ST. PETE BEACH — On Tuesday voters took the first step in accumulating money needed to spruce up Corey Avenue and Gulf Boulevard and attract new development when they approved creating a defined Community Redevelopment Area.
Before any projects can become a reality, the city and Pinellas County must take a series of formal actions — and enough time must pass for enough tax dollars to accumulate.
The essence of the 20-year CRA plan is to set aside property tax dollars to pay for a $60 million list of public projects:
• putting utility lines underground;
• building a waterfront boardwalk connecting Corey Circle to the city's Community Center;
• installing beautification and streetscape improvements along Gulf Boulevard;
• building two public parking garages and buying land for public parking;
• building a new public library, expanding the Community Center;
• and improving the city's drainage and stormwater system.
"We are trying to show the development community that the city and the county are willing to commit tax dollars to making public improvements in our resort area and along Corey Avenue," City Manager Mike Bonfield said Friday.
First, the City Commission must formally approve the CRA plan.
Then the Pinellas County Commission has to approve it. That's required because some of the tax dollars to be set aside are county revenues that would not necessarily be spent in the city otherwise.
What is being set aside is part of the taxes on future increased property values in the CRA district and some fees charged for new developments within the district.
In the next 20 years, officials expect the fund to grow to about $60 million.
"It will take some time before any funds will build up," Bonfield said.
There is no specific timetable for completing the creation of the CRA, he said. The City Commission most likely will vote on the plan in April, then it will go to the county for consideration.
Once implemented, the tax dollars will be kept in a separate fund and overseen by a special board, most likely the City Commission acting as the CRA board, Bonfield said.
In other area elections, most incumbents were returned to office.
In Gulfport, however, City Council member Judy Ryerson was ousted by a mere 11 votes. She had four opponents and lost to David Hastings, owner of a city-based accounting firm.
Ryerson said she does not know why voters did not return her to office, but she pledged to remain active in the community.
"My biggest fear is that sometimes people run for office without really knowing what the job is all about. The learning curve can be fairly long," Ryerson said.
Hastings acknowledged that he is a "rookie" and says he looks forward to learning "the subtleties of becoming a council person."