The City of Dunedin and Pinellas County will present an agreement next week to the estate of the late Gladys Douglas to buy her 44 acres on Keene Road and save it from development.
City and county officials announced their plan at a virtual press conference on Friday, the day after receiving an anonymous $2 million donation that brought local government to the brink of their fundraising goal days before the deadline.
Estate attorney Nathan Hightower last month gave the city and county until Jan. 31 to meet the $10 million asking price.
City manager Jennifer Bramley said this week’s $2 million gift brought the total funds raised to about $9.7 million. But she’s confident the community will help raise the remaining $275,000 needed by next week’s meeting with Hightower.
“You’ve already brought us this far,” Bramley said.
This week’s anonymous gift is the second $2 million private donation officials received for the effort. In November, Clearwater-based cybersecurity firm KnowBe4 founder Stu Sjouwerman, and his wife Rebecca, pledged $2 million towards the purchase.
The remaining funds include $3.5 million from Pinellas County, $2 million from Dunedin and about $202,000 in private donations.
Pinellas County Commission Chair Dave Eggers on Friday noted how local government’s share covers the $5.5 million appraisal price of the land based on current zoning, while community support helped fill the gap.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of that effort,” Eggers said.
A robust, grassroots contingent rallied around the property in August after the Tampa Bay Times reported the environmentally sensitive acreage was under contract with a developer.
The property has some of the last sand pine rosemary scrub and the only remaining rosemary bald in Pinellas. It is also a habitat for state-threatened gopher tortoises.
After Pulte Homes walked away from its contract in October, the Dunedin City Commission announced its hope to buy the property and combine it with an adjacent 55-acre freshwater lake owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, creating a 100-acre preserve.
Groups like the Sierra Club, Florida Native Plant Society and residents and activists helped raise money through online fundraising, word of mouth, and sign waving events. They also tapped a network of philanthropy through the Pinellas Community Foundation, the charity acting as a repository for the effort.
Years before her death in 2019, Douglas had discussions about city and county officials buying her land to preserve as a park. But local government never made an offer.
While her desire was well known, a conservation requirement was not written into her will or trust before she died.
Hightower said the written directive was to distribute the proceeds of the sale of the land to her beneficiaries.
Bramley said the city must now begin work for developing a five-year plan for maintaining the 100-acre park, which will be used as passive recreation.
Duggan Cooley, CEO of Pinellas Community Foundation, said additional donations beyond the $10 million purchase price could help maintain the park and assist with future land preservation efforts.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said the work displayed over the past few months could be a model for future land preservation efforts to help with projects that stretched government budgets can’t fund.
But first, officials still must raise $275,000 more to save the Douglas property.
“We’re right there, so if I have to beg, please get your checkbooks out,” Bujalski said.