But a million dollars wasn’t enough, however, to turn the woods into Collier’s private property. On Tuesday, he withdrew his offer to purchase it.
Collier retracted the offer because he could not agree with one of the city’s conditions for the purchase, said Pegeen Hanrahan, a former Gainesville mayor who consulted Collier throughout the process.
City staff asked him to place a conservation easement on the property, which would prevent any development into the future, she said.
The original idea was that the city could take the proceeds and buy more land, she said.
“He liked the idea that the city could take the excess … and go buy good quality land elsewhere,” she said.
But to the people who opposed Collier’s purchase, more land outside the city could not replace the loss of land inside city limits, said Melissa Elliot, media relations director for Save Loblolly Woods.
“I think he meant his offer in the best, most generous way,” she said. “But the bottom line is that private citizens shouldn’t be able to purchase park land that has been set aside to the public.”
The City Commission declared the woods “surplus” land in May, which made it fair game for private individuals who want to purchase more property, Elliot said.
“Normally, when lands are declared surplus, they are declared parks, play areas for children or ways to bring people together,” Elliot said. “It’s not the other way around.”
City Commissioner Susan Bottcher said residents were vocal about the sale.
“Since May, we have been getting deluges of emails from citizens saying, ‘This is a really bad idea, please don’t do this,’” she said. “When it comes to our natural resources and conserving things for future generations, we cannot be bought and sold. That’s the message that I heard.”
Jonathan Dain, who helped organize an awareness hike into Loblolly last week, said he is relieved about the outcome.
“This wasn’t about whether Mr. Collier is a good or bad person,” Dain said. “It was about how important this area was to so many people in Gainesville.”
Save Loblolly Woods is now focused on putting the property on the registry of public parks, which will protect it from future custody battles. The group will appear before the City Commission on Sept. 5.
A version of this story ran on page 1 on 8/30/2013 under the headline "Collier retracts offer to buy part of Loblolly Woods"