DUNEDIN — County, city and community leaders announced Dec. 30 that they are closing in on acquiring the Douglas-Hackworth property, but they need the public to put up another $2.5 million in order to make it happen.
Using a combination of taxpayer money and public funds, the city of Dunedin and Pinellas County have offered to purchase the 44-acre property at the corner of Virginia Avenue and Keene Road for $8 million.
On Dec. 29, Nathan Hightower, the trustee for the estate of Gladys Douglas, rejected that offer and said the estate would not sell the property for less than $10 million, City Manager Jennifer Bramley said during a virtual news conference.
Bramley said the county and city are excited about the future and will now take a support role in order to help the Pinellas Community Foundation and Suncoast Sierra Club ramp up fundraising efforts for the land that was appraised in early December with its current zoning at roughly $5.5 million.
It had been appraised at $11.7 million with the anticipation it could be commercially developed. The contract with a housing developer fell through and the estate gave the city and county until Jan. 18 to make an offer.
“They (the Foundation and Sierra Club) feel confident that a funding campaign would be successful to bridge this gap and that preservation of these 44 acres of open space is worthy of that effort and wanted to have a shot at that,” Bramley said. “The estate has given us until the end of January as a soft deadline, but is willing to work with us as long as we’re showing progress moving forward.”
As of now, the county has committed $3.5 million, which is subject to approval by the County Commission, and the city of Dunedin has put up $2 million in Penny for Pinellas sales tax funds, which combined would cover the cost of the appraisal.
An anonymous couple also donated $2 million in November. The Tampa Bay Times is reporting those donors to be Rebecca and Stu Sjouwerman, owners of KnowBe4, a Clearwater IT security firm.
The county and city also have submitted a joint application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a Florida Communities Trust state grant for $2.4 million. If successful, the county wants to be reimbursed $1.5 million.
Bramley told Tampa Bay Newspapers that they hope to use the remaining $900,000 of the FCT grant to construct features such as a boardwalk, observation tower and kayak launch.
The fate of that grant, however, won’t be known for several months, she said.
Not over yet
Kira Barrera, conservation committee vice chair for the Sierra Club, said 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for the preservation of the property and more than 200 have donated a total of about $53,000 since the campaign was launched in early November.
“We’re not done,” said County Commissioner Dave Eggers, a former Dunedin mayor. “We’ve got to get over the line here and there’s a lot of work to do and I’m confident we’ll get there.”
David Bender, director of grants and projects for the Community Foundation, said the nonprofit will be ramping up its fundraising efforts and those who wish to donate can visit https://pinellascf.org.
Bramley added the city will be increasing its efforts and engaging civic organizations to join the cause.
“The estate has been generous with times,” she said. “So we have some time to get this done. Obviously, 30 days is the big push. But there are other organizations that are just waiting for essentially this information to really start their push.”
Eggers and County Administrator Barry Burton emphasized the challenge of balancing funding limitations with the high demand to save green space.
“The dilemma we have is that we have limited resources, we have a community that says be good stewards of taxpayer money, and so we’re trying to balance that,” Burton said.
If the land is acquired, Bramley said combining the 44 acres with the neighboring Jerry Lake will result in about 100 acres of passive recreation.
She added they are working with the Southwest Florida Water Management District to acquire use of that freshwater lake.
Future efforts could also include a master plan and a conservancy group to look after the rare untouched property that is called critically endangered scrub habitat.
“I appreciate everyone’s effort, but we’re not there yet,” Burton said. “So please work with our Community Foundation and let’s make this happen.”