SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - It’s been a controversial discussion for years - the fate of Bobby Jones Golf Club.
In early June, City Commissioners took another step forward on a near $17 million proposal to renovate all 45 holes at the historic course. But now the City Manager has officially announced he’s also looking into a new partnership with a conservation foundation.
“It is a huge area for storm water retention. It cleanses water that filters through there, all the way from the UTC mall to the bay," explained Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin. "The trees do a tremendous job cleaning the air and there’s a lot of wildlife habitat out there.”
It’s 300 acres worth preserving indefinitely, if you ask Sarasota’s City Manager. Making it a conservation easement would preserve the land, allowing the course to remain as is, with possible new, light recreational additions - like parks and trails - and it would prohibit any development on the land forever.
“So we become that entity that preserves perpetuity," said Christine Johnson, president of the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.
The president of the nationally accredited organization that has protected more than 11,000 acres of critical lands said this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Bobby Jones.
“It is in jeopardy of future City Commissions deciding that they want to sell it off to balance the budget in some recession time," said Johnson.
With the Conservation Foundation’s partnership, Barwin said he hopes to set up an endowment with money raised by philanthropists and grants. Then they’ll use the interest to maintain the course over time.
“By doing an agreement like this and by having resources put into the property, dedicated to the property, this would assure the community that this would remain an environmental park asset forever," Barwin said.
He plans to discuss this publicly with the City Commission on July 9th. This meeting, open to the public, was already planned to discuss the near $17 million in renovations in planning for Bobby Jones Golf Club, renovations that Commissioner Hagen Brody has been vocal about wanting to scale down.
Brody says while he supports the idea of maintaining the green space, he also adds that the extensive plans to renovate the course are simply delaying the inevitable.
In a statement, he said:
“If this community thinks that future commissions and city taxpayers will continue to carry a debt-ridden Bobby Jones at greater and greater amounts, at the expense of necessary city services, I’m afraid they are going to find they’re mistaken. The window to put Bobby Jones on a sustainable path is rapidly closing.”