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Safety Harbor residents offer 'do' and 'don't' suggestions for downtown

By Piper Castillo
Many residents surveyed would like to see a grocery store of some kind in downtown Safety Harbor. [Douglas R. Clifford, Times]

SAFETY HARBOR — Although many residents would like to see a large grocery store like a Fresh Market or a Publix downtown, it is just not in the cards, according to City Manager Matt Spoor. But the community could see a smaller grocer somewhere on Main Street in the not-so-distant future.

"Our blocks are not large enough for some of those chains. A 24,000-square-foot grocer with a parking lot for 100 spaces is not going to fit in downtown,'' Spoor said. "But what will fit is a mom and pop style market.''

A market, a hardware store, a bike shop, a book store, a well-known name brand boutique to entice the younger generation, a bait and tackle shop and even a kitchen-gadget store, are all on the wish lists of community members. Recently, the city conducted the "Downtown Use Survey,'' gathering input from residents on what they want downtown. The more than 400 responses were much what city officials expected — both the requests and the criticisms. Along with bringing in businesses to help add to that feeling that Safety Harbor is a place to live, work and play, the survey brought home apprehensions — a concern for over-development, parking challenges and too-tall buildings.

Drafted by Spoor and community development director Marcie Stenmark, the survey was done with "the intent to use it as a tool for the bigger picture discussions on downtown,'' Spoor said.

Criticisms included too many bars, not enough gift shops and even too many hair salons, including: "Less bars. Less hair places,'' "Sooo many salons,'' and "No more hair salons. No more chain stores. No more building of high density apartments.''

Spoor pointed out that when it comes to the community's concerns surrounding the size of buildings, they can rest easier perhaps knowing officials must adhere to the downtown master plan, created in 1992. It caps the majority of buildings at two stories or 35-feet tall, although the area of the district closest to the Safety Harbor Spa allows buildings up to 65 feet.

"So I think the downtown master plan adequately reflects those opinions to see smaller, not taller buildings,'' Spoor said.

Several organizations helped provide input on what to include on the survey, including the Merchants of Safety Harbor and the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce. Susan Petersen, executive director of the Chamber, like Spoor, was not surprised by many of the answers and she too expects that the feedback will help with the city's next steps.

And like Spoor, she also expected that a grocer would be a top priority for residents.

"The feedback definitely shows our residents would like to see a market and a source of fresh produce, healthy food downtown. They would like to be able to do things here, things they could achieve without getting in a car,'' she said. "Along with the survey, the success of the Sunday Morning Market is also an indicator of what people are looking for.''

Another popular request is to make Safety Harbor more of a destination for non-residents.

"I love Safety Harbor but would really like to see more places that would draw people to the town, especially restaurants,'' was one entry.

"Make our oasis a destination,'' was another.

One non-resident downtown on a recent day had his own suggestion:

"I would suggest that businesses stay open past 5 p.m.,'' said Ray Jones of Clearwater as he stood outside of a closed shop one block off Main Street at 5:15 p.m.

"Stay open later for tourists. That's what I'd say if they asked me to fill out the survey. ''

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.