So many news stories give the impression that the “profit” portion of the triple bottom line has the power to trump the other two (people and planet), yet I have found one that bucks the trend.
Growing up in the suburbs of Cleveland in the 1980’s I spent a lot of time at the mall. Across the road was the Acacia Country Club, which not only kept us riff-raff out through its exclusivity, but also by its topography; the entryway was up a steep hill and the club house and golf course were essentially invisible from street level. I had no idea what it looked like until this year. The former private club is now part of the Cleveland Metroparks System, open to the public and being allowed to return to a natural state. The sand traps and manicured greens are being taken over by plants and wildlife, and it is glorious!
What really makes this an interesting tale is that the story could have easily had a different and more conventional ending. With the dawn of the 21st Century, Acacia’s membership went into decline, which mirrored private club membership trends nationwide. By 2012 the shareholders knew the club was no longer financially sustainable, and a sale was imminent. Acacia was well positioned to be sold for development; it was 155-acres strong and not only across the street from the mall of my youth (Beachwood Place), which had survived the Great Recession and even expanded, but by this time it was also across the road from Legacy Village, yet another retail mega-complex (which I have yet to visit, now that my shopaholic days are behind me).
The Conservation Club, a Virginia-based non-profit, offered around $14M for the property, with a plan to deed the property to the Metroparks and a stipulation that it remain public open space. The City of Lyndhurst made an offer for around $16M, backed by an unnamed developer with a plan to convert the site into mixed-used retail and residential. Counter to the stereotype of private club members, the folks at Acacia decided to go with the lower offer because they actually loved their club, and wanted to extend its legacy by making it a public space. Remarkable!
On my recent walk (November 2014), I was most moved by the tiny oak trees sprouting out of the former greenways. They were in full fall color, a deep and rich crimson, hinting at what the landscape will look like in the decades to come. The sand- and water-traps were delightful, filling in with grasses and, according to my boys, fish and frogs! Two sides of the park are bounded by busy local roads, four lanes each, yet our visit was undisturbed by noise. The natural barrier and depth of the site kept the noises from penetrating the serenity, and I think our brains just understood we were in a peaceful place, and allowed our hearing to focus on the wind, the birds, and our feet in the grass.
The tax base of a mixed-use development is undoubtedly more desirable to city officials than a giant park, but I hope that the people of Lyndhurst see Acacia’s value in a new light. The country club shareholders did a great thing, sacrificing a portion of their own profit for the greater good of sharing their land, and I hope that they will document and share their story with other clubs across the country. With changes in family structure, use of leisure time, and how we socialize, I can only assume more golf courses will see their end in the near future. Which amenity do we really want to take over these valuable spaces – more places to shop, or more places to play?