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Is bridge club's problem? Or Dunedin's?

This week, commissioners will discuss whether the city will help repair a bridge on the club's golf course.

By MEGAN SCOTT
Published October 2, 2005


DUNEDIN - Anybody in town can play at the Dunedin Country Club golf course.

But City Manager John Lawrence said that doesn't mean everybody should pay for its repairs.

The Dunedin Country Club has asked the commission to help cover the estimated $86,000 cost to fix a bridge at the golf course's 15th hole.

The 55-year-old bridge has been closed since June 29 when City Engineer Tom Burke ruled it unsafe.

"We tried to figure out how we were going to pay for it," said Gus Cooper, who has been involved with the country club for 25 years. "The Dunedin Country Club Foundation has come up with $15,000, which will go toward the bridge. That leaves $71,000. So how do you fund that?"

You don't ask the city, Lawrence said.

While the country club leases its golf course land from the city, the club is responsible for its upkeep, he said.

"It says in the lease they will take care of and replace any structures on the course," said Lawrence, who has recommended that the commission deny the request.

Commissioners planned to discuss extending the country club's lease through 2027 at their meeting Thursday. They will also discuss whether the city should help pay for repairing the bridge.

Cooper, who drafted the lease extension agreement, said the board was originally not going to ask for Dunedin's help, but Commissioner Bob Hackworth pushed for the board to include the request.

"We decided to put it in the letter and let the commission do what it wishes," Cooper said. "There were people who said it doesn't cost anything to ask."

Hackworth, a member of the club and its liaison with the city, said several members had asked him if the city could help.

The 15th hole is an important component of the 18-hole championship course.

Since the bridge closed, golfers have been going across the bridge at the 17th hole and going back to the 15th hole, Cooper said. Some nonclub members have been going elsewhere to play.

"We got to keep the course up," Hackworth said. "If they go under, then the city has to take over the golf course, which I think would be a much bigger threat to the taxpayers."

Last year, Hackworth said, commissioners agreed to reinvest half of the club's annual rent payment, about $96,000, into a capital improvement fund until 2008. The club was supposed to use the money to upgrade the course's irrigation system.

Member golfers also were assessed an extra $12 a month to help pay for the upgrade.

"That was in recognition that we did have an asset that was going to need some investments made to keep it viable as an asset," Hackworth said.

But City Attorney John Hubbard said that project had more public benefit than repairing the 15th hole bridge.

In a memo to the commission, he wrote that the perceived benefit was that "the improved reclaimed water irrigation system would save on the use of this resource and would return a benefit to the public by making more reclaimed water available to citizens."

Hubbard wrote that he had no idea whether the benefit actually materialized and encouraged the commission to ask for proof that a public purpose was served with the irrigation project.

Commissioner Dave Eggers, who has a social membership in the club that allows him to participate in clubhouse events but not play golf , said he planned to ask. He wanted to know how the club has used the money that was in the capital improvements fund.

"Certainly before I would consider fixing the bridge, I would want an accounting on where we are with all of those funds," he said.

Hubbard wrote in his memo that the request to use public funds for repairs is inappropriate because the bridge has no public use except as a convenience to the club and people using the golf course on a fee basis.

Hackworth denied he suggested using public funds. He was proposing the commission further reduce the rent or extend the current 50 percent reduction past 2008, when it is supposed to expire.

"This would be in recognition that in figuring out the capital investment needs of the country club, someone forgot about this bridge that was falling down," Hackworth said.

Cooper and Hackworth said the golf course, which was built in 1927, has hit some tough economic times.

The course used to be one of a handful in Pinellas County. The club and the commission first partnered on the course in 1962.

The club has 400 active memberships and close to 200 social memberships. A membership may include two or three family members.

"Everybody that builds a new development these days builds a new golf course," Cooper said. "Today, the country club has to compete for memberships, with 15 courses that were not here when we started."

Cooper said work on the bridge at the 15th hole began last week.

"The club may have to assess the golf club members," Cooper said. "Or they may have to borrow the money. It's not something you can't do. You got to do it."

Megan Scott can be reached at 727 445-4167 or mscott@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 2, 2005, 01:57:16]


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