DUNEDIN — In what seems to many as three decades that have flown by, Dunedin’s downtown has been transformed into a showpiece and model for other cities to try to copy, an economic engine for the city and Tampa Bay tourist attraction.
Downtown’s funding source, its Community Redevelopment Agency, celebrated its 30th anniversary Feb. 16 with live music and an arts and crafts fair in Pioneer Park.
Bales of tumble weed was brought in to roll around the music stage and remind people of bygone days, when it was said the desert plant was all that rolled through Main Street.
Commissioner Heather Gracy said the downtown is a testament to all those who had the foresight to invest in incremental improvements over 30 years and create what has become everyone’s downtown.
CRA Director Robert Ironsmith said the downtown now includes $200 million in property value that some forget provides $400,000 a year to the general fund.
He said downtown has grown in incremental steps, which are not finished yet. A new retail-residential-office-restaurant center is planned along Main Street from Douglas Avenue to the Pinellas Trail in the next two years, Skinner Boulevard will be transformed into part of downtown and Gateway Center along with a city hall-municipal complex is planned for the East Main Street. Douglas Avenue streetscaping will continue as will improvements along Main Street.
Commissioner Deborah Kynes said she is proud to say she has been here for all of it.
Developer Joseph Kokolakis, who built the popular Artisan Apartments and retail shops on Douglas Avenue, said he thinks of all those past city leaders who were dedicated to developing the vision of downtown like former Mayors Manny Koutsourais and Tom Anderson.
Over the years there have been several major incremental improvements to transform downtown Dunedin into a showpiece.
In 1990, the city adopted a downtown façade design program, which is still being used today, helping building owners transform shabby storefronts into trendy looking businesses.
A year later the downtown section of the Pinellas Trail was dedicated, attracting recreational enthusiasts on bicycles and roller blades and the city invested $386,000 toward reconstruction of Main Street. In addition, the city approved 11 downtown events to attract visitors, increase foot traffic and assist local business and eateries.
In 1993, the city installed lighting and landscaping, four new businesses came to town and the Historical Society Railroad Museum opened. A year later 7,000 square feet of retail space was renovated by private investors and the CRA was awarded a $165,000 Community Development Block Grant for streetscaping improvements. Also, that year, the CRA donated funds to the city to promote the downtown and increase foot traffic.
In 1995, the CRA focused streetscaping Main Street and Highland Avenue and obtained another $160,000 CDBG grant to streetscape Douglas Avenue and Grant Street.
By 1995, downtown was recognized as one of the top five walkable communities in the United States by Walking Magazine and the CRA was awarded a $300,000 CDBG for streetscaping south Broadway and South Douglas. The CRA also facilitated construction of a 25-space parking lot at Pinellas Trail and Monroe Street.
By 1997, the downtown boasted a 99 percent occupancy rate and a year later the city partnered with the county to implement a façade matching grant program.
In 1998, the city was the first to receive permission from the county to illuminate its portion of the Pinellas Trail, while construction of Douglas Village started on Broadway.
Throughout the 2000s several additional streetscaping projects were undertaken, such as the Alt. U.S. 19 Enhancement Project and installation of the Pioneer Park band stage in 2004.
In 2003 to 2004, South Douglas streetscaping improvements were initiated from Main Street to Albert Street.
In 2005, downtown’s famed decorated light poles and directional signs were installed along Main Street and throughout the downtown. In that same year the Friday Green Market opened, attracting visitors during the morning hours.
Once again, awards poured in to recognize downtown in 2008 with Runtheplanet.com naming Dunedin “the most walkable small community in America” and Money Magazine naming it “one of the best places to live on the coast.”
In that same year, a local ice cream shop returned downtown with the opening of Strachan’s on Main Street and Broadway.
In 2010, Jolley Trolley became another way to visit downtown Dunedin to visitors from Clearwater and Palm Harbor to Tarpon Springs.
In 2018, the CRA continued to attract accolades with Dunedin being named Florida’s First Trail Town.
City officials noted the CRA has greatly improved property values in the downtown area. For example, a home on Wood Street that was appraised for $39,000 in 1996 is currently listing for $424,000.
Ironsmith said “there’s still much more to do.”