GULFPORT — Residents here embrace the city's identity as a funky, offbeat, eccentric arts community.
But many of them are beginning to realize there's a fine line between chic and shabby.
So work is beginning on two fronts — public and private — to tidy up.
Beautification without gentrification is their aim.
A newly formed group of volunteers, the Gulfport Neighbors, is taking on litter.
More than 40 people gathered in the sweltering heat Saturday to clean up 49th Street from the Pinellas Trail to Gulfport Boulevard. And even though the eastern side of the street is St. Petersburg, they cleaned that, too.
The Gulfport Trolley gave the volunteers — most clad in khakis, T-shirts and hats — a lift as they worked their way down the corridor, trash bags and tongs in hand.
It was the second area targeted by the volunteers, who also cleaned up the beach a couple of weeks ago.
The group is in its infancy. In fact, spokesman Bob Newcomb, who lives on Fremont Street, said a steering committee is working on getting nonprofit status for the group. There will be an annual fee — $40 for individuals or $50 for a family — to join.
The benefits of membership range from having a sense of satisfaction and pride in the city to having higher property values and better schools.
Lofty ambitions for a bunch of volunteers?
Perhaps. But Newcomb said, "If we didn't see hope, we wouldn't be doing this. …
"The group doesn't belong to anyone. Two D-rated schools in our community is not acceptable," he said. "Our long-term objective is to have public and private cooperation."
The city is onboard with the cleanup effort.
The city is taking a look at code enforcement and whether its passive approach — a policy based on leniency — is what's best for the city.
While statistics based on complaints and citations indicate the program is successful, a drive around the city proves otherwise.
Fred Metcalf, the city's community development director, said he was skeptical of calling the current passive program successful based on the limited number of complaints.
"It doesn't mean people aren't happy. It just means they don't call in," he said.
The way it works now, Bruce Earling, the city's code enforcement officer responds to complaints and looks for violations, including high grass and weeds, accumulation of junk and debris, broken or unlicensed vehicles and housing violations such as broken windows and excessive peeling paint.
A more aggressive code enforcement program under consideration would include more inspectors, fewer warnings and more citations, and more ordinances targeting unwanted violations.
A workshop was held last week to discuss the issue.
The city plans to discuss formulating appropriate code ordinances in late September.