DUNEDIN — A sliver of Main Street would be closed to traffic to make way for a downtown pedestrian mall, and developers could reap new incentives for environmentally friendly projects if the ideas city commissioners threw out during a Thursday brainstorming session gain community support.
The downtown plaza suggestion came from Commissioner Ron Barnette. He said closing Main Street between Douglas and Highland avenues might be good for merchants who don't have enough space to offer outdoor dining on the thoroughfare's narrow sidewalks, and vendors who can only display artwork and other wares when the one-tenth-of-a-mile stretch is closed a few times a year for special events.
Barnette, who has seen similar setups work in other communities, said the mall would also serve as a quasi-expansion of Pioneer Park.
"I think it would be fun to have a section of downtown where we replace cars with people," Barnette said. "As we're doing things downtown differently, why not look at doing that differently? It would be a good conversation to have and get objections as well as support."
As part of a conversation about Dunedin's land dedication ordinance, several commissioners said they were reluctant to dismantle the impact fee because it has been so successful.
The LDO requires new multiunit residential developments to either include green space for the residents on their property or contribute to a city fund for future Dunedin parks within half a mile.
Commissioners asked City Attorney Tom Trask to research creative approaches by other cities, such as a separate impact fee or LDO discount that would let developers chip in toward parks or recreational infrastructure projects, like a new city pool, anywhere in the city. The city could also offer incentives to developers who agree to downsize projects in an effort to preserve Dunedin's quaint charm.
The ideas were among dozens that commissioners generated during a daylong retreat at the Dunedin Community Center.
Commissioners last held a retreat, an informal way for them to raise whatever city topics they feel are important, two years ago. With newly elected Commissioner Heather Gracy on board and budget talks looming, Thursday's wide-ranging discussion was helpful in setting priorities.
Among other meeting highlights:
• After struggling for years to attract another business like Nielsen Media Research, some city officials are ready begin exploring other opportunities for the media rating giant's former 25-acre campus on Patricia Avenue.
The tract is zoned as light industrial. In April, officials with Wells Fargo, which owns the site, are expected to present commissioners with alternative concepts, possibly as a mixed-use space.
In response to questions by Mayor Dave Eggers, City Manager Rob DiSpirito said he would invite county representatives to that meeting to discuss how badly they want to hold out for a high-wage company in industries like financial services, life sciences and health, alternative energy or information technology.
"There ain't no other Nielsen coming in here," Commissioner Julie Scales said. "If I'm wrong, that's fine. But I think we owe it to our citizens to hear other possibilities."
• City staffers will explore a new contract that would shift causeway maintenance duties away from the county to Dunedin. Commissioners said dedicating a city parks worker to causeway maintenance and collecting reimbursement for repairs might ensure faster, better service. Leaders also want the state to add pay booths at the entrance to Honeymoon Island.
"This is the entryway to our most important attraction in the city, so it should be pristine," Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said, adding: "Being the No. 1 park in the state, they need a bigger entryway, and that would help with the traffic out there."
• To help with retention, commissioners want to begin setting aside money for employee training. They also want to explore alternative advertising and other avenues to ensure that the city is reaching out to female, black, Hispanic and other minority job candidates.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.