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Sarasota Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019 10 months ago

City asks for input on Bobby Jones park

During the next two months, the city will produce a plan for nearly 50 acres of parkland at the municipal golf course site.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

Would you prefer to see hiking and walking trails or artificial wetlands at Bobby Jones Golf Club? What about facilities for bird-watching?

As the city begins the process of designing nearly 50 acres of public park space at the 293-acre Bobby Jones facility, these are some of the questions officials are asking residents to help guide the planning effort. The city has set an aggressive timeline for producing a park plan; City Manager Tom Barwin said he hopes to present a concept to the City Commission in December or January.

Still, those leading the planning process say they’re coming in with no preconceived notion of what a final proposal might look like. On Tuesday, the city and representatives from consultant Kimley-Horn hosted a workshop at the Bobby Jones clubhouse to ask residents to share their thoughts on what they would like to see at a future park on the east Sarasota property.

Tuesday’s workshop came about after the City Commission endorsed a $15 million renovation plan for the course at Bobby Jones that would downsize the golf facilities from 45 holes to 36 holes. The proposal created 47.4 acres of open space, land the city hopes can be transformed into valuable park space in an area of the city where residents have pushed for more recreational opportunities.

Barwin expressed excitement about the prospect of not just building the park, but connecting it to other recreational amenities. He said trails along the property could be linked to an extended Legacy Trail. The City Commission has discussed integrating the park land at Bobby Jones with 17th Street Park and Circus Hammock, adjacent county-owned parks.

The city has endorsed a plan for Bobby Jones Golf Club that would create two parcels of park space on the east and west side of the property.

The city is also exploring a partnership with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast that would create a conservation easement on the property, preserving the land as public open space in perpetuity.

“It’s incredible what this can become,” Barwin said.

Tuesday’s workshop drew a mix of golfers and nongolfers. Nancy Milholland, a resident of the nearby Glen Oaks Estates neighborhood, said she was excited when she heard the city was considering preserving the land and building a park at Bobby Jones. At the workshop, she encouraged the city to work hard to engage younger families in the area to ensure the park addressed their needs.

Milholland and her family have often ventured to other portions of the city or county, such as Arlington Park or Nathan Benderson Park, to find recreational opportunities. She said having a quality park closer to home would be valuable not just for convenience but also to address issues related to climate change.

“Anything you can do to make our neighborhoods more local, walkable or livable, that’s huge,” Milholland said.

Chris Cianfaglione, a landscape architect with Kimley-Horn, said the project team intended to collect public input to produce two concept plans to present at a Nov. 15 workshop. After gathering more feedback, the team hopes to have a final proposal produced by December. Cianfaglione said the project timeline squeezes what would typically be four or five months of work into two. Still, he said the final proposal would give a good sense of what a park at Bobby Jones would ultimately look like and how it would fit in with its surroundings to ensure accessibility.

“That’s a huge part of it,” Cianfaglione said. “How and where those connections happen are making this an asset to the community.”

Cianfaglione reiterated that the planners had no set vision for the park and noted Kimley-Horn just began working with the city a week before Tuesday’s workshop. He encouraged members of the public to get involved and tell their neighbors about the opportunity to shape the future of Bobby Jones.

“We’re really, really starting with a blank slate,” Cianfaglione said.

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