Trying to ease concerns from downtown merchants, the City of Dade City’s massive downtown stormwater capital improvement project will be halted until after the Jan. 25 Kumquat Festival.
The work stoppage will come with a price tag not to exceed $65,000 — as contractor Kamminga & Roodvoets (K&R) will need to place temporary asphalt from Pasco Avenue to Sixth Street, and remove all construction staging equipment for the week leading up to and after the festival.
Commissioners unanimously approved the construction change order “not to exceed $65,000” during a Dec. 17 special meeting.
Under the work order, the contractor will install the asphalt, then remove it after the Kumquat Festival, so crews can resume installing pipes, generally from Pasco Avenue to Seventh Street to the intersection of Pasco Avenue and Fifth Street.
Commissioners took the action after downtown business owners and merchants pleaded with city officials earlier this month to pause the project. They feared that construction work zones could negatively impact the safety and overall experience of festival vendors and attendees, and in turn, local businesses.
The annual festival, in its 23rd year, is expected to draw more than 400 vendors and 35,000 visitors, with an estimated economic impact of almost $900,000.
Dade City business leaders originally called for the stormwater project to be delayed until April altogether, so as to not disrupt the busy winter season where northern snowbird residents and other visitors flock to the city.
But, that suggestion was strongly discouraged by Doug Benjamin, K&R’s vice president of Florida field operations, at the Dec. 17 meeting.
He told commissioners delaying the project until April “is a very bad idea,” noting it would create scheduling conflicts with K&R crews scheduled to be on other jobs, and interfere with Florida’s wet season, which could yield further delays.
Benjamin put it like this: “We’re in the dry season — this is when we can work, without dewatering and without additional costs.”
Benjamin said he understands the inconvenience for local business owners, but it’s all a reality with any downtown stormwater project: “There’s always an economic impact when we work in cities and towns – that’s what we do. What you see out here is what we do day in and day out, all over the Tampa Bay area, and there’s always an impact, there just is.”
Local business owners also have taken issue with the amount of heavy machinery equipment and concrete piles blocking off parts of the downtown and access to parking around Pasco Avenue and near the Historic Courthouse. Some have called for staging areas to be placed somewhere west of Seventh Street once construction resumes.
Benjamin rebuffed those suggestions, too. He stressed that area really needs to be shut down when work crews proceed with the project’s water main portion, also noting there’s additional liability associated with the further away equipment is placed from a work zone. “You can do anything for a cost, but there’s a huge cost associated with that, and it’s going to slow the project way down,” he said.
“The more hurdles you put in our way, the longer it’s going to take,” he said
The $2.3 million stormwater project is funded by state appropriations, as well as the Florida Department of Transportation and Dade City. It seeks to address flooding problems that have plagued the area for years, where downtown streets and sidewalks have been known to be swallowed in at least 6 inches to 7 inches of standing water for days at a time after heavy rains.
The scope of the project generally takes underground piping through multiple downtown streets into an existing conveyance system into a reconfigured Irwin Pond, just pass U.S. 98 and the CSX railway.
Work began in August, but was delayed more than a month because TECO and Centurylink needed to clear their utility complex around construction zones. The project has a yearlong timeline for completion.
Mayor Camille Hernandez said the decision to temporarily pause construction to accommodate the Kumquat Festival “is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re trying to do what’s in the best interest of the merchants in Dade City.”
Hernandez, like fellow commissioners, said she would have preferred to delay construction until the springtime so downtown business owners can capitalize during the busy winter months. “We’re throwing money away, but I don’t think we have a lot of other options at this point. We’re trying to salvage what we can for the holiday season,” she said.
Commissioner Nicole Deese Newlon said the plan doesn’t go far enough to help merchants, but added, “I don’t know that there’s much alternative at this point.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Jim Shive called the brief construction postponement “a workable solution.”
Published December 25, 2019