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Sarasota Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 5 months ago

Advisory panel supports Bobby Jones redevelopment plans

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City commissioners plan special meeting Monday to consider components of plan to build new golf course, set aside land for nature park.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

The city’s parks advisory board on Thursday signaled its support for a package of proposals to be heard by the City Commission next week that, if approved, would lead to redevelopment of the Bobby Jones Golf Course property.

City commissioners have scheduled a Monday morning special meeting to consider seven elements of the plan to not only rebuild the site into a renovated golf course but also develop the remainder of the property into a nature park, preserved in perpetuity.

Central to the proposal is a conservation easement agreement between the city and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast for the 261-acre property between Fruitville Road and 17th Street.

The city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protection Board voted unanimously to support six of the seven elements but split 5-2 on supporting the easement proposal.

Board members Ted Wilson and Jerry Wells both expressed reservations over ceding the land as a conservation easement, instead suggesting setting aside the acreage by other means, such as a charter amendment.

“Forever is a long, long time," Wells said.

Board member Leo Fitzgerald said the risk was too great without future assurances the land would be preserved and not developed.

“This is where it ends for the developer," he said. “I  disagree with the statement that we should get something for the land. If we look like fools for giving it away, that’s something we have to deal with."

If approved, the conservation easement would commit the city to maintain the site as public open space in perpetuity, foreclosing the possibility of developing the land as anything other than golf, recreation or natural lands. The city would remain owners of the land, though.

The pathways and fairways reopened as a nature park in the summer of 2020.

The city intends to downsize the golf course from 45 to 27 holes, using 130 acres of the site to create new public park facilities. The city’s favored plan would leave an 18-hole regulation course and a nine-hole short course along with practice facilities.

The course has been closed to golfers for nearly two years, initially shutting down in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. The property reopened in summer 2020 as a nature attraction, with the course's fairways and paths available for cycling, walking and running. 

In May 2021, the clubhouse and other structures at Bobby Jones were demolished. 

To make clear their support for each element, the advisory committee discussed each of the City Commission’s agenda points individually and heard from members of the public. Aside from the conservation easement component, each of the other six elements were approved 7-0.

Kathy Kelly Ohlrich, who also serves on the city’s planning board but made clear she was speaking as a private citizen, said she was most concerned about a "land grab" and that the possibility of development on the property was a serious concern. 

“This is the greatest good for the greatest number of people," she said of the plan.

On Monday morning, commissioners have plans to consider:

  • A contract for $12.5 million between the city and QGS Development of Plant City to built 18 holes of regulation golf at the site and nine short holes across Circus Boulevard.
  • A contract for $544,211 to design a new 12,000 clubhouse that would include cart storage, a 50-seat dining area, an eight-seat bar, offices, a pro shop, locker rooms and bathrooms, and 750 square feet of outdoor dining. The contract with Jon F. Swift Inc. also includes design of a driving range development center building, starter shack, building for the nine-hole course and on course bathrooms.
  • Continued negotiations with Indigo Golf Partners to manage the course.
  • A capital improvement bond not to exceed $20 million to finance the project.
  • A request from Sarasota County for 12.07 acres adjacent to the 17th Street park for a “destination playground” and other park amenities as part of the county’s plan to redevelop that park into a regional facility.
  • The proposal for the conservation easement.
  • A fundraising partnership term sheet between the city and the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.

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