Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos, left, and Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons update Pinellas County Commissioners about the Gulf Boulevard beautification project April 15.
Photo courtesy of BIG-C
This is an aerial view of the city of Clearwater’s Beach Walk project on Clearwater Beach, which qualified for reimbursement from the Gulf Boulevard beautification project funds.
Photo courtesy of BIG-C
Pedestrian lanes along Gulf Boulevard in Indian Shores improve safety for residents and guest. The lanes are one of several amenities paid for with funding from the beautification project.
CLEARWATER – Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos and Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons presented Pinellas County Commissioners with an overview of what’s going on with the Gulf Boulevard beautification project April 15.
The county signed an interlocal agreement with the Barrier Islands Government Council on July 10, 2012 for Penny for Pinellas funding to pay for undergrounding of utilities, streetscape enhancements and pedestrian safety improvements.
Plans called for creating a uniform corridor for all 11 beach communities through common amenities and streetscaping. The project focuses on elimination of “visual blight” caused by overhead utilities, development of an “attractive roadway experience” to encourage tourism and economic development, and pedestrian safety improvements.
“Unfortunately, it has taken an awful long time,” Cretekos said. “We started talking about this in 2000 – 14 years ago.”
In 2007, officials found that initial plans approved in 2001 were infeasible, he said. They weren’t economically possible, so they had to be changed. The project also was delayed due to the economic downturn that resulted in less money coming in to the Penny for Pinellas fund.
Finally, in 2012, all parties agreed to a new funding formula that split $35 million between the municipalities over time. The money would be doled out at $3.5 million a year during fiscal years 2013-2016. Additional money would be allocated at a rate of $7 million a year during FY 2017-2019. Shares would be determined by how much area each city has of Gulf Boulevard frontage.
The BIG-C was given the responsibility for determining if a project is eligible for funding and verifying that the work was done as approved. The cities are responsible for project design, implementation and ongoing maintenance. Cities can apply for reimbursement of costs up to the amount of their share for work done after March 13, 2007.
Cretekos is the current BIG-C president. Simons heads up the BIG-C committee in charge of project approvals.
Cretekos said some of the smaller cities are waiting to begin projects until the amount of their share grows to a larger sum.
“Small communities with low budgets don’t have the money to pay for projects and then apply for reimbursements,” he said. “Plans are for them to accumulate enough money to do the work.”
He showed several slides of work done since money became available. He said Clearwater had been reimbursed $6.7 million for work done on its Beach Walk project on Clearwater Beach. Indian Shores received $4 million to help pay for undergrounding utilities, bike lanes and moving of utility poles along Gulf Boulevard. The city installed a new bus shelter and new aesthetically pleasing trashcan covers were added. Redington Beach also used beautification money to pay for moving utility lines underground.
Simons assured commissioners that all $35 million would be spent according to approved project plans. He estimated that more “substantial projects” would begin in year four of the allocations.
“Smaller communities can’t wait for reimbursements, they don’t have the money,” he said, echoing Cretekos earlier statements.
He said Treasure Island was in the planning stage for a $3 million project that the city would fund and then request reimbursement.
Commissioner John Morroni brought up the subject of recent pedestrian deaths along Gulf Boulevard. He wanted assurances that projects were focusing on pedestrian safety.
The mayors asked if it were possible to allocate additional money sooner than scheduled.
“We would appreciate it,” Cretekos said.
“It doesn’t hurt to ask,” said Commissioner Ken Welch.
Revised to remove city hall from the list of projects in Indian Shores paid for with Gulf Boulevard Beautification project funds. Added undergrounding of utilties.