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Main Street to be emulated

The Old Palm Harbor Main Street Association and its new president show a state historic preservation group a "stellar" Florida Avenue.

By NICOLE HUTCHESON
Published March 27, 2007


PALM HARBOR - It was one of those days for Jan Montelaro, the new president of the Old Palm Harbor Main Street Association.

Next door to her office at the Rheba Sutton White Chapel, a steady stream of people cast votes on the Penny for Pinellas tax, which would bring more recreation to Palm Harbor.

In front of Montelaro is a copy of March 13's newspaper, which included a story about two weddings at the chapel inconvenienced by a bike race over the weekend. Old Palm Harbor Main Street manages the chapel and a bride says the organization didn't do enough to ensure her wedding went smoothly.

"Whenever I'm dealt a few lemons, I pull out a big ol' pitcher to make lemonade," Montelaro says.

Having problems from too much going on - that's a concern that Palm Harbor Main Street could only dream about years ago when Montelaro moved to the area.

But now, after a $2.5-million Pinellas County streetscaping project on historic Florida Avenue, and an influx of commercial and residential interest in the area, those dreams are now realities - and challenges - for the association's members.

Many say Montelaro and her board have handled the challenges well, so well that last week, the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation hosted its quarterly Main Street program meeting in Palm Harbor.

The Main Street program gives certifications to communities across the state, like Palm Harbor, that are preserving historic structures and attempting economic revitalization. The state designation of a "Main Street Program" makes applying for grants easier and provides a network of 50 communities.

Joan Jefferson, who coordinates the program, said the group chose Palm Harbor as its meeting place so members could "see something they might want to emulate."

"The improvements on Florida Avenue have been stellar, and it's a program we'd like to appreciate," she said.

Montelaro, 49, began working with the Palm Harbor organization in 2002. She and her husband, Steve, had moved to a 1950s house in Crystal Beach and she simply wanted to make friends. So she joined the organization that seemed to be doing the most in the growing surburb.

As a volunteer at the White Chapel, Montelaro helped prepare the space for ceremonies. The organization wasn't as structured and focused as it is today, she said.

"Whenever I started volunteering, I just thought I was helping people get married," Montelaro said.

But as the organization's role in the community grew, so did Montelaro's efforts with Old Palm Harbor.

After a year or so volunteering at the chapel, she was promoted to chairwoman of the Main Street Center, which includes the chapel and adjoining Harbor Hall. Then she began working on securing grants that went to complete landscaping along Florida Avenue and created the community's signature Hocus Pocus Ball.

"She's been awesome ... staying on top and getting things done," said Lesley Klein, the immediate past president of the Old Palm Harbor Main Street Association. "She's got this great business sense."

After working as a flight attendant for 20 years, Montelaro became the director of business development for an Ocala-based medical billing company where she works now.

"The more people you're around, it's amazing the way the world opens up to you," said Montelaro, who on this day exudes casualness in sea-green shorts and white and orange running shoes.

Making connections with people, thinking before opening her mouth and not starting fires that she doesn't want to put out are the tenets of her leadership style, Montelaro said.

Admitting when she needs help is another quality that's abundantly clear.

The most important task facing the organization in the coming months is finding a program manager for Old Palm Harbor Main Street, she said.

The person would be responsible for marketing the area's signature events such as the Bike Fest and Parrot Head Party, but he or she also must secure funding for future events and maintain administrative and budgetary duties. It would be a paid position.

"We need someone now who knows how to take Main Street to the goal of promoting a downtown area," she said.

"People need to realize we're really a business entity," she said. "Safety Harbor is a destination. Tarpon Springs is an entity. We want Palm Harbor to be the same thing."