DADE CITY — Outcry from business owners and event planners of Dade City’s signature Kumquat Festival has altered plans for storm-water line construction downtown that includes a controversial road paving plan.
Dade City obtained more than $2 million in state funding to build a storm-water conveyance system and expand a city-owned pond downtown to combat flooding that occurs with even minimal rain.
But the project did not start well. The Dade City Commission last March had to find $300,000 to cover a cost override due to a contractor’s bidding error. Delays occurred as the project went back out to bid. And once construction started, problems arose over aging infrastructure and fiber-optic lines, according to Dade City Manager Leslie Porter.
“We don’t know what conflicts are going to be in the ground when we get there,” Porter said.
The project eventually moved forward, but construction turned to dirt a key stretch of Pasco Avenue in the heart of downtown commerce.
By November, concerns arose over whether the road would be repaired in time for the Jan. 25 Kumquat Festival put on by the Dade City Chamber of Commerce.
“The festival is the largest single-day event in Pasco County, bringing in thousands of people every year, so we needed to make sure Pasco Avenue was going to be available to us,” said Chamber executive director John Moors.
Business owners also complained of suffering sales during the busiest months for sales downtown.
Todd Batchelor, who owns the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s/Brass Tap restaurant at Seventh Street and Pasco Avenue, said the construction cost his business greatly.
“It has very much been a disruption of business for all of the downtown," he said. "This is our prime time of the year in downtown Dade City. I know the city is trying to work with us, but I really think it could have been managed better.”
With the festival looming, the Dade City Commission agreed in December to spend $65,000 to temporarily pave Pasco Avenue between Seventh and Fifth streets to accommodate the festival. The work is slated to be completed this week in time for the festival, Porter said.
But the paving drew criticism, as some questioned spending such a significant amount of money on what they saw as temporary paving. A Tallahassee political action committee, dubbed Accountability in Government, even opened a website, www.dadecandobetter.com, accusing the city of “terrible planning.”
Unfortunate “misinformation” was spread regarding the stormwater project and Pasco Avenue paving, Porter said, adding that most of the new pavement will remain as a base for the final road. Also, the commission agreed Tuesday to free $36,000 for Pasco Avenue the city had planned to spend paving 16th Street, a residential dirt road, because the residents there petitioned the city not to pave it.
The city also altered its plan to close a stretch of Seventh Street from Pasco Avenue to Church Avenue, as well as the stretch of Pasco Avenue, to complete the storm-water line construction. Instead, the city will close the stretch of Seventh Street for the month of February, while leaving the newly paved Pasco Avenue open during that time. When the work on Seventh is done, workers will return to Pasco Avenue to finish the project.
Porter acknowledged the difficulties construction has caused for downtown businesses, saying the city will do everything it can to help ease disruption. For the Chamber, the quick paving of Pasco Avenue in time for the festival was a big help.
“The city was fantastic," Moors said. "They realized the benefits the event provides to businesses and the community as whole.”