Apopka Community Meeting for Rock Springs Ridge

By Reggie Connell, Managing Editor

The City of Apopka is hosting a community meeting to discuss a potential offer from Mr. Bob Dello Russo regarding the Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course.

Meeting Details: 

  • Date: Tuesday, April 27, 2021
  • Time: 6 PM
  • Location: Apopka Amphitheater (3710 Jason Dwelley Parkway, Apopka, FL) 

All are welcome to attend.

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It seems like a typical notice posted on the City of Apopka website about a neighborhood meeting; but spend a little time with the residents of Rock Springs Ridge, learn about the history of this golf course and its owner, or attend any meeting related to the RSR community, and it will be clear the potential volatility this little get-together will probably create.

The purpose is to get feedback from the RSR residents and Homeowners Association on a proposal that Robert Dello Russo, the owner of the Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course, made to the City of Apopka.

Dello Russo wants to trade the golf course to the City in exchange for two city-owned parcels appraised at $2.485 million.

The city would then lease back the golf course to the RSR Homeowners Association for $6,000/month until it can secure a loan or bond through a Recreational District. While the property is being leased to the HOA, the homeowners can elect to create a Recreational District to bond the purchase of the course from the city. 

It sounds like a reasonable proposal on the surface, but there are questions to be answered and a community of opinions to be heard.

Who is Robert Dello Russo?

By now you’ve probably heard the name. Robert Dello Russo is a businessman, golf course owner, and resident of Longwood.

In 1983, he founded Del-Air Heating and Air Conditioning, which grew into the largest residential heating and air conditioning company in Florida with locations in Sanford, Kissimmee, Clermont, Melbourne, Tampa, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, and Bradenton.

Beginning in 2002, Dello Russo and his partners went on a buying spree of struggling Central Florida golf courses. His purchases included The Country Club of Deer Run in Casselberry, Twin Rivers Golf Course, Casselberry Golf Club, The Country Club of Mount Dora, Wekiva Golf Club, and Rock Springs Ridge Golf Club in 2005.

Rock Springs Ridge closed in 2014.

Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course owner Robert Dello Russo

In 2015, the city of Orlando purchased both Casselberry GC from Dello Russo for $2.2 million and Twin Rivers for $5 million in 2016.

It should also be noted that Dello Russo, along with business partner Chad Barton, also founded The American Group, which contains American Door & Millwork, American Window, and American Installation. According to multiple reports and published articles, The American Group defaulted on a $21 million loan originated by Fifth Third Bank. The loan was sold to Bank of America, who sued Dello Russo for his personal guarantee of the loan, which had been verbally discharged by Fifth Third. Bank of America won in 2015. Dello Russo appealed in the Eleventh Circuit, claiming that Fifth Third misrepresented the loan to Bank of America. He also lost on appeal.

What does the City Council think?

The proposal was announced by Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson last week at the April 21st City Council meeting.

“As you all know, we have been working on some kind of resolution to the Rock Springs Ridge Golf Course,” Nelson said. “I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve had with Mr. Dello Russo, with his partner Chad [Barton], and the attorneys. They came up with an idea for a swap for the two properties on Harman Road… in exchange for the golf course. We’re basically the intermediary.”

The announcement somewhat surprised the City Commissioners.

“I’m assuming this deal is for this land because there is an intrinsic upside value [of the City-owned land],” said Commissioner Kyle Becker. “This isn’t an offer to the RSR residents for that same price. Does that make sense? Because if you took the City out of the equation… because we have no vested interest in this property… if we removed ourselves from a City perspective and Mr. Dello Russo had a conversation with the Rock Springs Ridge Homeowners Association, would it be the same offer amount?”

“It’s crazy to me,” said Nelson. “I’d just take the cash, but he wants property. I wouldn’t make the land swap based on less or more… that’s what [they’re] appraised at.” 

“I know we [the City] have to stick to the appraised value, but there’s going to be upside. Especially if there is a higher density product… whatever the case might be on that particular property.”

Commissioner Alexander H. Smith was also skeptical of the proposal.

“My concern is if Mr. Dello Russo doesn’t have any developing rights, why are we giving him developable land? Smith asked. “It doesn’t seem like apples-to-apples to me.”

“I’d love to just close this thing out,” Nelson said. “If the homeowners are willing to pony up $2.4 million bucks, I’m willing to be the intermediary. But it’s for them to sell, not me.”

Commissioner Doug Bankson was grateful to see the RSR residents finally receiving an opportunity to close the book on a frustrating subject.

“I appreciate the work put in, and it’s nice to have an option,” Bankson said. “I’ll be interested to see what’s the will of the people. It’s their community.”

Don’t expect a harmonious and soothing evening at the Apopka Amphitheater Tuesday night.
Photo by Mel Hall

Commissioner Diane Velazquez, who is an RSR resident, also questioned why Dello Russo would want a land swap instead of cash.

 “Well, it is my community,” said Velazquez. “Let’s see what happens at the HOA meeting. If he’s willing to take these two properties that add up to $2.485 million, why wouldn’t he sell it to us at that price? Why does he need to take our property?”

“Well if you’re asking me, I would rather get rid of the property,” said Nelson. “That doesn’t take cash out of our bank account.”

“I just find it interesting that he’s suddenly willing to sell at a fair price,” said Velazquez. “And that’s what RSR was looking for – a fair price.”

The next chapter in the ongoing saga of the RSR golf course will be Tuesday evening at 6 pm. And while it will be hosted by the City of Apopka at the Amphitheater, do not expect a soothing and harmonious night. 

This will not be Saturday Sounds.

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