Bigger, better Blue Jays stadium project has team, Dunedin crowing

Renovations to Dunedin Stadium will be completed in time for the 2020 spring training season. Capacity will increase by 3,000 and there will be a new scoreboard, a boardwalk and a new Jays Shop, among other amenities.

City officials address code enforcement topics

DUNEDIN — City Manager Jennifer Bramley framed the need to address code enforcement issues when she addressed city commissioners at a work session Oct. 15.

“I just want to lay it on the table. We’ve had a very difficult spring. We’ve had a very difficult summer as far as our code enforcement goes,” Bramley said.

The city received national news coverage stemming from foreclosure action taken against a property owner who had accrued almost $30,000 in unpaid code enforcement fines.

Though city officials considered some of the news reports unfair, they saw room for improvement in their policies.

Commissioner Moe Freaney said at the Oct. 15 meeting there are procedures that should be addressed, and it is good for the process to have a healthy review.

A former assistant county manager, Freaney said county officials were criticized for dropping large fines against code violators.

“So there does seem like there has to be a better way that doesn’t seem so shocking to people to think we would actually be going after that kind of money when in the end we never typically take that kind of money,” Freaney said.

Calvin, Giordano and Associates, a city consulting firm, will review the list of violations provided by the city and present processes pertaining to repeat offender cases and other code-enforcement issues.

Among the topics under consideration is an amnesty program through which fines could be reduced. Bramley wants to see how other cities conduct mitigation efforts.

Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said, among other issues, customer service training is important.

“It’s one thing to be a customer service rep when you are making phone calls,” she said. “It’s another when you are facing angry people,” she said.

She also expressed confidence in Bramley, noting that she has 30 years of experience dealing with code enforcement issues in her career.

City reviews plans for new City Hall

City officials held numerous discussions in the past several months over plans for a new City Hall, giving residents a chance to have a voice in selecting design concepts.

During a series of town hall meetings, residents and interested individuals gave their opinions about how the municipal complex on the 1.7-acre site should look. The number of concepts, offered by Harvard Jolly Architects, grew from four to seven proposals.

The proposed $24.7 million complex, at 737 Louden Ave., includes a one-story City Commission chamber wing, and consolidates three city buildings into an adjacent two-story structure. As currently conceived, architects envision an L-shaped City Hall-Municipal complex stretching along Milwaukee Avenue, Wood Street and portions of Louden Avenue. Because of the difference in height from Highland Avenue to Milwaukee, there will be a series of grand steps leading to a courtyard at Louden Avenue and Virginia Street.

Commissioner Moe Freaney said at an Oct. 17 meeting she would like to know how much covered space there is on each concept because there could be some good event space. She added she would also like to hear more about which designs are better for solar power.

“We are making a really good 100-year decision basically,” Freaney said.

In speaking to members of the public, Commissioner Deborah Kynes said “we are building for 75 to 100 years, so someday it will be a landmark. That makes it even more difficult and we need all your input, even more, to achieve that objective. That’s how important this decision will be and we need your help.”

At their Nov. 4 meeting some commissioners questioned the need for a parking garage; the topic will be discussed further at a later date. They also reduced the number of design concepts from seven to three and seek more input from the public.

“This is huge decision — don’t rush it,” Kynes said.

Dunedin Stadium work on schedule

City officials say improvements to Dunedin Stadium on Douglas Avenue are on schedule for the Toronto Blue Jays spring season.

The Dunedin City Commission Sept. 19 formally approved a guaranteed maximum price amendment with Gilbane Building Co., the construction manager. That amount is for $96.6 million, with roughly another $5 million going to architects, permitting costs and so on.

“The project has grown significantly since the city entered into an agreement with the team in November 2017 to keep Toronto’s spring training and minor-league operations in Dunedin for the next 25 years.

The original $81 million deal called for the dedication of $41.7 million in county tourist development tax dollars; $13.7 million from the state; $5.6 million from the city; and $20 million from the Blue Jays.

The team has since upped its stake by another $20 million, and Dunedin is pitching in another $530,000, bringing the project’s bottom line to nearly $102 million, the biggest construction project in city history.

“The project is going well,” said Doug Hutchens, deputy city manager and Dunedin’s point man on the baseball project. “The stadium project is on schedule for completion in time for spring training next spring. We’re excited about that.”

Pioneer Park slated for improvements

DUNEDIN — City officials are preparing to make improvements to John Lawrence Pioneer Park — and avoiding any turf wars in the decision-making process.

Concerns about whether to use artificial turf to remodel John Lawrence Pioneer Park and if a two-stall restroom should be added to the design concept were among topics discussed at a recent Community Redevelopment Agency meeting.

City commissioners, seated as the CRA, approved a revised concept plan for downtown’s showpiece park and raised questions about planned amenities.

During an earlier CRA meeting, commissioners voiced concern over a consultant’s suggestion to replace grass in Pioneer Park with artificial turf. They asked staff to reconsider and use sod or grass. Parks department staff initially felt artificial turf would better withstand the wear and tear of foot traffic that takes place during weekly fresh markets and numerous events.

At the latest CRA hearing Nov. 21, commissioners learned that most residents commenting to the city by email as well as a pair of advisory boards that were asked to weigh in had rejected the suggestion to use artificial turf.

Bob Ironsmith, CRA and housing director, told commissioners two artificial turf vendors advised him it would only look good for about five years. 

Ironsmith also told commissioners that in addition to staff reports, residents who sent emails felt strongly that Dunedin was a natural grass environment.

In other restoration plans, 24-inch-tall mosaic adorned seating walls will be included in the park as part of its art component, Ironsmith said. In addition, the park’s popular stage will be refurbished. Three brick walkways, separated by greenspace, stretching north and south from Main Street to Virginia Lane are proposed.

City commissioners and the public will get another chance to weigh in on the final design for the park at a later meeting.

Bumps in the road identified on Skinner Boulevard redesign project

DUNEDIN — Residents and commissioners drove home a few concerns and identified some bumps in the road when discussing the transformation of Skinner Boulevard from Bass Boulevard to Alt. U.S. 19 at a May 16 City Commission meeting.

Many attendees at the meeting voiced favor with the general design concept that includes the addition of two roundabouts, at Douglas and Milwaukee avenues, and a reduction in travel lanes from two to one roadway in each direction.

While favoring the general design concept, residents and business people objected to part of the proposal that does not provide a median break along Skinner at Howard Avenue; motorists traveling west will have to use a roundabout at Milwaukee to get to the other side of the road and Howard Avenue.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Skinner design that includes the two roundabouts and reduction in travel lanes. Commissioner Freaney said staff and consultants vetted the project well.

Dunedin Housing and Economic Development Director Bob Ironsmith said the $4.7 million project will next enter the design phase, with project completion scheduled in about five years. It will be paid for through a combination of Penny, CRA and potential grant funds.

City officials are hoping the second time is a charm in their efforts to obtain a $1 million grant for the Skinner Boulevard improvement project.

Commissioners voted unanimously Nov. 19 to apply for the grant, which is allocated by Pinellas Forward, a county planning agency.

The city applied for the grant last year but finished second in the ranking behind the city of St. Petersburg.