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Golf club counts on the city for loan

It would be hard to find a more important institution in this city than the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club.

The course, part of the community's original design, meanders through much of the city. The 18th hole is set amid 80-year-old Mediterranean Revival architecture.

It's not all about golf, either. The clubhouse is a gathering spot. Members include four current City Council members and Mayor Joe Affronti, who calls the club a "vital social hub."

So when the Temple Terrace Golf and Country Club comes knocking for help, officials tend to respond.

In votes last week that underscored the strong ties, the City Council approved a deal to obtain a loan for the club so that it can build a new maintenance building. The votes _ one to approve the site plan, the other approving the funding _ were unanimous.

The 8,400-square-foot building will replace a ragtag structure dating back to the first days of the course. Bank of America has approved a $900,000 line of credit, Finance Director Lee Hufstuttler said Friday.

"To me the golf course and the river are the two greatest assets the city has," said Affronti, who didn't vote _ city rules only let mayors vote in case of ties _ but supports the agreement. "And the golf course contributes a strong amount of image to the city. My best friends I met through the club. And that's true of a lot of people in the city."

Officials defended their decision to front taxpayer dollars, saying the city can get a better loan _ at about 5 percent _ than the club could have.

The council also helped defuse a controversy over the appearance of the new building, initially proposed as a bare metal structure. The deal requires the club to do extensive landscaping and install a more attractive facade.

But council member Glenda Venable, the only one who does not belong to the club, questioned the prevailing attitude behind the agreement.

"To some extent the members have a conflict of interest," she said. "I think the country club got a wonderful, wonderful deal. I think they're very lucky to have the luxury of our borrowing power."

Telling the club to seek its own loan was an option, she said. That never seemed likely, though.

The club voted months ago not to spend more than $800,000 on the project, general manager Marie Fivecoat said. Then club representatives told the city they needed quick approval for financial assistance to avoid a jump in construction costs. Failure to reach a deal could scuttle the project, they said.

It wasn't an easy sell at first. Hufstuttler told members he was concerned about the prospect of guaranteeing more loans for the club. In 1998 and 1999, the City Council voted to back $2.4-million worth of loans for a new clubhouse and swimming pool. The club still owes $2.2-million.

Council members raised more questions about the proposed building's appearance. The idea of a cold-looking metal structure set amid some of Temple Terrace's finest oak trees offended many neighbors. Aware of the opposition, city leaders said the club would have to agree to improve the facade before they would sign a deal.

In the end, the council agreed to front that money as well _ about $75,000. The club will reimburse the city for the new facade, perhaps stucco or block, and the building loan by paying a slightly higher interest rate, Hufstuttler said.

"Everybody seems to be happy," council member Ken Holloway said. "The neighbors are happy, the club is happy. I didn't want a terrible looking building there. We already have a terrible looking building."

Nothing about the deal was unusual, Holloway said.

"Whether or not we voted one way or another had nothing to do with being a club member," he said. "We're not a part of the (club's) governing body. The thing that makes it unique is, the community has a very close relationship with the club."

Josh Zimmer covers Temple Terrace and the University of South Florida area. He can be reached at 269-5314 or