Dunedin officials on Tuesday signed the closing paperwork on the city’s $10 million purchase of nearly 44 acres of woods formerly owned by the late philanthropist Gladys Douglas, a milestone in their mission to preserve the environmentally sensitive land.
City Manager Jennifer Bramley expects the purchase to be final by end of business on Thursday, just in time for a celebration to honor the community for helping to save the property from development.
Dunedin and Pinellas County officials plan to join activists at the Keene Road and Virginia Avenue corner of the property at 5 p.m. on Thursday, where they will wave signs thanking the public for raising $4.5 million towards the purchase of the acreage.
“It’s been a long slog and it’s been very intricate,” Bramley said. “It was very complicated because we had to negotiate with the county, we had to negotiate with the estate. There have been so many moving parts to get to this point, it’s just such a relief.”
The city intends to connect the land, which will be called the Gladys E. Douglas Preserve, to an adjoining 55-acre lake, currently owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, to create a nearly 100-acre public park.
Bramley said after the closing, the city will finalize the budget for improvements on the property and create a master plan for the site. She said she expects a full opening of the park in 2023 but that portions of the property could be opened before then.
Thursday’s sign waving event to celebrate the purchase will be a full-circle moment, since that corner is where activists first rallied last summer to convince local government to pursue buying the land to preserve it as a park.
Residents began organizing in August, after the Tampa Bay Times reported that Pulte Homes was under contract to buy the Douglas property for $14.5 million.
Before Douglas died in July 2019 at 95, she had tried to arrange a sale of her land to city and county officials for preservation, so the proceeds could be donated to her favorite charities.
Dunedin obtained an $11 million appraisal in 2018 and Pinellas County conducted another appraisal on a smaller portion of the property in April 2020 that came to $5.2 million, but officials never made an offer.
With no response from local government, estate attorney Nathan Hightower said he had an obligation to sell the property to a willing buyer and disburse the proceeds to Douglas’ beneficiaries.
But Pulte Homes walked away from its contract in October after it had “become clear that a mutually beneficial agreement (did) not appear possible at this time in the timeframe mandated by the seller,” according to a Pulte spokesperson.
That week, Dunedin dedicated $2 million towards buying the land. Pinellas County later pledged $3.5 million. In November, local officials and a citizen-group led by Dunedin resident and ecologist Nichole Mattheus partnered with the Pinellas Community Foundation to be the repository for private donations.
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The community raised $4.5 million by February, including two $2 million donations and an additional $500,000 from about 1,000 donors.
“To be able to do that in such a densely populated county like Pinellas is phenomenal,” Mattheus said. “We’re looking now to the future in how to do this again.”