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Pinellas must make strong bid for 44-acre Gladys Douglas property | Editorial
This is a rare opportunity for a massive public park.
An aerial map showing the 44-acre Gladys Douglas property with the 55-acre Jerry Lake to the northeast.
An aerial map showing the 44-acre Gladys Douglas property with the 55-acre Jerry Lake to the northeast. [ City of Dunedin ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 22, 2020

The 44 wooded acres near Dunedin would be a rare chance to create a substantial new park in a mostly built-out county. So people were incensed when a developer got control of the privately owned tract. But now the property is back on the market, and local government officials have first crack at making an offer. Without breaking the bank, now is the time to get creative and come up with a competitive bid. This gem should not get away without a fight.

The story begins with Gladys Douglas' dream. A local philanthropist who died last year at the age of 95, Douglas wanted to create a large public park by linking the 44 acres she owned to an adjacent 55-acre lake she had sold to the state many years earlier. The property offered unusual ecosystems, including 16 acres of sand pine rosemary scrub soil, 99 percent of which has been destroyed by development in Pinellas County. She and her estate were in talks with Pinellas and Dunedin officials, but the $11 million price tag was too high.

Instead, Pulte Homes, the third largest homebuilder in America, signed a contract to purchase the land for $14.5 million, higher than the appraised price. Many thought the conservation opportunity was gone, but that changed this week when Pulte pulled out of the deal at the end of the inspection period. A statement from Pulte wasn’t clear on why the company backed out. "It has become clear that a mutually beneficial agreement does not appear possible at this time in the timeframe mandated by the seller,” the statement said. Pulte had already run into trouble when it received a warning from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after a contractor took a bulldozer through gopher tortoise tunnels on the property.

Now the city of Dunedin and Pinellas County have until January to make an offer. The Dunedin City Commission voted this week to earmark $2 million toward the park. That’s a good start, but it will take millions more. Just how much more is unclear. Dunedin City Manager Jennifer Bramley, said she thought an offer would fall closer to $8 million based on an appraisal of what the property is worth as a conservation investment.

But the attorney representing Gladys Douglas' estate has indicated that he’s seeking the best offer and likely won’t accept a lesser amount regardless of who makes the bid or what they plan to do with the property. At this point, Dunedin and the county should take that as a challenge, not an impossible hurdle. Gather some nimble minds together and come up with a solid offer.

This is a rare chance to preserve wildland in a county that has few similar conservation opportunities. In fact, Douglas' property ranked No. 1 on the county’s list of 60 potential purchases. The city and county should get resourceful about funding and keep the lines of communication open. They cannot let this renewed opportunity go to waste.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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