DUNEDIN — Goodbye, "Delightful Dunedin." Hello, … well, that remains to be seen.
A new city image — including a slogan and a logo — is in the works, thanks to the City Commission's recent 4-1 approval of a $73,150 contract with a company that will study how Dunedin can better promote itself to local, national and international visitors.
The West Palm Beach-based Wilesmith Advertising will spend six to nine months developing a unified branding theme that the city's government and businesses can incorporate into items such as Dunedin's website, visitor guides and the next batch of letterhead.
The goal is to increase visitor and business traffic, which, in turn, could translate into more employment opportunities, a higher tax base and more revenue to spend on residents.
"It's a city that a lot of us are proud of, that has many components … we know are wonderful," said Gregory Brady, past president of the Downtown Dunedin Merchants Association and a member of the five-person committee that chose the branding company.
But "it's kind of hard to take oranges and tartan and Blue Jays and Pinellas Trail and a vibrant business community and America's No. 1 beach and speak one word," he said. "And that's why you have a branding company."
The vote comes at a time when various Pinellas County jurisdictions are pondering ways to boost visibility and tourism amid a struggling economy.
Oldsmar recently approved spending $19,800 on a five-minute promotional segment to air on the Fox Business Network and CNN Headline News. Safety Harbor officials voted 4-1 last month to spend $45,000 on two 70-foot-long entryway signs welcoming people to the city. Largo has been considering a branding project for at least three years but has put it off to deal with other budget priorities first.
In a recommendation letter to commissioners, Dunedin economic and housing development director Bob Ironsmith provided letters from several business owners who support the branding project.
Those companies would incorporate the city's brand into their own marketing materials, thereby furthering the city's image as a place to visit. He also touted social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as a low-cost way to promote the city's new message.
"Yes, the economy is challenged today, but Dunedin needs to be ready to take advantage of the expected upturn," Ironsmith said. "In this regard, Dunedin needs to formulate its competitive edge. A branding study and marketing plan will direct where the city has the most potential to 'go after' visitors, tourists, small businesses and companies."
Money for the branding project will come from Community Redevelopment Agency reserves ($23,000), vacant position savings ($34,150) and Visit Dunedin ($16,000).
But in casting the lone dissenting vote last month, Commissioner David Carson said he believes that the money would be better spent on other priorities — such as raises for city employees.
He said early budget discussions projected a $1 million shortfall in revenue next year and that spending money on branding will only drag officials further into the hole.
Finance director Jeff Yates said Thursday that shortfall projections have since changed, and the final number won't be known until the budget is finalized in September.
"I'm not sure how (branding) serves all 35,000 people" in Dunedin, Carson said. "This may benefit some people in the business community and their employees, but the vast majority of people will never know this happened."
He added: "We already have 'Delightful Dunedin.' I seriously hope we don't come back with 'Come back and visit Delightful Dunedin' after all this money is spent."
In contrast, Ironsmith believes that the advertising firm doing the branding campaign will bring a fresh perspective to Dunedin.
Commissioners and several business owners also touted the firm's past work with the cities of Tavares, Dania Beach and Pompano Beach.
For example, Wilesmith officials said that Tavares, which declared itself "America's Seaplane City" in 2009, initially had "zero budget" to roll out its marketing plan and instead had to rely on newspapers and supportive businesses to get the word out.
However, the 13,000-resident city has since become a hub for seaplane enthusiasts. Despite the recession, at least 22 new downtown businesses have moved in, and seaplane manufacturing company Progressive Aerodyne relocated its Orlando operations there last June, according to Florida Trend magazine. And thousands of visitors converged on a city-run seaplane marina and a seaplane-themed children's splash park that opened last year.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers hesitated at the timing of the project. But he concluded that tourism dollars raised by promoting Dunedin's plentiful mom-and-pop businesses ultimately would benefit residents.
And with fewer folks traveling in recent years, Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said, competition for the county's 6 million annual visitors is fierce.
"I'm sorry, but if you live in Michigan and have never been to Florida, you don't know what Dunedin is. The name itself doesn't tell you anything," she said. "But you'll know Clearwater Beach, you'll know Tampa because those are bigger communities. Well, how do you explain who we are?"
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153.