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Belleair man's $4 million gift to his town helped buy a golf course

BELLEAIR — There is no building dedication, no commemorative sign, no trace of the stranger with hidden wealth and inexplicable generosity.

After John J. Osborne, 79, died in November and left his $4 million estate to Belleair, matching the small town's operating budget, officials pondered: What now?

Osborne wasn't well known around town. He lived alone in an unassuming stucco house on a dead-end lane. There was no funeral service. Neighbors believe Osborne died of cancer.

No family members called Town Hall to protest, or simply discuss, Osborne's will naming Belleair the sole beneficiary of his home at 200 Ricker Road, his furniture, a car and nearly $4 million in stocks.

City officials deposited Osborne's gift into its fund for capital projects. Much of it was spent in February to help the town purchase the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club for $3.5 million.

"The commission wants to identify a way to properly honor (Osborne)," said Belleair Town Manager Micah Maxwell. "They've considered naming a public works building after him, for example."

Dedicating the golf course to Osborne wouldn't work, Maxwell said, because the town plans to sell the land.

"We don't want to name the course and relinquish it to someone else who has the right to change the name," Maxwell said.

No potential buyers have yet been identified. Town commissioners, Maxwell said, will make sure the 130 acres of rolling green won't become, for example, condos.

The landmark golf course at 1501 Indian Rocks Road, designed in 1925, is as essential to the town's infrastructure as it is lushly attractive, residents say. The golf course, which makes up almost 12 percent of Belleair's footprint, is a recharge area for groundwater. Drinking water comes from nearby wells.

Would Osborne, a former investor, appreciate the purchase?

Nobody knows, Maxwell said.

"People he used to do business with have called and asked about our plans for the money," he said, "but we still don't know very much about him at all."

Osborne, a veteran of the Korean War, died under hospice care and was cremated. His death certificate noted he was divorced. His obituary listed only a sister, Jeanne Artzt, in East Setauket, N.Y.

He frequented Belleair's building department, town officials said, to research properties that he wanted to buy.

Posthumously, it appears Osborne helped the town make a good investment. The Belleview Biltmore Golf Club had a profit of about $290,000 in the first three months under city ownership.

"It's doing very well," Maxwell said. "We thought of (Osborne) throughout the buying process."

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Belleair man's $4 million gift to his town helped buy a golf course 06/11/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 3:33pm]
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