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Local Business Owners Voice Opinions On Firmenich Proposal

One week before a pivotal commission meeting on the issue, Safety Harbor Patch solicited opinions from those who stand the most to gain from the project

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.

Harborite January 28, 2013 at 12:11 PM
There may be a small increase in patrons for our downtown businesses if these apartments are built, but it will come at a high price for Safety Harbor. The renters living in apartments next to McMullen Booth are just as likely to patronize the many big box stores and chain restaurants in the area as they are to shop in our downtown. Pinellas County has nearly a million residents and there are already plenty of potential patrons in our area for our downtown businesses. We don't need to add nearly 300 rental units to our City in order to increase the number of shoppers in our downtown. The downtown businesses just need to develop strategies to entice the several million Tampa Bay area residents to choose downtown Safety Harbor over other outside businesses. Also, many visitors already come to Safety Harbor from around the world. They come here and patronize our downtown businesses because they love our small town "Old Florida" character which has been lost in most other Florida cities. We need to think about long term strategies to help our downtown. This means retaining Safety Harbor's small town characteristics and giving people a unique experience that you can't find anywhere else in our overbuilt region. Simply adding large scale apartment buildings to Safety Harbor is not a good long term strategy. In the long run, it will only hurt the image of our City and only add a few patrons to our downtown businesses.
Robert Saltzman January 28, 2013 at 03:04 PM
I think from a business point of view even if they get a few customers from a new source like a large rental project such as this it would be a plus. I don't see a rush of 300 people heading downtown on Saturday to shop. Or our Main St becoming like South Beach where the people flock to the outdoor restaurants and wait on line for a table .We need to find out who is shopping downtown now, where they came from and why they came here. The "build it and they will come" made for a nice movie but reality is we don't know. There is a large condo on McMullen Booth by Ruth Eckerd Hall one has to wonder how many of those folks come to Safety Harbor downtown for a day of shopping or dinner. The results may be a barometer as to what we can expect from this project. I would be inclined to believe they turn right on McMullen Booth, go north and frequent the area around Enterprise more often. The traffic concerns are so far the best argument against it. I go by there an ask myself who would pay "market" rate for an apartment that looks out over the Quonset hut building and the yard waste facility across the street? Or how about that view, of the back of Walgreens for $1000 a month? I bet on a clear day you can see the Hess station. (cont below)
Robert Saltzman January 28, 2013 at 03:04 PM
I think we need to get the pulse of who is coming here, from where and why? When I was running for Commissioner I asked a couple of ladies what brought them here. They were from Ocala a beautiful small town in its own right. They said they had driven down 2 hours to enjoy our small town charm for a day of shopping and lunch. This thing has been tossed up and back, anger from some residents has turned it into a hot potato. Ultimately the commission will need to make the decision all we can do is give them the tools (facts and figures) to help them make the call. Extra police, extra school pressure, extra traffic, low return on taxes, is it going to be worth it?
Jeffrey Rosenfield January 28, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Thanks for the input gentlemen!
Russell Norman January 28, 2013 at 06:03 PM
I also believe that this is not the business boom that many think it will be to the downtown area. The additional traffic created at that intersection will be a public safety concern. To overdevelope this property based on what a few think it might due without further investigation is not in the residents best interest. I would love to see condo or townhomes with less density and height integrated into this pc. Another piece of info is there are only 3 small areas in Safety Harbor zoned Light Manufacturing and this is one of them. The other 2 areas are already developed so where can some one go to build a small business complex in Safety Harbor? I say do what's in the best interests of the residents and business and put together a task force to develope a plan for this pc with the current owners and the go out and market it to the developers to get done what is in all of ours best interest.
Suwannee Street Resident January 28, 2013 at 07:30 PM
I've been trying to follow this story but haven't done all my homework. I would like to see some additional development but agree this is too big. Does anyone know what the current LOS (level of service) is on SR 590 and McMullen Booth at that intersection? I believe someone mentioned LOS F at some point. If that is the case, how could the zoning change even have passed? Is the entrance to the proposed development on SR 590 or McMullen Booth? Remind me of the next meeting and time- I will definitely try to be there. Thanks. Sorry if some of this is a repeat!
Jeffrey Rosenfield January 28, 2013 at 07:38 PM
I'll have to check on the LOS, but in answer to your question about the entrance, it is proposed to be on SR 590, NOT McMullen Booth Road. According to the developer, they cannot put the entrance on McMullen Booth due to the wetland preservation on that area of the property. There will, however, be an access point on McMullen Booth for emergency vehicles. The next meeting is Monday, February 4 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Thank you for the comment.
Russell Norman January 28, 2013 at 08:22 PM
Jeff all entrances will be on SR590 one for the complex and an additional one for emergency vehicles. There would be no access between the apartments and the proposed offices. The offices will have their own entrance on to McMullen Booth. The Developer said the cost for them to go over the wetlands and to create an entrance on McMullen Booth would make the project not fesible.
Russell Norman January 28, 2013 at 10:15 PM
go to WWW.cityofsafetyharbor.com click on meetings agendas and minutes located on left hand side scroll thru the streaming media section until you find planning and zoning under planning and zoning boardmeetings (2013) Jan. 9, 2013, click on agenda click on link to conceptual site plan or uner the link to staff report and related material you will find the traffic study
joey boy January 29, 2013 at 12:46 AM
I think the people living downtown are going to be affected by the increased traffic as eventually they will be using downtown as a shortcut to avoid McMullen-Booth.
Russell Norman January 29, 2013 at 02:16 AM
Joey, I agree just look at bayshore and main now at 5:00, also the traffic that will start coming down 7th add that on when baseball seasons start and it will be an accident waiting to happen.
Gary Moos January 29, 2013 at 02:44 AM
This is sheer conjecture, but I believe that downtown businesses would benefit more from a few half-million dollar homes that they would from 300 apartments.
Russell Norman January 29, 2013 at 03:02 AM
Again for those people that are against a development this size and want to let it be known please go to the online petition at www.tinyurl.com\signonline this can be a powerful tool to let the commissioners know what we think
Russell Norman January 29, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Robert, Glad to see you signed the petition any help you can give by passing the info along will help. You only need 600 people to get a referendum or recall. On this petition it only allows 1 person per email address so no one can sandbag it. As it stands we probably have over 300 people if some share the same email address. This is a powerfull tool and I know the Mayor has seen this. Let's get people aware.
Jimmy p January 30, 2013 at 02:31 PM
The forgot to ask the important question to the retailers...do they live in Safety Harbor. As well, this whole development is putting up 4 story apartment buildings...when the town code will not let you build over two stories. This whole thing is a disaster from start to finish and the people in the town need to sign the petition and show up and be heard. You cannot complain after. Hear to town hall and ask to see the plans . It is a disaster in the making. If the property should be used, it should be for single family homes to keep the look and feel of a small town. please make your voice heard on FEB 4 and sign this :http://www.tinyurl.com/signonline
Jimmy p January 30, 2013 at 02:34 PM
Well said. I cannot see how anyone that cares about this town thinks this is a good idea.
Russell Norman January 30, 2013 at 08:56 PM
the petition is at www.tinyurl.com\signonline
Dee Dokumaci January 30, 2013 at 10:08 PM
I'd like to clear up something of importance, I don't believe a huge rental apartments will be beneficial to my business, I do get local people shopping at my boutique because they have known me for a while from my old location, most are established residents of Safety Harbor & some are from neighboring towns so to say my sales will go up when these renters move in to this new complex is a misconception, now I have considered investing in a house in Safety Harbor but unfortunately now I am not so eager to do so, all I can see is property values right along side of this complex will lose their value & I feel that is very unfair to those home owners, I urge the city officials to think about this, how would you like it, you buy a house then a tall apartment gets built right next to your home, instead of seeing the wonderful nature which you fell in love with when you bought your house instead all you see is this huge tower as your backyard & your home value has gone down considerably from what you paid for it, I don't think you would like it so my question to you why do you want to do this to the home owners along the Firmenich property?? I tried not to get too involved in this situation cause it will not affect me one way or another, if it gets approved it will take several years to built & I will retire by the time problems surface so why am I saying something?? because I care about the residents who live here, their objections are valid, please find an alternative plan...
Dee Dokumaci January 30, 2013 at 10:56 PM
I would also like to share with everybody something wonderful happened today as I stepped out of my boutique for little fresh air, somebody came running to tell me to look at my car, my heart beat fast I thought somebody damaged my car but instead I was looking at a beautiful sight, a white bird with pink beak sitting on my car what was special about this bird was before the major construction on Main & Bayshore this bird always visited often but once the construction began that bird disappeared & I didn't see it for a long time up until today of course I grabbed my camera and took lots of pictures which I am posting, this beautiful sight that I am sharing with all of you has a special meaning, this wonderful town of ours is full of nature unfortunately many of us get so caught up with everyday life obligations we rarely notice the beauty around us, we are all so busy with the constant building of these brick & mortar which is destroying nature that is all around us, please take a moment to appreciate our surroundings, Safety Harbor has adequate amount of buildings, this is a charming & quaint town with a huge historical value, all the visitors who I talk to are in love with the natural beauty surrounding us, why do you want to destroy that beautiful image, please think about it very carefully because once it's gone we can never capture it again, enjoy the picture....
Dee Dokumaci January 30, 2013 at 11:35 PM
Thank you Gary maybe not half million dollar homes but at least $250,000 & up cause these are the people who are more likely to shop here, there are many vacationers staying at the Resort/Spa all they talk about is investing in a home in our charming town to escape from the big city living around US, they come to Safety Harbor to relax, they love our Marina, Museum, Art Gallery, Chamber of Commerce, all the quaint shops & restaurants, these are people are not interested in a rental, they want to own now how are they going to feel if they find out a rental apartment being built right next door to home owners, they are going to take their money & run due to the fact rentals bring down the value of a home, yes another valid reason not to build this rental property...
Jimmy p January 31, 2013 at 03:15 PM
Dee please sign the petition, your voice matters.
Kristin Shea January 31, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Hi, Kristin Shea here from Main Street Jewelry (Jeff, you spelled jewelry wrong above, haha)......Dee, your point is right on the money. My first wish would be that that area just be left alone...clear out the buildings and leave the trees and wildlife. Don't even put a park, we have enough of those. Just leave it. I grew up right behind where the apartment complex is going to be. I used to play in those woods and swim in Lake Hancock. My friends and I used to build little 'lean to's" among the pines....such great times. There are plenty of homes here already. But....I was told that something has to be built there.....why I wonder? Why can't it just be left alone?
Barbara W. Hugg February 03, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Nothing like waiting to poll the businesses at the last minute. Contrary to popular belief I believe there is more than a handful the citizens against this project as it stands now. Please come out and let you voice be heard at the meeting tomorrow night...

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