SAFETY HARBOR — Christina Robertson, a resident of Safety Harbor and mother of Caleb, 3, sat inside Bravo Pizzeria on Main Street on a recent Wednesday. As she waited for her sandwich, Caleb hopped around the restaurant, dashing up and back to the front door, waving at both people and dogs on the other side of the window.
"Caleb loves being outside, but it is too tough to sit and eat outside," she said.
In a few months, the Robertson family might have an easier way to dine out with their toddler. Early in 2018, the City Commission will begin discussing "parklets," tiny parks that could be allowed outside restaurants and businesses. They would be placed on public rights of way (think parking spaces).
Parklets started popping up in urban centers, like Manhattan, Chicago and Seattle, several years ago. In Florida, Miami and Fort Lauderdale began installing them about four years ago.
In October, Andy Greenwood, a member of the city’s planning and zoning board, proposed parklets to the City Commission as a way to promote downtown while keeping that small-town feel.
Describing a parklet as "a business porch’’ and "a street patio," Greenwood explained that the board’s first thoughts included having the parklets, often filled with greenery and public art, to be paid for by area businesses that would serve as sponsors. Along with serving as advertising for the sponsor, the parklet would serve as an enticement for people to spend more time downtown.
Since the initial presentation by Greenwood, Matt Spoor, Safety Harbor’s city manager, and his staff have been preparing what Spoor calls a "parklet pilot program."
"In the last few weeks we have been meeting internally with public works, community development and engineering to create guidelines," Spoor said. "And we are looking at how other Florida cities have found success."
Some business owners, like Martha Morrison Sabo, co-owner of Antiques to Aardvarks, like the idea but are apprehensive about the cost. Morrison Sabo would like to see the creation of parklets funded not by individual businesses, but by several sources at once.
"Immediately, I think of bringing money from several different groups, for example having contributions come from the downtown merchants, the Chamber of Commerce and also some funding from the city," she said. "I do like the idea, though. Already, I put chairs outside of my business and people are always sitting in them so (parklets) would add to that and bring a little added greenery to Main Street."
On the other hand, Melissa Haist, owner of Tupelo on 4th, is all for it. Her studio/boutique at 135 Fourth Ave. N is a stone’s throw from Main Street.
"Our street used to be one made up of houses, but now it is made up of businesses, and during events like Third Fridays when Main Street is closed, we have just sat and watched everyone park and walk by us to Main Street," she explained. "I think (parklets) fit in perfect for what we have been wanting."
Once she learned of the parklet discussion, Haist asked Spoor for permission to create a parklet for November’s installment of Third Friday, and then she and her neighbors got to work. They set up a small picket fence, added a couch, chair and tables. "People seemed to really like it," she said.
And Haist plans to create another one for the December’s Third Friday tonight. "This time I have patio furniture," she said.
In the future, Haist has visions of parklets with more of an artistic twist, with more trees and plants. There will also be more flowers and, of course, they will be held in mosaic planters courtesy of Tupelo on 4th.
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