The city of Dunedin now owns the 44-acre Gladys E. Douglas Preserve.
The city closed on the $10 million purchase and celebrated with a ceremonial deed signing and toast on the property Thursday afternoon.
The city intends to connect the land to an adjoining 55-acre lake, currently owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, to create a nearly 100-acre public park.
The property, at the intersection of Keene Road and Virginia Avenue, is the largest single open space in Pinellas County, according to the city’s website. It was part of the estate of the late Gladys Douglas-Hackworth. Although she reportedly wanted to see it preserved, it was under contract to a developer last year. The developer dropped out of the deal in October amid density restrictions and public pressure for conservation.
The city of Dunedin and Pinellas County committed a total of $5.5 million to the purchase. A public fundraising initiative, coordinated by the Pinellas Community Foundation, was launched to come up with the remaining $4.5 million needed. Rebecca Weiss Sjouwerman and her husband, tech entrepreneur Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of Clearwater-based KnowBe4 (Nasdaq: KNBE), made a $2 million donation, and there was an additional $2 million gift from an anonymous donor, according to Duggan Cooley, CEO of the foundation.
Pulling off the public-private partnership was not easy, said Dave Eggers, chair of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.
“What makes this so unique is that Pinellas county and the state of Florida are very attractive around the country. People are coming here in record numbers and they are going to continue coming here. We still have to find places for people to live. So all the housing and jobs and land that’s needed for all of that compete with all of this. And we have to have it all. I’m not sure how we are going to do that. We are going to continue looking for opportunities like this to make it happen,” Eggers said, during a celebration Thursday on the site.
Commissioner Karen Seel called the property a “beautiful, magical place” and said it really did take everyone in the community coming together to make the deal happen.
“I have never in my 25 years of being in elected office seen the synergy of bringing private dollars along with public money and just making this all come together,” Seel said. “If I could sing, I would sing ‘This land is your land.’ Welcome to your land.”