DADE CITY — Gathered on a balmy Saturday morning under the carport of Patty Titsworth's manufactured home, about 30 residents of the Pines talked about how Dade City is — and how it could be.
"How many antique stores do we really need?" asked Titsworth, who hosted the informal session with three of the Dade City Commission candidates at her home. "Aren't there different options that would bring more life to town?"
Next month, residents will get to pick two members of the commission that will help chart the course for the city's growth. And while all four candidates agree business development is a top priority, they differ in their ideas for accomplishing that goal.
Incumbent Bill Dennis served on the commission during the years when the area was largely orange groves. "Dade City used to be a total citrus company town," Dennis said. "When the Lykes Pasco Plant shut down, the chamber and Main Street went to work on revitalizing the economy."
"We were suffering from old attitudes and I fought for changes even though I was on the wrong end of some 4-1 votes," he continued. "Today, we need to attract businesses which have specific formulas, and we're trying to get closer to meeting their criteria."
Dennis said incentives can help, noting lowered fees helped bring the Hampton Inn to Dade City.
Residents said they'd like to see a movie theatre, a playground or YMCA type of facility to engage youth and family activities.
Jeanie Germain, a title company officer running for the seat being vacated by Curtis Beebe, said the city should step up code enforcement efforts to clear up blight, which would attract new investors. She described this opportunity as "an avenue of a life journey with fresh eyes."
Her opponent, Jim Shive, cited his 30-plus years of "hands on" involvement with the city, including his work in the city's utility department and faithful attendance at commission meetings. He said the city should establish better relationships with the private sector.
"We need to invest in cleaning up the gateways and tapping into Saint Leo University for more involvement," he said. "It would also help to work with Jim Guedry, who successfully expanded the Dade City Business Center. In general we need to consider more outreach and incentives."
He criticized the city for spending too much on consultants.
"On the commission, it's your obligation to do research about cost-benefits toward progress," he said.
The Rev. Clyde Carter, who is challenging Dennis for his seat, was the only candidate not in attendance Saturday. The gathering began as a planned meeting between Germain and the Pines residents, then grew to include Dennis and Shive after they learned about it. Carter did not hear of the meeting in time to attend.
Still, Carter agreed with the need to attract more development, and said the city should revamp its fees to become more attractive to businesses.
"Reach out to new family friendly entertainment, or how about an arcade for the kids?" said Carter, who ministers at St. John Missionary Baptist Church.
All of the candidates also agreed on one more thing: The need for better communication between City Hall and the residents.
Residents of the Pines are concerned that the Morningside Drive extension will create a traffic snarl in front of their neighborhood off State Road 52, and said they should have been more involved in the planning of the project. They drew a comparison to the wastewater treatment plant controversy in the Mickens-Harper neighborhood, where residents weren't informed of the plans to build a reclaimed water tank and other plant upgrades.
The candidates agreed the city should do a better job of informing residents about the proposed projects in their communities.
"We used to require the city to send notice letters to impacted citizens," Dennis said. "We have a bulk mail permit and should reactivate that practice."