and his wife would proceed to make many trips from his house in Sarasota to Plantation Palms to meet with Rocky and anyone in the community interested in chatting. In September 2015, Rocky told me that Jimmy Wright would become President and CEO of Golf Operations under Rocky’s business, if the deal closes. At the same time Rocky had told me that HMS Golf Management, Woodstock, GA had been selected to manage the Plantation Palms Golf Course. The following day I spoke to James Haslam, Director of Operations and a part owner at HMS. HMS had developed over twenty-five golf properties, and at the time managed 8 golf courses in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Mississippi. Later I would find out from him that he never reached a final deal with Rocky.
I was always curious as to how Jimmy Wright PGA actually fit in with Rocky’s business. Rocky once told me that Jimmy was around to keep an eye on him, courtesy of some 3rd party investors. I never was able to confirm any of this, but I can tell you that Jimmy and his wife were the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. At my last meeting with him, Jimmy gave me a book from The Concessions Golf Club, signed by Tony Jacklin, I still have that book today.
Here is a picture I took of Jimmy Wright PGA with Maggie Schmook (daughter of Kevin and Angela on Dinhurst). After watching Maggie drive a few shots down the fairway Jimmy was heard saying, she might not need any help from me. Maggie played on the Land O Lakes team that finished 2nd in the 2015 Sunshine Athletic Conference girl’s golf tournament.
24. The Big Meeting – All The Players
On Monday, September 28th a meeting was called by Rocky and his backers to try and work out the remaining items to help close the deal by the November 3rd deadline. The meeting went on for 5 ½ hours in the boardroom at the Wesley Chapel Hampton Inn. Of course the BBOC was invited and I can tell you that the entire “team” was delighted with the community support for the golf course project and gave the BBOC (Simon and I) a round of applause. Issues were discussed such as: how quickly could the course be opened, what turf options exist, how the landscaper program will work, complete availability of funding, a tournament partnership with All-American, the sign-up of the Founding Members, opening the club house ASAP and so forth. Many other topics were discussed.
The meeting attendees included:
Rocky Morgan – GSP Business Alliance
Ed Neives – GSP – Director of Operations (Rocky relative)
Dusty Dean – All-American Gateway Tour – Owner
Chris Watson – All-American Gateway Tour
Steve Mercer – Managing Partner Visions Golf, owner Walden Lake Golf & Country Club
Steve Hummel – Capital First Investor Group
Jimmy Wright PGA – Caliber Capital Partners, President and CEO of Golf Operations
Joyce Wright – Jimmy’s lovely wife
Eric Robinson – Co Owner – McGuire’s Beautiful Outdoors
Catherine – McGuire’s Beautiful Outdoors
Mike Oransky – Former Pro Tennis Player, Elite Professional
Simon Fitzpatrick – BBOC
Jim Hammond – BBOC
This was the first time I had actually met Dusty Dean and Steve Hummel, two more people involved in the potential finance of the deal. There was a fair bit of debate about funding and back-up sources. More on Dusty Dean later.
A couple takeaways from this meeting were that all of the finance guys were looking for the BBOC (Plantation Palms community) to make the landscaping services concept work so there was at least some cash flow while the course was being brought back. As much as the finance guys were looking at us, I was trying to find out exactly who was going to write the check to buy the course! I asked a few times but the answers were always “various financial partners”. Having been to this dance a few times before in my life, that was not a very strong answer. I like to hear someone with his own cash say “I’m writing the check”.
Rumors were circulating that a “large landscaping company doing business in our community” was in talks with Rocky to form a business venture, partnership or even be acquired. I don’t want to get into a lot of details here and I was not involved with any actual discussions. I did however witness a lot of meetings, spoke to all the parties involved and pretty much knew what was happening.
All in all, there was a glimmer of hope that this whole crazy project might actually work.
25. October 2015
October came around and we were a month away from the November 3rd closing date of the deal. We are already getting weary. Some of us had already worked non-stop for months and you would think we were going to be winding down with pre-close activity. We knew that a HUGE amount of work would still need to be done if the deal went through. Getting 400+ people signed up for landscaping services alone was going to be a nightmare.
There were a lot of window-dressing things taking place. Finally, after helping Dagmar Morgan fill out all of the paperwork on the club steps, the State of Florida recognized GSP Business Alliance LLC (TN based corporation) as “foreign” corporation in the State of Florida. The Sunbiz.org web site showed proof of this. In addition, a new GSP Property Management of Florida LLC was set up as a Florida based corporation. Rocky now also had a lawyer, finally. More about him later.
It was in October 2015, after having met a lot of residents and worked so hard as an “outsider” to bring back our course, David Gunsteens (President of the HOA Board) confided in me that he would not run again for his Board position in the upcoming January elections. He had already served for 6 years. He immediately suggested that I run for a Board position. David knew that if I was ever elected there was only one position I wanted. I told David of my concern about the 100% freedom I had to run the BBOC completely independent from any HOA restrictions. Although not telling David at the time, I knew I would run for a Board position in the next election. In addition, my friend Simon Fitzpartick would run too, later we asked Jeff Steiner to run as part of a BBOC choice of candidates. We had a sweeping victory, more on that later.
The community was pretty happy, mostly because the golf course had been cut and actually looked pretty good. See a picture from Tim Hodes taken in October 2015.
With all the positive signs that were visible to most residents, behind the scenes I was growing uncomfortable. I was getting irritated that the most critical component of the BBOC, the landscaping partnerships and final selling prices were still up in the air. People excited about the golf course opening wanted to know exactly who was going to cut their lawns and at what price. We all knew that Rocky’s commitment that the price would be what they were currently paying, was like Obama saying you could keep your doctor in Obamacare. What we didn’t yet know was the landscaping final pricing structure. I has already told Rocky and his people that it would take us 60-90 days from the start to get actual landscaping cash.
For the first time in my weekly newsletters, I started to reset community expectations. I published the good and the bad and how far the journey had already come. We were day by day approaching the November 3, 2015 closing date. Would a deal be signed by MJS and the government, would the check actually get cut? Yes, it was a little stressful and I was getting worn out.
To further complicate matters, I was hearing discussions about restructuring the entire deal with MJS and the government into an “operating agreement”, not an outright sale. I had real questions about this since I couldn’t see any way for the government to get out from under the $2.2 million dollar mortgage. Secondly, this clearly meat to me that Rocky’s financial backers weren’t coming up with the money. MJS was just too unstable to trust with an “operating agreement”. However, the rumors were put to rest when on October 23, 2015 I got a lengthy email from Rocky resulting from a meeting with his attorney, all the key people were copied, except Rob Rochlin. I of course immediately called Rob and sent him a copy.
October 23, 2015
From: Rocky Morgan
I am meeting today with (attorney name) to determine the next steps on our end for the Plantation Palms acquisition. The next option that I see from this point is to move forward and close under an operating agreement, collect our funds from our clients and pay the notes off. This will mean paying a higher price for the course. It gets the owners and the BIA what they need. It gets the neighbors in Plantation Palms what they want. It gets us a golf course. I set this up as a contingency plan prior to entering into the purchase and sale agreement on Plantation Palms. We have built a strong support from the community which will give us the leverage to move this forward. The BIA has stayed off of the foreclosure button while we built this support.
This process has cost a lot of money. The money we put into the course to bring it back and the money we put into the vandalized equipment was our agreed upon non-refundable security deposit that showed we were serious about buying the course. What we have done over the past seven weeks has bought us credibility with our customer base and the HOA within Plantation Palms.
From the beginning, I invited each one of you to come and walk with me through this process. It would have been a good experience to witness the coming together of this project both from our boo birds and our supporters. Our group got together for a half day a few weeks back. Steve Mercer has made a couple of extra visits and Jimmy Wright is up here on a weekly basis. Dagmar every two weeks for two weeks. Ed, every day for the past three weeks. I have been here every day as I committed to do. Jim Hammond and his team live here. They are our greatest support group. (Major landscaper) and his team have bought into the value that we bring to the table and are joining us.
Plantation Palms is very important to us as a proof of concept. I have worked to get the folks inside Plantation Palms everything they have asked for. When we are successful and coming right behind this success are more and more opportunities to roll this out. Several local courses are watching us and wish us to move forward on their respective courses. A group out of Canada is watching us. This group has several including the Tucson National. We have rebuilt our credibility and this list continues to grow and several major corporate sponsors are watching us to see if they want to get involved.
For me and GSP. About this time last year I lined up with a capital partner and commitments were made. The capital partner backed out and left me. I got sued and had to leave a lot of good people hanging. I have had to clean that up right in front of the good folks inside and outside of Plantation Palms. The internet is unforgiving. I vowed to never let that happen again. As it happens, a few weeks ago I paid for another round of funding that has yet to show up. I have incurred debt because of that. Good people have continued to provide the services we need because they want to see us succeed. I will make sure they are paid. Including the attorney closing this thing. Plantation Palms clears up all of these issues and the slate becomes clean.
Several questions in those surveys told me that the value of your being here would have made those questions unnecessary. The one that really got me was the one that requested we take my and Ed’s name off of the Founding list. That is a clear indicator that there is a disconnect. First, the folks inside Plantation Palms expect us to be there and not as a token. Second, I am part of Plantation Palms and will support my own program. And finally, it was the right thing to do. You can mix those three up in any priority listing. I will leave our names on the list. If you believed in the program your names would have been there too.
Growing pains happen. Learning curves take time. As far as I am concerned we are still a team. I look forward to our working together far into the future. I believe that you all will understand that our greatest capital resource is our client base. That is what we are tapped into. I have worked for this acquisition of Plantation Palms to be completed. I have not fought for it yet. I have not had to as I have a strong faith and belief in those that have come to support us. I will fight if necessary.
As some of you know, the details of this transaction have been leaked and broadcast over the BBOC and Plantation Palms website. I believe that this was done to derail the project. I will address that when the time is right.
If I have been an asshole for the past couple of weeks I will not apologize because the real asshole has not come out yet.
Continue on with what you feel you need to do.
Hope all is well.
The deal was NOT going to close on November 3rd. I needed to get the Plantation Palms community and my BBOC group ready to deal with this outcome. I already knew it wasn’t going to close. I already knew that it was in trouble, Rob Rochlin was telling me that he didn’t have a check yet and there was no agreement being circulated for MJS signature. The entire discussion about the outstanding value of the liens against the golf course and MJS was all over the place. The best I could tell from various sources was that this was a $400,000 number, I had a partial list. Rocky’s October 28th email was still hanging in the air. The government just wasn’t going to do an operating agreement on a defaulted mortgage.
26. Rocky Doesn’t Close – Given Extension
All during the BBOC process, I published weekly community updates on my BBOC blog site. The first week of November 2015, I did not publish an update. On November 8, I finally published a newsletter and reset expectations. I knew that EVERYONE wanted a deal, Rocky, the government (for sure), MJS, Rob Rochlin and the entire Plantation Palms community. The details in getting it done had become highly complex!
In the end when it was becoming evident that the entire deal was falling through I had a number of pretty direct and confidential conversation with a number of the parties involved, other than Rocky. The financial numbers they were using and coming from Rocky were absolutely not the same numbers that the BBOC had been discussing with Rocky. For example, there was a wide difference in the proposed monthly landscaping fees. I made it clear to these parties that the fees and numbers being modeled were just not possible and would not be supported by me, or for that matter the community (in my opinion). Shortly after this discussion, I confronted Rocky with this disparity. This single experience told me that my months and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of work, an incredible amount of stress, my commitments to my BBOC team and the entire community were all going down the tube.
The government, upon request gave Rocky until November 20th to close the deal, but I had little hope a check would appear! At this point it appeared that word was getting out that the deal to buy the course was falling through and housing developers would be circling to snatch up the property. This fear was not far from the truth, my fear was that the real estate listing agent was soliciting housing developers.
I’ll just share a few emails with you that show concerns we all had. I have such a large collection of emails I’ll only provide a few so you can see the interaction.
As I mentioned all along, even though Simon and I were running the BBOC, completely separate from the HOA Board, I kept to my word and communicated with primarily David Gunsteens on at least the newsworthy activities. As we got into November and David announced that he was not going to run for reelection, I knew I was going to miss his strong support at the board level.
Jim Hammond <firstname.lastname@example.org>
——————————————————————————————————————————Surprise, we are now again talking about the Alan Cale, feasibility study report. Remember this goes back to the July 15th board meeting where the board agreed to give Alan Cale $7,500 to provide this study with the idea that the HOA would find a way to possibly buy the course and hire an operator. I had spoken to David many times about this. Alan had completed a draft of the report and was asking the HOA for the second half of the payment, the HOA asked him to put the study on hold, we had a buyer – Rocky. David was asking about getting Alan Cale going again. It’s amazing how important the Alan Cale report would be at a later date helping us do a deal with Bill Place.
After the November 20th close did not take place, Rocky left town and it was THE LAST TIME I EVER SAW HIM AGAIN. I did speak with him on the phone thereafter. You are going to really like hearing about where all of this is going!
27. Here Comes Dusty Dean
You would think we all could relax now, just accept the fact that that Rocky had failed. Not so fast!!! On November 11, 2015, I got a new email from Rob, there was another offer. Are you kidding me? I think he also had a “verbal” offer again from a housing developer, more about that later.
What I failed to mention thus far in this story was that my BBOC web site was being read by a lot of people including David Johnson. A large group now intertwined with Rocky and his friends, our community and news reporters. By this time I was also getting calls from other communities, golf course owners, golf course real estate brokers and lots of other people. I can’t count how many outside people I had spoken with since the start of this project. They were mostly amazed that we were able to organize and run a community group that was trying to work with any buyer. There were some non-golf course developers also following all of this, a closed golf course would make an ideal housing development.
Now I’ll introduce Dusty Dean. As you saw from our big meeting at the Hampton Inn on September 28, 2015, Dusty Dean was present. It was clear he was a key person in this project. Up until this time it was a little confusing exactly where he fit in, Rocky was always the “front man”. I was now beginning to understand that Dusty was more involved than I thought and had already sunk some of his money into the whole Rocky program, the details later will surprise you. Dusty owned a semi-pro golf tour company. These were good golfers with dreams of making the professional tour but not quite good enough. These golfers paid Dusty to play in his touring events to get recognition. I’ll take Dusty’s word for the fact that he made money, he also had an investment relationship with Steve Hummel at Capital First Investor Group. I don’t know the details of this relationship.
At this point Rocky has left town, and I start hearing from Dusty Dean, he claimed to be the main money behind Rocky and now wants to personally get involved to buy the course with all new offers! Miracles never cease, here we go again.
Jim Hammond <email@example.com>
Nov 11, 2015 at 1:15 PM
I don’t know if you had chance to read my web site posting from Sunday, just wondering if you had any comments on what I said.
Best of luck,
Nov 11, 2015 at 2:39 PM
Jim GREAT update! Thx for doing it and taking the time. We will reach out in a few days or so with more updates thx again
Dusty Dean is now going to put in bids for the golf course under his name. By November 18th Dusty was in play. See my email to Rocky and Dusty dated November 18, 2015.
At the November 18, 2015 HOA Board Meeting I presented my usual update to the Board, however there was one difference. Since David Gunsteens was not running for reelection in 2016, he decided not to attend this meeting, the last scheduled HOA Board meeting of the year. He had told me this in advance. He of course would remain president until the new board was seated in 2016. At that meeting the board again gave me plenty of time to update them on the golf course status, my update followed my email to Dusty and Rocky. I can tell you that the atmosphere at that meeting was completely different. It was clear that although most of the board members were supportive of the BBOC, it was now different! A board member at the time had openly expressed on social media a clear opposition to both me and the BBOC. That was when Simon and I decided that we were ABSOLUTELY going to run for election to the 2016 HOA Board, primarily to finish our work in “bringing back the golf course”. One key issue at this board meeting was a discussion about having the HOA cut the golf course grass, Rocky had kept it cut and it still looked great. There was no support for this and quickly the 6’ high weeds took over the course, we were soon back where we started and the residents would begin loosing hope again.
28. December 2015 – Last Attempt?
It’s really hard to just give up on something you’ve worked very hard on, so too with the BBOC. After a quiet Thanksgiving and a newsletter to the community I had reset expectations that selling the golf course was just going to take much more time. They knew that the Rocky deal had fallen through and he was no longer in town.
Dusty Dean was now preparing to submit an offer, or multiple offers to buy the course. I had multiple calls with Dusty. Rocky was on some of these calls, but was very quiet, this was Dusty’s show.
So now we had an offer from Dusty Dean to buy the course at the original asking price of $1.2 million dollars. We were informed that there would be a 2-3 week quiet period in mid-December during which time, MJS and the government would review the situation and Dusty’s offer. They just didn’t want to be bothered with emails and phone calls. However, there was nothing quite regarding phone calls and emails between Dusty Dean and me. We were back into full-time mode again, let’s get this damn golf course sold!
Here is a great summary email of the situation. I will not identify Rocky’s attorney in this book.
From: Jim Hammond [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, December 09, 2015 1:31 PM
To: Dusty Dean
Cc: Rocky Attorney; Simon FitzPatrick ; Rock A. Morgan
Subject: Plantation Palms
I thought it was best that I respond to your email questions in a separate communications that I don’t consider confidential due to the responses I’ll provide you.
I want to first state that I do not officially represent any party, not the community nor the HOA. Any response I provide is merely my own opinion. I think I have a pretty good feel for what a large number of PP residents want, but I could be wrong. I’ll also state that our community has a very wide range of opinions on almost every topic, I could probably get a majority of the people to agree today is Wednesday. Furthermore, I’ll refer to the “community” as just Plantation Palms, not the greater Tampa Bay area.
Below are my responses to your questions.
- (Question) It is our opinion that this is not a “golf issue” but is a community issue since every home gets the financial upside when the course opens. Separately the community members that want to enjoy the club’s golf and social programs must pay additional fees. Do you believe the community, as a whole, believes this is accurate and correct and will support that mindset?
JH response: Yes, I believe the majority of the community would agree that this is a community issue and that a successful golf course would both protect and improve our property values. They would also agree that those residents who would choose to enjoy the club’s golf and social programs should pay for such privileges.
- (Question) We have several options with revitalizing the golf course for the community but the path we choose will be dictated by the financial support of the entire community. One of the options would significantly reduce the cost to the community for the initial acquisition but would require us to redevelop a portion of the driving range. Obviously the majority of the community are not golfers so feel most would see this as viable but do you believe the golfers in the community would accept this path if we were able to develop an acceptable alternative to the development option or should we explore the other options we have developed?
JH response: This is hard to answer without knowing what the redevelopment would be. If this development would be a multi-family apartment or condo, a senior living center, a nursing home or shopping center I’m pretty sure the community would strongly object. If this represented a few houses similar to those on say Valencia then maybe it would be acceptable. Again, this is my opinion, the homeowners who would have a “development” abutting their property would probably disagree. Also keep mind that although we both use the term “community financial support”, there is a wide variation as to what this means in dollars and cents. Remember that the messaging all along has defined “support” as subscribing to a landscaping service for “about what you are currently paying”. We were able to get about 400 residents to verbally approve this type of “support”. In my opinion there might be some stretch here and non-golfers (other than The Reserve) might be willing to pay a 10 -15% premium over current costs for just a social membership, golfers might be willing to pay more than that for a golf membership.
- (Question) Lastly, by using this development process AND continuing to negotiate the very best deal to acquire the course we will minimize the actual cost to the community but it will still require ongoing support by not only the golfer & social members but the community as a whole if that revenue does not cover the costs. Regardless of who buys the course (who intends to keep it a golf course) will see the previous failure as a HUGE point of risk and are not looking to lose money in the process. Do you believe the community as a whole will accept this ongoing responsibility to support the course should the golf and social revenue not support the course on its own?
JH response: I think need to make one point clear, very few people in our community believe the community should help “buy” the golf course for the new owners. They are willing to help “support” any new owner but they don’t want to be equity owners. They don’t want the risk involved with ownership. If the revenue doesn’t cover the costs that’s an owner’s problem, not a community problem, and by the way the community has little control over either. If we though that the community wanted to become owners with the associated risk and reward we would have found a way to make an offer our selves.
Just some further comments. It is hard to put a value on the future property values by having a golf course remain in our community. Many residents believe that we have already suffered the devaluation and believe that just cutting the grass is all they want. I personally believe that we are far better off with a thriving course.
I would be happy to further explain my responses and wish you and Rocky the best of luck in trying to buy the course. I have spent hundreds of hours this year in support of protecting our property values and providing clear, transparent communications to our residents. I will continue to do the best can to achieve these goals.
Plantation Palms Resident
You will note in Dusty’s email he referenced “to redevelop a portion of the driving range”. This wasn’t exactly a new idea with us, since the Marcus Milcamp listing offer from 2010 showed that as an option for any buyer. The driving range could fit 20+ homes and be worth a lot of money. Bill Place would later also propose this.
I also should mention that at this time the “real offering price” from Dusty was a little confusing, first I was told that he offered $1.2 million, then everything changed. Dusty was now talking about a modified offer of only $650,000. We would later have phone calls where Dusty said he was having a hard time getting $1.2 million and was thinking about $950,000.
See these two emails.
Jim Hammond <email@example.com>
To: Dusty Dean
Dec 20, 2015 at 9:17 AM
Sorry I had to cut off our call towards the end yesterday, at least we got the situation pretty well described. I did hear from Rob last night, I was in a restaurant and couldn’t talk very long. He indicated that MJS would just not agree to a $600-$650 offer, and the government couldn’t force them. I told him I might ask the community to do a political blitz to motivate the government. He will call me back is afternoon.
I may publish a community update on all his to see what reaction I get.
I’ll let you know after I talk to Rob again.
To: Jim Hammond
Dec 20, 2015 at 9:57 AM
Hi Jim no worries at all. I appreciate you taking the time. I completely understand the situation and rob told me that they wouldn’t accept $950k let alone $650k but yet everyone agrees the property’s value as a golf course is much closer to $600k than $900k…again hence the reason for reaching out to you.
We have a capable, interested buyer that has the communities support and simply wants a market deal. For me or any investor in a deal like this it will be based on a % of loan to value…the value the sellers/bank are placing on the golf course is simply way over what is reality…if this were not the case PP would have been sold or I could find funding sources to do a deal. Period, that is real estate…as you know the market dictates the price and no one is going to take the risk significantly over market value.
And no different than the BIA (if they truly can’t force them to take a deal) I can’t force them either or even try to use this logic to convince them.
Unfortunately (or could be fortunate if the community is able to have an impact) I feel that the community as a whole is maybe the only possible leverage point.
I am still unclear why Rob believes the BIA is going to simply let it go to foreclosure just to be done with it when there is a valid party interested trying to do a market deal but I can only go on what he is telling me.
I don’t see any downside in a community update at this point. Especially since you now have a direct line of communication to both the seller’s side and me directly as the buyer. You, in talking to both, should have a clear, accurate story to tell.
Let me know after you talk to him or if you have any other questions or ideas. Dusty
So, here we are now trying to determine the real value of the golf course. I know when business people are serious about an acquisition, they want to determine the intrinsic value of an asset. No one knew what the value of the Plantation Palms closed golf club was, it was worth what a buyer was willing to pay that met the seller’s approval. We needed help determining this value.
Bingo, we had a way of determining the potential value of the golf course from a 3rd party independent analysis. We had Alan Cale report, previously authorized by the HOA Board for $7,500, of which $4,000 had been paid. But, since we thought we had a Rocky deal, the Alan Cale report was put on hold. I had spoken to the David Gunsteens and he too believed that we should ask Alan to update the report with current valuations and get it to the HOA Board ASAP, the Board would then pay the remaining $3,500 remaining balance.
Jim Hammond <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To:David Gunsteens,Ray Bedgood
Dec 21, 2015 at 9:19 AM
David and Ray,
I’m trying to help getting a possible deal done for the course. A major issue is the valuation of the course and cost to bring it back. The Alan report might be really helpful. Can you tell me when we might get it and may I have a copy?
Jim Hammond <email@example.com>
To: Rob Rochlin
Dec 24, 2015 at 2:10 PM
I just heard that we will get the Alan Cale report on January 5th.
Have a Merry Christmas. I’m around all next week if you want to chat.
Thanks for all your help.
On December 24, 2015 at 3 PM I sent a community newsletter to our residents and on behalf of Simon and I wished them a Merry Christmas. I told the community that even though I was posting much less information publicly, behind the scenes we were still working every day to get our course sold. My wife and I had a nice quiet Christmas and I took off a few days to just chill out.
My records show that I sent no emails regarding the BBOC from Christmas to January 1, 2016, it’s hard to believe.
29. January 2016 – Everything is Changing
Wouldn’t you know it, on January 5th I was all over the HOA Board, where is the Alan Cale report? Nobody could find the report.
Alan C. Cale
To: ‘david gunsteens’
Cc: ‘Ray Bedgood’,’Neil Wayne’, ‘Jim Hammond’
Jan 8, 2016 at 11:16 AM
The packaged was delivered yesterday at 10:06 am and was signed for by C.
Payne. I have also attached the tracking report from Fed Ex. Please confirm to me that you have received the package.
Alan C. Cale
Vice President/Co Principal
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Operating Officer
Cornerstone Golf Partners
We now had an issue, the HOA paid for this study, exactly who did it belong to? Could I get a copy (quickly)? David did a good job of resolving the issue. It was agreed that I would be given a copy of the report, but without the section that included Alan’s proposal to operate the course and his fees. I thought this was a very fair resolution, on January 9th I received a 31 page edition of the Feasibility Study by Alan Cale. I immediately sent it to Rob Rochlin. I however did not send it to Rocky or Dusty!
There was another outstanding issue that needed clarification, what was the value of the driving range? Could it be converted into a small housing development that would help finance the purchase of the course? I couldn’t answer this, but sure knew who could, Tim Hodes, a board member, resident and BBOC founding partner. Oh, by the way, Tim is a Professional Engineer, he knows exactly how to do this kind of work.
Jim Hammond <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Tim Hodes
Cc: Simon FitzPatrick
Jan 10, 2016 at 9:22 AM
There is a potential golf course buyer who would ask, as part of a bid, that the community allow a 10 acre carve-out of the driving range for residential development to help cover some of the costs of operations. They say they would add 20-30 houses similar to our community. The attached drawing is what they provided.
From you experience how viable is this? If the houses and lots were similar to Savanna vs The Reserve how could be fit into this space.
Since this is a sensitive issue and early in the proposal process it would be nice to keep it quiet for now.
Thanks for your help.
Jan 12, 2016 at 12:08 PM
About the sketch you provided, with regard to lots similar to those found in Savanna……..I would say 20 lots would fit.
With regard to smaller lots like the Villas (Reserve)…….I would say 25 or so lots would fit.
Water, sewer, & drainage utilities could be reasonably provided. I think from an engineering standpoint the concept is feasible.
From a Zoning standpoint that is a subjective matter/process and up for plenty of discussion.
From a Golf Course operations standpoint, having a full sized driving range is a separator from other courses. It separates Plantation Palms from other courses. A fully utilized driving range can attract users and drive business for the course.
Bottom line………..would it be better having folks running around in golf carts and playing golf at our course ? I say yes. That is a clear separator when comparing homes on MLS. To the demographic that is moving into Florida, retirees, golf is still a glamorous and enjoyable activity. And to offer that amenity when selling your home should be seen as a plus / advantage.
Jim Hammond <email@example.com>
To: Dusty Dean, Steve Mercer
Cc: Simon FitzPatrick
Jan 12, 2016 at 12:42 PM
Dusty and Steve,
My Professional Engineer studied the plot and indicates that good design would be a single street with a cul de sac, it would hold 20 homes with lots and houses roughly the size of our Savanna community. He indicates that based on the layout, water, sewer, electric and drainage utilities could be easily provided.
A “carve out” of the Driving Range
30. I’m Done with Dusty & Rocky
By January 12, 2016, I was just done dealing with Dusty Dean and Rocky. We were arguing over the phone, they weren’t able to get an offer straightened out with Rob Rochlin. Dusty was telling me on the phone that he couldn’t do the deal for $1.2 million, he was now talking about $950,000 that included our cooperation to help get zoning and community approval for a housing development where the driving range was. This was just getting too crazy again. After dealing with them for the last 7 months I was now convinced that they would never come up with the money. It just wasn’t their money, they had to get other people’s money. I politely told them that I and the BBOC were going in a different direction. This pretty much severed my relationship with them, I would still talk with them many more times but I was moving on. They would again get involved in trying to buy the course in the spring time, but I was moving on. Besides, we had a new potential buyer on the radar screen, Bill Place and I was running for election to the HOA Board.
31. The Bill Place Era Begins and the HOA Board Elections!
For quite a while during the golf course sales process I knew that Bill Place from Ace Golf had already expressed interest in Plantation Palms. He tried to buy it right after MJS closed it down directly from the bank, but MJS listed it for a short-sale. The word was that Bill might be interested but that his price would be really low. Our feeling was that we would just be wasting our time with him because the government would not accept a fire-sale price as a short-sale and the property would go to foreclosure.
However, after further discussions with Rob Rochlin, I called Bill Place for the first time late in the day on January 12, 2016. The call was excellent, I was actually talking to a businessman, someone who owned successful golf courses, and someone who had brought back closed courses. After explaining our situation and community’s motivation to Bill and we agreed to meet 3 days later on Friday, January 15, 2016. We would meet him at his Wentworth Golf Club, I invited David Gunsteens and of course Simon to join me. More on this meeting and Bill Place in Book #2.
At this time I felt we needed to get a whole lot of BBOC work done before the 2016 Annual Homeowners Meeting on January 26, 2016. This meeting would also include the HOA Board elections. Under the BBOC I was free to do about anything, other than anything illegal or immoral of course. If however, I got elected to the HOA Board I would probably have some constraints, but I wasn’t sure what they would be. Also it was clear that other people running for the 3 HOA Board positions were not supporting the BBOC efforts. The “BBOC guys” running for election were Simon Fitzpatrick, Jeff Steiner and me. I guess we were pretty confident we would get elected, we felt that a majority of the community liked our leadership, but there were a vocal group that did not.
Further complicating our efforts to get something done was a new email from the government just days before the election. They had run out of patience, Rob was able to email me a portion of the email below from David Johnson. They were sending Plantation Palms to foreclosure, they knew we were now dealing with Bill Place, but no offer had been made.
To: Jim Hammond
Jan 20, 2016 at 11:53 AM
We’ve been entertaining proposed deals for this property for something like 2 years. This has to end.
Show us documentation to convince us that 1) this offer is real, from someone who can make it happen, and 2) that this is a completely arm’s length transaction, not involving an under-market purchase involving friends or associates of the debtors or you, and that there are no undisclosed fees associated with the proposed transaction.
I’m asking Michael to keep going with the process of getting this file over to DOJ; if you convince me we’ve got a winner this time, I can always stop or modify the nature of the transfer.
David B. Johnson
Acting Chief, Division of Capital Investment
Office of Indian Energy and Economic Development
U.S. Department of the Interior
Rob Rochlin PA
The January 26, 2016 Annual Meeting would also have a huge focus on what was happening with the golf course. David Gunsteens and the HOA Board agreed to invite on behalf the HOA Board (not the BBOC), potential buyers for the golf course and Alan Cale. The BBOC facilitated the invitation of Bill Place to speak at the meeting. But we had some other ideas too.
So as to prepare for the January elections we decided to veer off-course and approach a potential property developer about putting in homes on the golf course. I contacted Penny Parks at Link Financial to set up a meeting. If we couldn’t have a golf course we needed a Plan B, a housing developer who we could negotiate a deal with on behalf of the community. I believe Penny had already spoken with a HOA Board member.
Therefore, on January 21, 2016, Simon and I met with Links Financial at their offices in Tampa. The purpose of the meeting was to get acquainted and judge their level of interest in “partnering” with the community to develop just a section of the golf course property. The meeting was attended by:
Penny Parks – President, Links Financial
Joe Erd – Vice President, Links Financial
Michael Lawrence – LDI LLC (Louisiana Development Investments) “a developer”
Simon Fitzpatrick – BBOC
Jim Hammond – BBOC
We came prepared with talking points that we presented outlining a list of “items” we thought the community would endorse as part of a potential agreement. The idea was that we would work with the community to not oppose a zoning change, in trade for things like walking trails, open space etc. Penny would proceed to discuss a potential offer with Rob Rochlin to buy the golf course. We believe she was looking at a $1 million offer and would put in 80 – 100 homes over a period of 4-5 years.
I would say that Penny was interested in our presentation but also pushed back a little on the idea of spending a lot of money to provide items on our shopping list for the community. We knew Penny had a great reputation and we found her and her team very cordial and professional. Penny would also get that invitation from the HOA Board to speak at our January 26, 2016 Annual Meeting.
Book #1 – The End
Book #2 – The Bill Place Era
So here it comes, the big January 26, 2016 Annual Meeting. Board elections and a “shoot-out” between Alan Cale, Bill Place and Penny Parks. A HOA purchased golf course a Bill Place purchased course or a housing development. Stay tuned.
To Be Continued!