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Gulf-to-Bay face lift to get rolling slowly

The city's massive project to improve Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard will begin this month. But it will start out small.

By Christmas, city crews will paint fire hydrants, add Clearwater banners to light poles, landscape around the welcome center and the water pollution control plant and hold a clean-up day.

"I think the feeling is that people are tired of planning," said David Barth, an Orlando community planning consultant hired by the city. "They want to see some quick fixes."

In the meantime, city leaders will begin devising a long-term plan that may include more costly and permanent improvements, such as brick medians, connecting parking lots between businesses, creating wider sidewalks for pedestrians and bicyclists and burying underground utilities.

There is no timetable for the project yet, but only a fraction of the work _ median and landscape improvements _ could be done before next summer, when the state Department of Transportation is scheduled to resurface the road. Others, like burying utilities, would have to be done during the resurfacing project.

Rick Hedrick, assistant city manager for capital projects, said money for the project could come from the city, county, state, businesses, grants or a new additional tax on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard property owners.

The city also may consider establishing a special redevelopment district, such as the one downtown, where taxes collected when property values go up would be used specifically for Gulf-to-Bay improvements.

City officials do not know how much the entire project would cost. Burying the utilities alone would cost millions of dollars, but no specific estimates have been made.

The city already has almost $700,000 set aside for the project, which is more than enough to complete the quick-fix improvements by December and hire consultants and attorneys.

The City Commission will decide Thursday whether to spend about $24,000 to hire Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson of Orlando to help determine how to pay for the project.

Eventually, the city expects to meet with residents to ask them what they want done to Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. City Manager Mike Roberto said almost every group he has spoken to since he was hired this summer has asked how the city was going to improve Gulf-to-Bay.

Roberto has said he envisions enhancements being added every few blocks of Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard between the Courtney Campbell Parkway and the harbor so by the time drivers arrive downtown, they would see a combination of all the improvements.

The city would have consistent landscaping at each major intersection and signs telling drivers how many miles to downtown and the beach.

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