INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — After years of debate, the City Commission recently took two steps toward creating a better looking and more modern city: putting utility lines underground along part of Gulf Boulevard and establishing guidelines for future development.
The city will spend about $13,000 to get a binding estimate on the cost to bury utility lines from Verizon, Progress Energy and Brighthouse Networks.
Officials put the preliminary estimate for an eighth-of-a-mile section of Gulf Boulevard at up to $3 million. That section runs from Whitehurst Avenue at the border with Indian Shores to the traffic light at Walsingham Road.
If completed, the project would expand a stretch of Gulf Boulevard free of utility wires. Indian Shores recently spent $6.25 million putting lines underground along 5.3 miles of Gulf Boulevard.
"We believe this is a perfect section to do," City Manager Chuck Coward told the commission. "If you are really serious about wanting to underground utilities, this is a terrific section to do it on. Let's give it a shot."
The commission agreed.
"I am very enthusiastic in pushing this forward," said Mayor R.B. Johnson. "In the long run, I would like to see undergrounding on all of Gulf Boulevard."
The project would be paid for with Penny for Pinellas tax receipts. Pinellas County recently said it would give the city about $4 million toward beautifying Gulf Boulevard. That is considerably less than the city had originally thought it would get.
In 2007, Pinellas County voters approved extending the 1-cent Penny for Pinellas sales tax for infrastructure projects, including $35 million for putting utility lines underground and beautifying Gulf Boulevard throughout the county's beach cities.
When the economy tanked, sales tax revenues also dropped. The county cut its contribution for beautifying Gulf Boulevard to about $26 million — a 25 percent reduction. The county also wants to start giving that money to the cities in 2013, a delay of two years.
Coward said he hopes to approach the County Commission for project funding next year.
In a related matter, the Indian Rocks Beach commission generally approved of a visioning study completed by a team from the University of South Florida's Florida Center for Community Design & Research, the research division of the USF School of Architecture and Community Design.
The study examined the need for city redevelopment over the next 25 years.
The 51-page plan identifies three areas of the city most amenable to redevelopment: the Narrows, a 40-acre triangular area on the east side of Gulf Boulevard, extending from Walsingham Road to the city's southern boundary; the Mid-Town Commercial Area along Gulf Boulevard, from Ninth to 16th avenues; and the Northern Commercial Area on Gulf Boulevard, from 23rd to 28th avenues.
Coward will review the plan and its suggested capital improvements with the city's Planning and Zoning Board. Specific recommendations will be brought back to the commission for approval.
City staffers have identified seven grant funding sources that could help finance specific projects. Among the recommended projects are a boardwalk and boat docks at Keegan Claire park, repaving crosswalks on Gulf Boulevard, a pedestrian walkway system in the Narrows business district, landscaping vacant properties, and moving the city's solid waste facility from city-owned property on Gulf Boulevard.