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The city is in the process of assuming control over operations of the Dunedin Golf Club.

DUNEDIN — The city’s preliminary transition plan to assume control over operations of the Dunedin Golf Club is in full swing, with staff planning to manage the 95-year-old asset starting in June 2023.

While city commissioners will have several opportunities to offer input and provide oversight in the takeover, including the hiring of an architect and contractor to oversee its restoration, they learned many details about staff’s proposed transition calendar during a June 7 work session.

City Manager Jennifer Bramley told commissioners the main “mission critical” emphasis of the transition has to be on improving the golf course — the drainage, irrigation, greens, tees and fairways — to reflect the standards of a Donald Ross enhancement. Ross is a legendary golf course architect who designed about 400 courses across the country, including the Dunedin Golf Club.

City financial staff reported it will take about $4 million to complete the project. Funding sources include $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, with the city providing its own in-house loan of $2 million. The city also enlisted assistance from its former Parks and Recreation Director Harry Gross to apply for a $500,000 Historic Preservation Grant.

“Our funding sources need to be dedicated to the course itself and the golf operation,” Bramley said. “After that we can fold in improvements to the clubhouse itself and what that looks like. Our priority is the golf course operation.”

She said questions have been raised on social media asking, “Why are you improving this course just for the number of people who play golf?”

She said the course is as an asset to the city and it directly relates to property values in that area.

“The current condition of the course, even though they’ve generated more rounds than they ever have, is degenerating; those folks are going to go away, (because) they have lots of choices,” the city manager explained.

She said the city has been led to “understand that the Donald Ross restoration improves the number of rounds played and it becomes a tourist attraction.”

The second phase of the restoration project can include improvements to the maintenance and clubhouse area. If even more funding becomes available, additional improvements could be made to the driving range, cart paths and bridge enhancements.

Commissioner Maureen Freaney said while the clubhouse restaurant looks old and outdated, she understands that “it’s about golf, and so I think our first priority has to be the golf. I 100% agree with that’s where we have to put our money first, because do the golf and they’ll come.”

However, Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski noted the restaurant should also be considered a valuable asset in attracting patrons. She suggested “as we price things out, to try and improve that clubhouse as well.”

She noted there is clear benefit in trying to get the clubhouse improvements completed at the same time as course restoration takes place.

“You attract a better food and beverage group and they will have a say in it,” she said. “I think there is a lot of potential there and sales growth if it’s done right.”

She said a “seven-day-a-week nice restaurant” would be a good revenue generator. “It can’t keep looking like that, it just can’t,” the mayor said. “We will not attract a food and beverage operator that will be worth what we want, if we leave it that way.”

The current transition plan includes issuing a request for proposal to contract with a golf course architect by July 2022, and another RFP in November 2022 to contract with a food and beverage operator, who can take over in June 2023.

Capital improvements will be designed by the end of 2023, with the golf course then closed for several months, from April to November 2024 for the restoration process. Meanwhile, the clubhouse dining room will be open.

Vince Gizzi, city parks and recreation director, said the current plan is for the city to assume control of all golf course operations in June 2023 and to operate the Dunedin Golf Club as an enterprise fund by October 2022 for fiscal year 2023.

The city manager advised the city will conduct a nationwide search for a division director to operate the course with an expected hiring date of October 2022. The candidate hired, who will report to the city manager, will have to have experience both restoring and operating a golf course

Gizzi noted as part of the takeover from the Dunedin Golf Club the city will likely forgive a $284,000 Paycheck Protection Program loan, and consider it a grant instead of a loan.

Bramley noted that commissioners and the public will have several opportunities to weigh in and give their opinions on plans for the city to operate the golf course at future work sessions.