Although a group of boating enthusiasts are passionate about the concept, city officials have recommended against the request for public land.
John Pether has a vision: opening a museum showcasing more than 7,000 years of maritime history on the Gulf Coast, creating a haven for a slice of culture he says has never been properly cataloged, and placing it on city-owned land at the Bobby Jones Golf Club property.
After spending years on research and fleshing out the viability of his vision, it’s that final point that brought Pether in front of the City Commission on Monday. Pether is a board member for the Gulf Coast Maritime Museum, a nonprofit that is lobbying for the city to set aside up to 2 acres at Bobby Jones as the home of what is currently a museum in concept only.
Pether and other Gulf Coast Maritime Museum officials are targeting that site for a number of reasons. After exploring options in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, the board moved onto Sarasota — not only a hub for maritime activity but a city that prides itself on its cultural amenities. The group wanted to find a site with easy access to Interstate 75 and land they could obtain quickly — by January — for a nominal lease.
City staff recommended against the idea of using land at Bobby Jones, instead suggesting City Island. The museum turned away that suggestion, not wanting to store its historic resources in a storm-vulnerable location.
Earlier this year, the City Commission voted to downsize the golf course from 45 to 27 holes, creating 130 acres of public parkland in the process. The commission also directed city staff to work with the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast on an agreement that would designate the site as public open space in perpetuity.
At least four residents of nearby east Sarasota neighborhoods reached out to city officials to express displeasure with the prospect of building a museum at Bobby Jones, suggesting it was incongruous with the established plans for the site.
“Please keep this jewel a green space for the citizens of Sarasota,” Glen Oaks Estates resident Nancy Morris wrote.
Members of the Gulf Coast Maritime Museum board cited a Sarasota boat-building icon as inspiration for the project: George Luzier, renowned for his construction of wooden boats. When Luzier announced plans to retire, Pether asked what was going to happen to the tools and design documents he’d accumulated. Luzier said they’d probably end up in the dump. After reaching out to other people in the boating community, Pether learned there was no real archive for items of cultural significance.
The board is hopeful the museum will change that — not only offering interactive displays with a wide array of boats, but also including rooms to store plans and other artifacts. Board member Pat Ball said Luzier, who died in August, was his hero. The museum presented an opportunity to honor the legacy of figures like him.
“I just have a passion for these old wooden boats,” Ball said. “And I’m unabashed that I want to preserve these heroes to some extent.”
Mayor Hagen Brody encouraged the group to reach out to individual commissioners to schedule follow-up conversations, but there are no plans to revisit the topic at a future public meeting. For now, the museum remains locked in on Bobby Jones as its ideal future home.
“Right now, there’s no second choice,” Pether said.