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Fundraising launches to close $2M gap, buy Douglas-Hackworth property

Margie Manning

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Part of the 44-acre Gladys Douglas-Hackworth property and adjoining Jerry Lake (Photo credit: Facebook)

The Sierra Club and the Pinellas Community Foundation are launching a public appeal to raise about $2 million to close a funding gap and purchase the Gladys Douglas-Hackworth Preserve in Dunedin for $10 million.

The organizations are working with Pinellas County and the city of Dunedin to buy the 44 acres of undeveloped land at the intersection of Keene Road and Virginia Avenue and preserve it so it cannot be developed.

“This is a true community effort, both public and private,  to acquire the property, all 44 acres,” Jennifer Bramley, Dunedin city manager, said during an online press conference Wednesday morning.

The property is part of the estate of the late Gladys Douglas-Hackworth. Although she reportedly wanted to see it preserved, it was under contract to Pulte Homes for $14.5 million, according to Nichole Mattheus, an ecologist who heads a Facebook group organized to preserve the property. Pulte dropped out of the deal in October amid reduced density restrictions and public pressure for conservation, Mattheus wrote in a column in the Tampa Bay Times.

Since then, Pinellas County and Dunedin officials have been negotiating to purchase the land, which recently was appraised for $5.5 million. There’s enough public funding to cover the appraised value, said Barry Burton, Pinellas County administrator.

The city of Dunedin has committed $2 million. The county committed $3.5 million subject to approval by the county commission and with an expected $1.5 million reimbursement by the Florida Communities Trust. There’s also a $2 million donation from a donor whom Bramley identified only as Rebecca. UPDATE: Rebecca Sjouwerman and her husband, Stu Sjouwerman, founder and CEO of Clearwater cybersecurity training company KnowBe4, confirm that they are the $2 million donors.

But the Douglas-Hackworth estate said on Tuesday that it would not sell the property for less than $10 million, Bramley said. The estate has set a soft deadline of the end of January for raising the money, she said.

“We’ve worked closely with the Sierra Club, closely with the Facebook group Preserve the Douglas Hackworth Property, and very closely with Pinellas Community Foundation to acquire this property. They feel confident that a funding campaign would be successful to bridge this gap, and that preservation of these 44 acres of open space is worthy of these efforts, and wanted to have a shot at that,” Bramley said.

There’s been an outpouring of community support to preserve the property and the critical ecosystems and endangered species on it, said Kira Barrera, conservation chair for Sierra Club Florida chapter. About $53,000 in private donations has been raised so far, in addition to the $2 million donation, she said.

It’s a regional effort. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard have signed letters for support for grant funding as well, Bramley said.

“This property has been almost like an indicator species for the will of our community to preserve green space here in Pinellas County. Fourteen thousand people have signed a petition calling for its preservation and when we launched the capital campaign in early November, since then we’ve had over 200 people donate, amounts from $5 up to Rebecca’s generous donation which have pushed us this close to being successful,” Barrera said.

Donations are being accepted on the Pinellas Community Foundation’s website at https://pinellascf.org/ Donors also can text SaveTheGDP to 71441.

If the campaign does not meet its funding goal, donations will be used for future land preservation projects in Pinellas County, said David Bender, director of grants and projects for the Pinellas Community Foundation.

Public access to the property could still be several months off, even with a successful purchase, said Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski. An environmental survey will need to be conducted and potential safety issues such as downed trees will need to be addressed first, she said.

The Douglas-Hackworth property is part of a broader ongoing discussion about environmental land opportunities in Pinellas County, said Dave Eggers, incoming chairman of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners.

“Because Pinellas is a land-locked county, land is at a premium. There will be many opportunities that we need to find for competing interests such as affordable housing … and having more jobs through industrial land protections so we can raise the bar for wages,” Eggers said. “The whole conversation is an important one to have.”

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6 Comments
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6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dennis Doodan

    December 30, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    This is a joke. The 92 acre Gulf Tides Course which abuts Boca Ciega bay was sold to a developer for $2.6 million and will be lost to open space. This lady should have donated it to the county if she cared that much about it being developed.

  2. Avatar

    Kira Barrera

    December 30, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    The correct number to text SaveTheGDP is: 71441

    • Margie Manning

      Margie Manning

      December 30, 2020 at 4:35 pm

      Thank you. The story has been updated.

  3. Avatar

    Rob

    December 30, 2020 at 5:24 pm

    I’m very confused….if the property owner wanted this land protected, why is the estate asking $4.5M more than the appraised value. Why not just take the money and keep the property protected???

  4. Avatar

    Dave

    December 30, 2020 at 9:48 pm

    Am I the only one befuddled and appalled that the estate is holding firm on an asking price almost double the appraised value? Especially in light of the incredible effort by Pinellas, Dunedin and the community to raise the funds for the purchase? Does this not smack directly in the face of Gladys’ wishes?

  5. Avatar

    Jean Charles

    January 7, 2021 at 10:05 pm

    Taylor the course. Those of us who started this know how things have proceeded. This property is incredible.

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