By Timothy Fanning
Staff Writer Posted Nov 18, 2019
City commissioners and citizens are concerned about continuing to draw from the city’s deficit to sustain an institution that continues to operate in the red.
SARASOTA — As Sarasota continues to subsidize the cash-strapped Bobby Jones Golf Club, it looks to the community for input on what to do with sections of the municipal course now earmarked for public park space.
City commissioners on Monday approved a resolution that pumps a $230,000 subsidy from the city’s reserves so that the historic course could start the new fiscal year without being in the hole. That’s in addition to $650,000 given to the golf course to cover last year’s losses at the beleaguered golf course.
That decision, however, was met with skepticism by commissioners and citizens, who expressed concerns over continuing to draw from the city’s deficit to sustain an institution that continues to operate in the red.
“My problem is that deficit spending on the golf course is obscene,” said Commissioner Hagen Brody. “That money is coming out of our savings, which is dwindling rapidly. To continue these massive subsidizes just puts the city in the realm of lights and sirens.”
The golf complex that once made the city money hasn’t for the last decade and isn’t projected to anytime soon. The cost to run the facility for the next year will cost an estimated $2.9 million — $880,000 of which will come from the city’s coffers, according to Kelly Strickland, the city’s finance director.
Martin Hyde, a city commission candidate and regular at the meetings, chastised city commissioners, saying the money would be better suited elsewhere.
Hyde pointed to a recent United Way ALICE analysis that showed that 37% of Sarasota County struggle to afford basic necessities.
“Golf is not and never will be a civic necessity,” said Hyde, who brought a clear briefcase full of what he said were $100 bills. “This is what $230,000 in $100 bills looks like lest you forget what you’re signing off on here.”
The motion passed 3-2 with Brody and Vice-Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie opposing.
“I am really concerned,” said Freeland Eddie. “I can’t support it.”
After debating the scope and cost of modernizing the golf course, the city commission settled on a decision in September to slim down the size of the 45-hole course to 36-holes — a price tag of roughly $15 million.
Slimming down by nine holes would allow two carve-outs for park land. One would be a 25-acre green space west of Circus Boulevard where the Gillespie executive course is now; the other would be a 22.4-acre triangle of land east of the golf course. Walking and biking trails would connect both parks to Fruitville Road and 17th Street, and also to the Bobby Jones clubhouse.
The commission also voted to work with the Conservation Foundation of Gulf Coast to explore fundraising opportunities associated with parks, trails and environmental stewardship. Commissioners have yet to decide how much of that land will be preserved.
In the meantime, city officials are holding a community workshop at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the clubhouse at 1000 Circus Boulevard to gather feedback. City officials have also launched a 17-question online survey aimed at garnering community input on the park’s master plan. For the survey, visit sarasotafl.gov.
"Standing Up For The Disadvantaged While Not Handing Out Subsidies To Golfers"
The businessman and former candidate is the third challenger running for the District 2 seat currently occupied by Mayor Liz Alpert.
by: David Conway - Deputy Managing Editor
Martin Hyde has been a regular presence at City Commission meetings for years, but he’s hoping to move to the other side of the dais.
Hyde filed paperwork with the city Oct. 18 to run as a candidate in the 2020 election for the District 2 seat on the City Commission. Hyde is president of the office supply company Gulf Business Systems.
Hyde previously ran for an at-large seat on the commission in 2017, advancing to the second election but ultimately finishing third. Following that race, Hyde has continued to speak frequently during public comment periods at commission meetings, typically to offer criticism of city policies.
Hyde said his involvement in city government demonstrates a familiarity with the issues the commission will be facing. Although he said he enjoys the ability to participate in local affairs as a citizen, he wants to take an active role in shaping policy.
“I would like the opportunity to establish whether my theories and propositions are, in fact, workable,” Hyde said.
Hyde said his campaign would emphasize many of the same core principles he has previously espoused, including a push for lower taxes, more police staffing and the elimination of what he sees as government waste. But he thinks the 2020 election will be a different challenge than his 2017 race, primarily because of a voter-backed schedule change that will align city elections with state and national race.
Hyde is the third individual to file for the District 2 race, joining former City Commissioner Terry Turner and Lido Key resident Jerry Wells. Mayor Liz Alpert currently holds the District 2 seat.
Hyde expressed some uncertainty about how the race would play out, but he was optimistic about his chances as he tries for the second time to win a seat on the City Commission.
“I’ve got a long time sitting on the bench,” Hyde said. “I’ve had three years. We’ll see whether I get the nod and get some playing time.”