DUNEDIN — At the end of a 725-foot dock, Caladesi Island loomed close across Clearwater Harbor, with Honeymoon Island to the north and Clearwater Beach to the south. Amid the buzz of motorboats, a sailboat blew by in the warm breeze.
A great egret hunted with sharp eyes and yellow bill.
Mayor Bob Hackworth and City Manager Robert DiSpirito were showing off the J.C. Weaver waterfront property on both sides of Bayshore Boulevard that day in July. After two years, the city's dream of buying the property seemed within reach.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," DiSpirito said.
At the commission meeting Thursday, the votes were unanimous to buy the property and one adjoining to the north, to secure a quarter-mile of waterfront for Dunedin and other county residents. Commissioners were appreciative of DiSpirito, City Attorney John Hubbard and the Trust for Public Land, who worked on the complicated deal.
A management plan for the park will soon go to the Florida Communities Trust, the state agency funding half the Weaver property purchase. And final actions required for the real estate purchases are in process, with completion likely by late October or early November.
"As far as we're concerned, we've bought it," Hackworth said.
And he's ecstatic.
"It's a great triumph for our city, especially in these economic times," he said, "that we're still working hard to preserve waterfront parkland."
Some criticized the real estate purchase, which totals about 6 1/2 acres, as too costly for Dunedin, but it will not cost the city one cent. Pinellas County will use Penny for Pinellas funds to pay half the $7-million purchase price for the Weaver property, as well as $850,000 for the adjoining property to the north. And a grant from the Florida Communities Trust, of the Florida Department of Community Affairs, will cover the other half of the Weaver property cost.
Winning the state grant was the crucial starting point for the project.
After a failed attempt to win a grant in 2006, Assistant City Manager Harry Gross enlisted the help of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving land for people.
"We work to acquire private land to put into public partnership for people to enjoy as parks and other natural places," said Becky Nielsen, a project manager with the Trust for Public Land. "The Weaver property is a perfect example."
With her expertise, the Dunedin grant application was ranked second among 118 submitted, one of 20 that the Florida Communities Trust committed to funding.
"Our role was to help get the public funding secured and to work out the real estate transaction," Nielsen said, "put all the pieces together."
She applauds Dunedin leadership for having the courage to move forward with the project even when many questions were unanswered.
"It will be interesting to see what the property looks like and how it's being used in five years," she said.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.