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Dunedin approves search for new country club management

DUNEDIN — After nearly two years of negotiations with the Dunedin Country Club, city officials Thursday approved a search for professional firms interested in managing the financially ailing club and a nearby golf course.

City leaders hope their Request for Proposal will entice companies with sufficient capital to rejuvenate the consolidated Dunedin Isles Golf Club, composed of the country club and St. Andrews Links. Both lost a combined total of nearly $1 million between 2006 and 2008.

The request, or RFP, will be "advertised to the golfing world" starting next week, said City Manager Rob DiSpirito, noting that at least three firms have already contacted the city. The City Commission, which will review the firm offers in October, still has the option of pursuing a revised agreement with the current club board, which has consistently asked for a less expensive lease on the city-owned land.

Before the RFP was unanimously approved, commissioners pressed for continued cooperation with the club's board in spite of recent controversy. Club treasurer Jack Norton submitted a letter of resignation last week citing "serious doubt" from members over his commitment to the club's "continued independence." And earlier this month, when paying the city in full for two years of back rent, club leaders asked the city to withdraw their name from the RFP.

"For what it's worth, we care about them an enormous amount," said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski. "They're suffering, like we are."

Mayor Dave Eggers implored the club board, whom he called "good caretakers of our property," to "have confidence in who they are."

Richard Singer, a National Golf Foundation consultant contracted by the city, said Thursday that he thought the RFP approval was a successful step in turning "the risk onto somebody else" who could potentially find profits with different management.

A report he presented in 2007 suggested the city withdraw its demand for club rent in exchange for a well-run course with "a lot of public purpose." The "fiscal condition of the club has continued to deteriorate" in the 22 months since his presentation, he said.

Former mayor Bob Hackworth, a vocal opponent of leasing concessions to the club, said he was elated the RFP pursuit had begun. He added the negotiations had been an "excruciating process" with "a lot of drama."

"When the RFPs are back … you'll have the facts of what the private marketplace can do," Hackworth said. "Getting it out the door is the beginning of that drama part ending."

Drew Harwell can be reached at dharwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Dunedin approves search for new country club management 07/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 7:17pm]
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