Fernandina Beach will continue to manage its municipal golf course, but only after pointed remarks from the city’s Mayor that the course is in bad shape and it shouldn’t be the city’s job to manage it.
“You inherited a really bad situation,” Mayor Mike Lednovich told course staff that attended the City Commission meeting Tuesday night.
“I applaud your efforts, and I appreciate what you’re doing. But I view this, gentlemen, the golf course is like the marina. It is a business, and my personal view is that city government should not be operating businesses. We don’t have the expertise, we don’t have the knowledge, and we shouldn’t have our hands in it. We should have a professional management firm run the golf course.”
Reading from some of the course’s financial statistics, Lednovich said its food and beverage operation should be contributing 30-50% of the course’s revenue, but it’s only 5%. The city put out a request for a company to run the food and beverage operation, but there were no takers.
“We’re netting, like, a grand, because of the salaries that it takes to man the facility,” Lednovich said. “That is why we need to put (a request for proposals) out for professional management, get this albatross off the taxpayers’ backs, and at the very least by putting out an RFP, we can understand the possibilities.”
Commissioners Bradley Bean and David Sturges expressed they want the course team to have a fair opportunity to show what they can do with the property. The city’s Golf Course Advisory Board also suggested giving another year to see how the course shakes out, City Manager Dale Martin said.
“As the city manager just said, we have not had a full year in a post-pandemic world for this golf course to skip the data we need to understand if this is the right call or not,” Bean said. “When we first did this, it was to see how this could work, and I don’t feel we have that data yet to make that decision.”
Lednovich wanted to put the course out for new management the last time, but went along with the rest of the Commission for a city takeover in March 2021. If Commissioners decide to issue an RFP next year, the decision would need to be made in the spring again, but the process would last at least through September.
Commissioner Chip Ross joined Bean and Sturges in voting to keep city management, against votes from Lednovich and Commissioner Len Kreger. Ross challenged Lednovich’s assertion that the course was a business, and instead suggested it’s being run as an amenity.
“If you’re going to run it as a business, you’ve got to put the necessary capital into it,” Ross said.
In talking to managers and agronomists who were involved with the course in the recent past, he said it appears the city isn’t investing in the course like it should to get the results it wants.
“They all basically said the same thing,” Ross said. “The problem isn’t the management, the problem is lack of capital, and if you’re not willing to put the capital into it — which is (the Commission’s) decision — then it’s always going to be what it is. No management company is going to come in and magically turn this around.
“Part of the problem with food and beverage is it’s not a warm, inviting place. We haven’t put money into a really nice bar, a really nice restaurant area — that all takes capital.”