Dunedin Economic Development, Housing and Community Redevelopment Authority Director Bob Ironsmith says he's busier than he's ever been with big projects in the city.

DUNEDIN — Pardon their dust. City officials continue to help plan and coordinate several large downtown improvement projects.

Bob Ironsmith, director of economic and housing development and the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, takes pride in the work he and others have done to make downtown Dunedin a vibrant destination for city residents and visitors — building "a sense of place."

The Downtown East End Plan has been getting a lot of attention from Ironsmith and other city officials with much enthusiasm for the proposed Gateway mixed-used development at Main Street, Milwaukee Avenue and Skinner Boulevard and other projects. Groundbreaking is slated for later this year on the Gateway project.

"What's nice about this one (Downtown East End Plan) is we are checking all the boxes," Ironsmith said. "The Gateway will be happening this year. We're doing the parking lot right now at Mease Materials."

City officials also have a design concept for the old city hall property on Main Street, which based on commission discussions, could become a park.

"Of course, you have the new city hall," Ironsmith said.

More than 80 city employees work at the new 39,000-square-foot City Hall at 737 Louden Ave. They formerly were based in five different buildings.

Other economic development projects are improvements to Skinner Boulevard, a streetscape plan along Main Street and possibly a parking garage in the center of town.

What Ironsmith likes about the Downtown East End Plan is that it was staff-driven with approvals from the city manager and City Commission.

"We put this together about maybe four and a half years ago. We did it internally," Ironsmith said.

Creating walkability, offering more parking options, making streets safer — Ironsmith and his small staff are dealing with a community redevelopment district that has a $250 million assessed taxable value.

"I looked at this as one of the largest assets in the city and the most traveled. So we want to continue to maintain, enhance, upgrade to foster selective adapted reuse," Ironsmith said.

Skinner Boulevard improvements will be a game changer, Ironsmith said, with overhead utility fixtures being placed underground.

"You are going to see four lanes going to two lanes. You are going to see a beautiful landscaped median. You are going to see nice traffic circles. You are going to see speeds down to 25 mph," Ironsmith sad.

As city and state Department of Transportation officials discussed in January, the Skinner Boulevard project is expected to be under way in early fall of 2024 at a construction cost of $7.3 million.

Walkability. Creating more parking options. Making streets safer. All are components in plans being discussed.

"Skinner bifurcated our downtown for a long time," he said. "I think it's adapted reuse parcels that kind of sit there dormant," Ironsmith said.

Having worked for the city for 28 years, Ironsmith said he's busier now then he's ever been.

"This is a really big initiative by the team here to move forward with all these projects. This is ten and half million dollars right there," Ironsmith said.

Sometimes people ask why downtown has done so well. Support of the commission and the city manager is one of the reasons. The time Ironsmith spends on community development issues also is a factor.

"This is what I do full time," he said.

Having a dedicated funding stream, support of the merchants, the chamber and the residents in general also helps.

Ironsmith uses a term he calls "sustained incrementalism" in explaining why economic development has been successful.

Some cities will do major public works projects, at costs of $5 million to $6 million, and say they are done. 

"It doesn't work that way. Trust me. You have to be doing something every year," he said. 

Asked what the biggest challenge is, Ironsmith said the "current climate — proposals coming much higher with subcontractors. The ability to get materials," Ironsmith said.

"We've experienced it here, and we have experienced it with other projects, too," Ironsmith said. "Just the numbers are coming in so high. It's hard to get things done."

Nevertheless, Ironsmith takes pride in what city officials have accomplished in terms of creating a vibrant downtown — with more work to be done, such as helping to facilitate any plans for what's known as the Ocean Optics property on Main Street in the heart of downtown.

"There's a lot going on," Ironsmith said, adding he believes that Dunedin has the best small downtown in the county.

"And we are going to continue to make it stronger," Ironsmith said. 

Another project he's involved in is the future use of Coca Cola's 27.5-acre site off San Christopher Drive after the company, as announced, leaves the property in a year or so.

Also on Ironsmith's plate is trying to launch an affordable housing project, which is challenging due to costs and other issues.

"I'm trying to do affordable housing. I'll tell you it's the toughest thing. Before my career is over I'd like to be able to get a project done," he said.

Commissioner Moe Freaney lauded Ironsmith and his staff May 2 after the commission adopted a proclamation in recognition of International Economic Development Week May 8-12.

"You guys do an awesome job. Thank you," Freaney said.