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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021 1 month ago

Bobby Jones plans back on the table

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The City Commission will hold a workshop as it considers altering a renovation project for the municipal golf course.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

When the City Commission endorsed a plan for renovating Bobby Jones Golf Club in February 2020 — the third design concept the board selected in as many years — officials believed they were making a final decision on a project that had been discussed for more than five years.

Now, after input from a newly elected commissioner, the future of Bobby Jones appears to once again be up for debate.

Commissioner Erik Arroyo placed an item on the board’s Jan. 4 agenda seeking to revisit plans to renovate the city-owned course. In a presentation, Arroyo was critical of the process that led to the chosen design, adding that the city’s financial outlook had changed because of COVID-19.

“We need to adapt to what’s going to be happening in terms of decreased revenues,” Arroyo said.

The city’s plans for Bobby Jones would reduce the footprint of the course from 45 to 27 holes — 18 regulation and a par-3 course of nine holes. The project would include 130 acres of newly created nongolf parkland on the east side of the 293-acre site. The city estimated the cost of the golf improvements and the first phase of the park project at $21.4 million.

Arroyo argued that the city had not sufficiently considered alternatives after selecting golf architect Richard Mandell to make recommendations on renovations and produce detailed designs for the project. Arroyo noted city management had not brought proposals from private operators to lease and manage the course to the commission’s attention. He suggested the city should consider a public-private partnership and reengage with potential stakeholders who could contribute to the renovation effort.

“[This] can cost zero in taxes if we engage a professional golf facility management company that’s willing to invest, and we give them a lease,” Arroyo said.

Commissioners Jen Ahearn-Koch and Liz Alpert noted the city had spent a lengthy amount of time since 2014 researching options for Bobby Jones before settling on the selected project. Ahearn-Koch said she was opposed to the prospect of leasing the land to a private operator.

“We’ve explored that topic in the past and have voted and decided against it,” Ahearn-Koch said.

Both Ahearn-Koch and Alpert questioned whether it was too late to alter the plans for the golf course. The city agreed to pay Mandell just more than $1 million for his design work, with $100,000 still remaining for construction administration. The city is preparing to seek bids to select a contractor for the project, interim City Manager Marlon Brown said.

Commissioners Hagen Brody and Kyle Scott Battie said they were interested in getting more information from staff on the state of the project, but they stopped short of endorsing Arroyo’s call to terminate the contract with Mandell. The commission voted 4-1 to hold a workshop on the Bobby Jones renovations at a date to be determined, with Ahearn-Koch casting the dissenting vote.

That workshop will guide whether the commission ultimately pursues any changes to its plans for the city-owned golf course.

“I think we really need to focus on this issue as a commission and see if a public hearing is actually necessary,” Brody said.

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