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Clock tower headlines Keystone redevelopment plans

This rendering by the Verdin Company shows what downtown visitors might see, if the city council follows a recommendation of its redevelopment advisory committee. Image courtesy of the Verdin Company.

This rendering by the Verdin Company shows what downtown visitors might see, if the city council follows a recommendation of its redevelopment advisory committee. Image courtesy of the Verdin Company.


BY DAN HILDEBRAN

Monitor Editor

Keystone Heights’ redevelopment advisory board presented its project and budget recommendations to the city council during a Sept. 5 meeting.

The advisory board researches possible projects for the city’s community development agency.  Keystone’s five-member city council acts as the town’s CRA.

The agency’s revenue consists of around $12,000 in city and county tax receipts specifically earmarked for redevelopment, $16,000 in grants and $5,000 from Our Country Day revenues. The agency also has over $73,000 in unspent revenues from previous years.

The agency’s preliminary spending plan for the 2013-2014 fiscal year includes $11,700 for insurance, travel and other administrative expenses, $6,100 for professional fees including accounting, legal and planning costs and $15,500 for special events like Our Country Day, seasonal decorations and support for other festivals.

However, the advisory board recommended that the bulk of the agency’s spending, over $56,000, go to capital improvements city leaders hope will attract visitors to the downtown area.

Those plans include $8,500 for landscaping and street-scaping improvements, $5,000 for benches and trash cans and $15,000 to help Keystone businesses upgrade their signs.

The biggest project CRAB members tried to persuade the city council to buy into on Sept. 5 was a $20,000 clock tower CRAB members hope to see along Lawrence Boulevard.

Advisory board chair Deidra Murphy explained the strategy behind the clock and other proposals to council members.

“People want the charm of a small town,” she said, “a community like Keystone, but one that takes pride in itself.  There are elements that draw people into a community that want to do business there.  Updating tired and worn with aesthetically pleasing features, as well as having a few prominent features   that will have a high impact on the city is an investment in Keystone Heights.”

CRAB member Hayley Gartee told council members that the nearby towns of Alachua, Gainesville, Leesburg, Ocala, Lake City, Palatka, DeLand, Jacksonville, Jacksonville Beach, Fernandina, and St. Augustine have already installed similar clock towers to the one the board is recommending for Keystone.

The structure would stand around 12 feet tall and would have lighted faces on two sides. It also features a carillon system with cast bronze bells that can be programed to play 350 seasonal or traditional songs.

Mayor Mary Lou Hildreth said the advisory board’s recommendations reminded her of features she has seen in popular north Georgia destinations like Dahlonega and Helen.

She said one CRAB idea, encouraging businesses and organizations to display themed scarecrows as a holiday event, is wildly popular in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta.

“What’s good about it is that it brings people into the downtown,” she said.

Vice mayor Tony Brown added that during a recent trip to Savannah he saw a clock similar to the one the advisory board recommended and thought a similar structure would be nice for Keystone.

He told CRAB members, however, that he would not be in favor of a clock for the upcoming year. He said he would prefer earmarking more money for assisting downtown businesses in upgrading signs.

Brown chairs the city’s growth management committee which has been deliberating how to upgrade and enforce Keystone’s sign ordinance. One idea the growth management committee entertained was buying signage for all downtown businesses and possibly renting the signs back to the enterprises as a way to enforce more stringent sign rules.

Brown said there is support among downtown merchants for the clock project.  He said, however, that the town’s sign problems have been lingering for so long, he felt that solving them once and for all was a higher priority than the clock.

He said most downtown businesses are willing to conform to a strict sign ordinance, they just do not want to pay for it.  He said the CRA money could be the solution for what he sees as one of the city’s most pressing problems.

Hildreth said she thought the $15,000 already allocated for sign upgrades was more than enough.  Murphy added that businesses should be required to invest in the sign upgrades.  She also said the clock idea is a six-month project where replacing signs in the city could take several years.

The council approved the advisory panel’s budget.

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