TREASURE ISLAND — Beginning in 2011, the county's 11 beach cities will receive $35-million in Penny for Pinellas money to spend on beautifying Gulf Boulevard.
Proposals for exactly what will be done with that money will be reviewed by a special committee formed Wednesday by the Barrier Island Governmental Council (Big C) and subsequently approved by the Pinellas County Commission.
One city, St. Pete Beach, has already submitted its proposal to the Big C.
"I wanted to be first in line," St. Pete Beach Mayor Mike Finnerty said.
He said his city wants to spend its $5.7-million portion to beautify and put utilities underground along Gulf Boulevard, beginning at the Bayway and extending as far north as the money will allow.
Gulf Boulevard is some 3 miles long in St. Pete Beach. According to Finnerty, the project could cost about $3-million per mile.
Wednesday, Big C President Jim Lawrence asked other cities and towns to "hold off" submitting their proposals until the Big C subcommittee is organized and determines the project criteria.
Nick Simons, mayor of Redington Beach, was picked to lead the new subcommittee.
Earlier in June, the Pinellas County Commission unanimously approved the distribution of the Penny money, approved by voters last year, for the Gulf Boulevard Improvement Program, now called the Gulf Boulevard Beautification Partnership.
"Now 8 1/2 years later after we started with a conceptual plan, we have a true partnership," County Commission Chairman Bob Stewart said.
Commissioner Calvin Harris described the project "as much to do with the future of tourism in Pinellas County as anything we have ever done."
In the formal agreement between the county and the Big C, improvements to Gulf Boulevard must be "consistent" with the previously approved Vision 2000 Project.
That means, according to Lawrence, that beach cities will be able to make individual choices of particular landscaping or styles of lighting or benches but must adhere to the overall beautification plan.
The cities also will be responsible for future maintenance of the Penny-funded projects.
Those cities that, after 2001, upgraded Gulf Boulevard landscaping or put utilities underground, can use their portion of the Penny money as a reimbursement.
Indian Shores, for example, has already spent $6.3-million to bury utilities and install new lighting along Gulf Boulevard.
Lawrence said the town plans to use the Penny money for additional landscaping and beautification.
"We will do a lot more beautification," Lawrence said.
North Redington Beach and Redington Shores, which previously put utilities underground on side streets, are considering doing the same along Gulf Boulevard.
The county plans to disburse the $35-million in five-year increments beginning in fiscal year 2011 and ending in 2016.
Any money not spent at the end of the five year period is required to be returned to county coffers.