DUNEDIN – The Dunedin City Commission gave the go-ahead on Sept. 23 to move forward on two initiatives that staff say would benefit Dunedin’s economy.
The commission unanimously approved to work with numerous agencies on getting Jolley Trolley service between Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.
The commission also voted 4-1 to approve staff to seek requests for proposals for a citywide branding initiative. Commissioner Dave Carson dissented.
Many groups in the city said they have wanted Jolley Trolley service to Dunedin for about 10 years and are excited that it is now possible for everything to come together and get service as soon as Thanksgiving time this year.
The city has the opportunity that would connect Clearwater Beach, downtown Clearwater, downtown Dunedin, and Tarpon Springs Main Street and sponge docks, said City Manager Rob DiSpirito. It is estimated that this service would bring at least 15,000 to 20,000 additional people to Dunedin each year, he said.
Dunedin’s portion of the cost would be $43,710, but the Downtown Merchant’s Association may be able to provide the city with about $15,000 to help with that. PSTA and Tarpon Springs would also potentially commit funds to the Jolley Trolley service. The PSTA board did approve funds for the route, and Tarpon Springs officials were set to discuss the matter at their meeting the following week. If all the approvals went through, the service could be available by early November, in time for Thanksgiving, DiSpirito said.
The Downtown Merchant’s Association, Dunedin Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Committee, and the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce support the initiative, as well as the various concierges on Clearwater Beach, DiSpirito said, and the overall reaction from residents has been positive. This would be an hourly service, running on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to midnight and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
DiSpirito said that a successful North County trolley service has many positives, including the following: An influx of people to Clearwater, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs to shop, eat, play, and go to special events; reducing the reliance on private automobiles which are usually used by single occupants; less strain on downtown parking spaces; provide safe, cheap transport for people who desire to drink alcohol in various areas; the possibility to gain future Department of Transportation grants allocated for trolley or bus services; potential route enhancements that could include Honeymoon Island and Palm Harbor business district, and more stops would allow more local residents to use the service regularly. Also, if the Penny for Pinellas sales tax is approved again in 2012, then there is the potential that the total trolley route could be funded entirely by PSTA. The trolley service has been used successfully in south county for many years, he said, which would help indicate that north county could have the same success.
Tim Garling, executive director of PSTA, said that the economy has caused a 6 to 7 percent reduction in service to the trolley’s south county routes, but even though there had to be fewer routes lately, this past year has seen an all-time high in ridership, with almost 13 million passengers last year. Bob Longenecker, executive director of Jolley Trolley, said currently, it costs $45 to take a taxi from Clearwater Beach to Dunedin, which is not a good incentive to make that trek. The trolley would be an affordable option that could help business in all locations. Businesses that advertise with the trolley further benefit because then drivers mention and promote those businesses.
Many people and organizations from the community spoke before the commission to show their support for the trolley. Lynn Wargo of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce said the chamber supports the trolley service, and the chamber would be available to help greet and guide passengers who arrive in Dunedin. She has also spoken with many concierge services on Clearwater Beach who have said they would like to recommend places to go in Dunedin, and this would make it easier for them to promote Dunedin to customers.
Ken Hannon, associate executive director of the Dunedin Fine Art Center, said he supports the trolley, as did Gregory Brady, president of the Downtown Merchant’s Association. Brady said that it is likely that the association could give the city $10,000 to $17,000 to help cover the city’s portion of the cost because the downtown merchants believe in this project. Representatives from the Beso Del Sol Resort and the Holiday Inn Express in Dunedin also said they want this service and that it would benefit the entire community in numerous ways.
The commissioners agreed that this would be a benefit to the city.
“The reasons our communities have talked trolleys for so long is because they knew it was the right thing to do,” Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said. “They just couldn’t figure out a) how to pay for it and b) how to implement it. And because being at the right place at the right time in the right economic time and folks being more willing to partner to get more for less money, it all fell into place now. And that is obviously due to a lot of work from an enormous amount of people. ... This is not just a tourist mover. But going to multiple locations, we are going to move locals, and we are going to move locals between these various locations. South county in general has better transportation service than north county. This is one small way of giving north county something that they need and something that will benefit us from an economic standpoint”
The commission unanimously approved moving forward on establishing the trolley, understanding that the specific route has not been set and that staff can still look at which would be the most appropriate reserve funds from which to find the required money.
Also on an economic front, the commission agreed to allow staff to seek proposals to find a company to help develop a citywide brand. This would help the city and businesses unite under a shared vision to help better market themselves and the city to potential customers and visitors, DiSpirito said.
The branding process would take about six to nine months, with the following goals, DiSpirito said: To identify city assets and form a new strategy that includes a citywide brand for the Chamber of Commerce, Dunedin Downtown Merchant’s Association and other partners to use for city economic development and tourism; to create a brand development that clearly defines the essence of the city; to create a marketing plan developed from the brand research processand implement the marketing strategy, including on the city’s website, television channel and other media.
A selection committee has been established to review the RFPs as they come in. This committee will have to operate under Florida’s Sunshine Laws.
Numerous representatives from the community and business organizations spoke in front of the commission to support the city branding. The chairman of the Visit Dunedin committee said Visit Dunedin has worked with numerous agencies in the city and county to try to unify a message, and while they have done the best that they can, it is difficult without the clear guidance and unified message and image that would result from branding. Brady, of the Downtown Dunedin Merchant’s Association, also spoke, saying that branding is the number 2 goal of Visit Dunedin.
“I think that in the down economy, like it is today, when that starts to level out, it is going to be our job as community volunteers, city officials, business owners to all be on board and be ready for when that traffic comes back in, and I think this effort that we’re doing does that,” Brady said.
Commissioner Bujalski said that her background is 20 years in retail, and she understands the importance of branding.
“Your brand is everything,” Bujalski said. “We have a product to sell, and we have to define what that product is, who that customer is, and how do we link the two. And I think we all have lots of great ideas.” Where I worked, we had lots of ideas, too, but we had a solid brand. Like it or not, we had a solid brand and we sold products and we did advertising based on that brand.”
Commissioner Ron Barnette agreed, saying the city needs a definite vision and economic plan to bring jobs and money to the city, and that plan needs to be large-scale.
Carson said that when he considers these decisions, he always asks himself if he would be making the same decision for his personal business. At this time, he said that he would not be making this decision because he thinks it is jumping too many steps ahead and in a bad economic time.
The commission voted 4-1 for staff to seek proposals.