With hope the design will draw more patrons, Sarasota City Commission majority opts for more expensive Bobby Jones clubhouse

Instead of original estimate of $2 million to $2.5 million, project could cost as much as $9 million

After incorporating into the design suggestions that Sarasota city commissioners made during a January 2022 discussion, the project team responsible for the new clubhouse and golf cart barn at the renovated Bobby Jones Golf Club has come up with a construction estimate that could be close to four times higher than the original figure.

On May 15, as part of the commission’s regular meeting, Justin Williams, vice president of Jon F. Swift Construction in Sarasota, who is managing the project, told the commissioners that, having more than doubled the size of the facility — from 6,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet — and factoring in a price of $500 to $600 per square foot, the estimate has climbed to a range between $7.5 million and $9 million.

City Manager Marlon Brown pointed out that, based on the original concept for the clubhouse, the city had planned on spending from $2 million to $2.5 million.

As shown in renderings that the project team presented this week, the clubhouse would have two sections connected by a breezeway. The smaller part would include the pro shop on the ground floor, with office space, restrooms and operational areas on the second floor. The cart barn would be on the ground floor, with the restaurant on the second floor. The structure would have second-floor verandahs overlooking the grounds.

Williams acknowledged that the first concept “we initially brought to you was mostly budget-based. It was very bare bones.”

He also pointed out that the latest estimate had not been refined, as the team was awaiting a City Commission decision on the new proposal.

Although Commissioner Erik Arroyo first indicated that he would balk at the big jump in the expense, he seconded Vice Mayor Liz Alpert’s motion for the team to proceed with the plans shown to the board members that day.

Alpert included in that motion direction to Brown to bring back to the commissioners a refined estimate of the facility’s expense and proposals about how to cover the cost.

Money will be available through the penny sales tax — or, Surtax IV — program that county voters approved during the November 2022 General Election, Brown said. However, he noted, that program does not begin until Jan. 1, 2025.

“We don’t intend to borrow money to build this at this point in time,” Brown said.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department also will have funds that could be tapped, Brown pointed out. Given the expected receipt of the Surtax money, plus the money budgeted for Parks and Recreation in coming years, he told the commissioners that the city could issue bonds that would be paid back by those funds.

While the commissioners do not like to see higher expenses for any undertaking, Arroyo said during the discussion, “We want to set this up for success.”

Alpert pointed out that the golf club renovations include a large driving range, along with a nature park, the reconstruction of the original 18 holes designed by famed golf course architect Donald Ross in the 1920s, and a center where both children and adults will be able to take golf lessons. Moreover, the commission hired an internationally known firm to manage the golf club, she said, and the employees of that firm would be expected to know how best to market Bobby Jones after it reopens.

Given the renderings shown to the board that day, Alpert added, she would think that it would be easier to market that design than a scaled-back version of the clubhouse.

Arroyo also mentioned the popularity of pro golfer Tiger Woods’ PopStroke facility near the Mall at University Town Center, close to University Parkway.

“They’re doing crazy numbers out there,” Mayor Kyle Battie added of the PopStroke center, based on what he had been told. One person had indicated to him that that business is bringing in about $100,000 a week, Battie said, even though it is located in a commercial setting.

Later, after further discussion, Battie told his colleagues that someone had just sent him an email, saying, “It’s not government’s job to compete with malls.” He had a different view, Battie continued: “Everything is competition.” The goal should be to maximize the potential of the new facilities at Bobby Jones, Battie added. “Failure can’t be an option.”

Arroyo pointed out, “We want families to go [to Bobby Jones]. We want this to be an amenity for our community,” he said of the golf course. “[The clubhouse] is a very, very expensive building,” he conceded, but the alternative is “a very nice golf course with no amenities for the public … We have to give [the club] the resources that it needs to survive.”

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch was the only commissioner on May 15 to vote against allowing the project team to proceed with the more expensive proposal.

She has noted in the past that she attended many of the community meetings conducted over years to gain public views about how the golf club should be redeveloped.

“One of the things [the golfers] placed low on their priority list,” she stressed, “was a fancy restaurant or catering or any of that. They wanted us to focus on the golf course. … They really downplayed … [a] fancy dining place.”

She reminded her colleagues that she had wanted to keep the new clubhouse small, especially as they — and previous commissioners — “spent so much time anguishing over [the total cost of the golf club renovations].”

Ahearn-Koch also underscored her desire to see Bobby Jones begin to sustain itself financially in the future, so the city no longer would need to subsidize its operations. Having a municipal golf course, she continued, is “of huge value, but it would be nice if that delta between cost and revenue were really much closer. I’m not sure that this well-designed and sensitive [clubhouse] proposal is in keeping with keeping those costs where they really need to be.”

A nod to the past with consideration for the future

During the presentation, Nicholas Bosman of Fawley Bryant Architecture in Sarasota, which is handling the design of the clubhouse, talked about the inspiration for the look of the clubhouse.

He showed them historic photos of the original Gillespie Clubhouse, which dated to approximately 1905. That building had a cupula, dormer windows and a verandah, as well as a gable roof.

City Manager Brown also reminded the commissioners that they wanted patrons of the restaurant to be able to “get a view of everything from above,” including the nature park. Further, they had directed the team to provide more “of an old Florida feel,” he said.

In response to questions from Arroyo, Williams of Jon Swift explained that the clubhouse would be “a block construction building with some steel elements, as well.” The exterior would be Hardie Board, he added.

As the Russin website explains, “Hardie Board is a fiber cement siding option composed of cement, sand and cellulose fibers. It is durable and long-lasting with classic aesthetics and is resistant to environmental factors.”

The building will have a metal roof and metal sub-decking, Williams said.

The structure will be able to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, he noted.

Yet, Hurricane Ian last year was almost a Category 5 storm when it made landfall in Lee County, Arroyo responded.

Williams told him that the structure would comply with all of the city’s Building Code standards, which potentially would enable it to withstand a stronger storm than one that was a Category 3.

When Arroyo asked about the estimated lifespan of the clubhouse, Williams replied, “Typically, at least 50 years, but much longer than that with proper maintenance.”

“It’s different than I envisioned in my mind,” Vice Mayor Alpert told the team, “but the more I look at [the design], the more I like it.”

She added, “I think [the clubhouse] is going to attract more people to use this course. … It really makes [Bobby Jones] look like a world-class course … and not a rundown municipal course.”

“Beautiful design; I love it,” Commissioner Debbie Trice said, after noting that she was not on the board when the January 2022 discussion was conducted.

Nonetheless, she expressed concern that a sufficient number of people would be interested in dining in the restaurant. Trice said she believed golfers and visitors to the nature park would mostly be interested in snacks. Still, she conceded, the restaurant could be a revenue generator.

Asked about the dining capacity, Sue Martin, general manager of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, said she believed that 200 persons could be accommodated within the building, while Williams estimated that the verandah would have room for another 40 to 50.

Martin also emphasized the fact that the management company will be focused on making money.

1 thought on “With hope the design will draw more patrons, Sarasota City Commission majority opts for more expensive Bobby Jones clubhouse”

  1. Too bad more money wasn’t spent on the course. What is needed is another 9 holes as courses regularly need to shut down areas for maintenance and that could have been with 27 holes, shutting down nine and still had an 18 holes regulation course to play, and a nine hole course for those in a hurry. I know this was proposed but rejected.
    As to Arroyo’s comment that clubhouse will last for 50 plus years with proper maintenance, the original Bobby Jones course would have also lasted longer with proper maintenance but that was ignored.
    How much money is being generated by the Legacy trail?

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