Members only: Mediterra members buy their golf club

It’s members only at The Club at Mediterra.

Members have finalized the purchase of their beach and golf clubs from the developer, Bonita Bay Group. The deal has been about six months in the making.

The sale is part of a restructuring plan for the developer, which has been fighting to avoid bankruptcy.

Financially strapped, Bonita Bay Group is looking to sell off all of its recreational clubs in five communities. It owes more than $70 million to a group of lenders, led by Key Bank.

“It is a significant financial milestone for us. We’re hoping to build on the momentum. We are having conversations with other clubs as well,” said Brian Lucas, vice chairman of Bonita Bay Group.

Mediterra’s members paid $6.8 million in cash for their clubs and assumed $15 million in debt for a Community Development District, which was set up to help develop roads and provide other basic services to residents.

More than 630 residents agreed to join the new club as golf, sports and social members. They all kicked in money toward the purchase.

Golf members paid $19,000, sports members paid $6,000 and the new social members — 167 of them — agreed to pay anywhere from $1,900 to $2,900 annually to support the new club.

“We actually had enough capital that we raised from our members to complete this transaction on our own. So we are in very strong financial shape,” said Richard Schmidt, president of the Mediterra Board of Governors, which negotiated the deal with the developer.

He said the money from its new social members will be used to pay off the debt for the Community Development District over the next 22 years.

The sale closed Thursday, but wasn’t announced until Friday.

“Now we turn our attention to Shadow Wood and Bonita Bay,” Lucas said.

Negotiations with club members at Bonita Bay - its namesake community in Bonita Springs - are ongoing. In Estero, the developer has already reached an agreement in principle to sell the Shadow Wood and Commons clubs in The Brooks to their members and that deal is expected to close by January.

The Mediterra sale was the first turnover for Bonita Bay Group.

Mediterra straddles the Lee-Collier line off Livingston Road. The 1,697-acre community has been named by Golf Magazine as one of The 50 Best Golf Communities in America and by Travel & Leisure Golf as one of the top 100 golf communities in America for four years. It was the first-ever 36-hole course to earn Audubon International’s Silver Signature Sanctuary designation.

The sale to members includes two Tom Fazio-designed championship golf courses, an 1,800-square-foot golf learning center, a 25,000-square-foot clubhouse, and a sports club with five Har-Tru tennis courts, an outdoor pool, three spa rooms and a recently expanded fitness center.

Also included in the deal is the private Mediterra Beach Club on the Gulf of Mexico, which offers a swimming pool, sundeck and a waterfront restaurant.

On Friday, Mediterra members expressed relief and optimism about their club’s future, which seemed so uncertain while under the control of Bonita Bay Group.

“We own it and we will be able to operate it in a manner that our members want us to operate it in,” Schmidt said. “We don’t really plan any wholesale changes. There is none really needed.”

Asked how he felt about the deal finally closing, he said, “Fantastic, fantastic. It has been a difficult challenge and it took a lot of time and energy on behalf of a lot of people.”

He said the payoff is seeing so many smiling faces and the tremendous community spirit that has developed out of the sale. He said celebration dinners at the club were sold out for Friday and today.

By joining the new club, members of the old club have waived any right they may have to their initial deposits paid to the Bonita Bay Group. That has been a sticking point in negotiations at other clubs.

Last year, the developer abruptly stopped honoring its policy to immediately refund deposits to resigning members. The policy was changed after it saw a rash of resignations and a run on deposits.

On Nov. 30, Frederick and Judith Feldkamp, former members of the Shadow Wood Country Club, filed an emergency motion in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers to try to put a freeze on the money from the sale of the Mediterra club. The motion was part of their case against Long Bay Partners, an affiliate of Bonita Bay Group. They argued that resigned members should be paid back before any other creditors, including the developer’s lenders.

But it appears the couple was unsuccessful. The money from the sale went directly to the developer’s lenders to help pay down debt, Lucas said.

The Feldkamps, who resigned earlier this year, are fighting to get back their $92,000 membership deposit. Their attorney could not be reached for comment.

The new club at Mediterra is starting off with 50 additional golf members, some of whom had resigned from the old club.

“Over 95 percent of our former members signed up for the new club. I think that’s an astounding figure,” Schmidt said.

“We are about as high as you can get now,” said Barbara Jay, a Mediterra golf member who was part of the group that sealed the deal.

She said real estate activity has picked up in the last few months since members announced they had reached an agreement to purchase their clubs. There have even been a few sales.

“It’s very nice to be in control of your own fate,” said Jay, who has lived in Mediterra since 2001. “There’s a sense of security and that is what everyone is really happy about.”

Jon Conahan, another Mediterra advisory board member, described the sale as a “superb deal,” noting that it has already spurred more interest in home sales. He didn’t go away this summer like he usually does because he was in the heat of the crisis facing Mediterra and its clubs.

“We’re over the hump. We are just ecstatic,” Conahan said.

He said Bonita Bay Group made some substantial concessions and met members more than halfway.

“The feeling is just electric right now,” said Conahan, who has been a golf club member since 2002. “Everybody is extremely happy. It’s not just that we squeaked by. We have a very financially solid future. There is just no question we can carry this a long time in the future.”

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