In the last six months we’ve heard numerous arguments on both sides of the Firmenich proposal issue, including those of city officials, spokespeople for the developer and concerned residents of Safety Harbor.
But we hadn’t heard much from one segment of the community that stands to gain the most from the Richman Group’s plan to build a 276-unit apartment complex on the old citrus center site: business owners.
On Feb. 4, the city commission is expected to either approve or reject the Richman Group’s latest proposal, a decision that could affect the entire city for years to come.
So Safety Harbor Patch took to the streets to get some feedback from business owners. And we learned the merchants are pretty divided on the issue as well.
“If I lived right next to it I can see being unhappy with it,” said Jeff Harrell, owner of Bar Fly and its new offshoot, Saltwater Grill. “But as a business owner I see it as a good thing.”
“I think the city leaders are doing a good job being careful about the proposal, which is great,” he added. “We’ve got to be selective on what we allow before we say yes.”
Walk down Main Street a bit, and we found other business owners expressed similar sentiments.
Craig Davide, owner of Nolan’s Pub, acknowledges that something will be built on the 34-acre parcel, so the commission needs to do what’s best for business owners and residents.
“Someone is going to put something on 34 acres of property in a densely populated area,” he said. “So you have to ask, what do you want there, apartments, homes or an industrial complex?”
“I’d rather see houses,” he added. “But as a business owner I can see why they’d want to put apartments there.”
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At Polished salon a few blocks west, owner Duy Pham was working on Kristin Shea’s nails. Shea’s family owns the Main Street Jewelery next door.
As a lifelong resident of Safety Harbor, Kristin is torn between putting a large residential complex on the property and the increased revenue it could bring to the area.
“It’s good for business but bad for traffic,” she said. “As a business owner I think it would be great.”
“But I’ve lived here my whole life and played in those woods. The only way I would want an apartment building there is if the other options were worse.”
Pham, who is getting ready to celebrate the salon’s 10-year anniversary, is wholeheartedly in favor of bringing more people to the downtown district.
“I’m in support of any build out and commercial development,” he said. “I’m not a resident, but I’m definitely pro development.”
“This is what we’re here for, right? More development means more business. It would bring people to the area, and we need people in the area.”
Other merchants have made suggestions as to what needs to be done to bring revenue to the area.
Dee Dokumaci, owner of the Rose Garden Boutique, suggested forming a downtown merchants association to help raise money and formulate ideas for growth.
“The Chamber of Commerce does a great job, but they are a non profit organization who rely on our support to stay afloat,” she said. “They are not able to help bring funds to our city, which is why a merchants association is important.”
With the critical decision on the issue just one week away, merchants know the future of some local businesses could be riding on the outcome.
“You need people to support businesses, so adding more residents should mean those people are going to frequent downtown businesses and attractions,” Harrell said. “Right now I know people who go to other towns to get what we could have here.”
“I understand people are afraid of change, of new things, of growth,” he added. “But this is not going to become Tampa.”
What do you think, Harborites? Do you believe businesses would benefit from the proposed property? Or are you dead set against adding an apartment complex to Safety Harbor no matter what? Let us know in the comments below.