SAFETY HARBOR — Will the city's new waterfront park become a quiet, shady retreat, perfect for calming the soul? Or the home of a busy destination restaurant, one that fillets the sole?
Tuesday, the 15-member Waterfront Park Steering Committee, a citizen's group chosen by city commissioners to help guide development of the bayfront parkland behind the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa, met for the second time to brainstorm design alternatives. Spa representatives, the public and city staff also will have input.
"Ultimately, the final decision is up to the city commissioners, who will take it up in December," said Matt McLachlan, the city's community development director.
In February, the city purchased 13 acres of undeveloped property on Old Tampa Bay for $2.75 million from Olympia Development Group, owners of the Safety Harbor Resort & Spa. The land, which includes uplands and wetlands, is behind the spa complex and extends from the city marina to Mullet Creek.
It's a given that most of the park will remain open space and be used for community events. And the city already plans to extend the Bayshore Trail through the park.
But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the design is an acre of land near Veterans Memorial Lane that has the potential for commercial development.
"That unrestricted parcel will be the most debated aspect of this process," said City Manager Matthew Spoor. "It is limited to three stories and it can't compete with the spa. It could be a restaurant or a retail attraction."
Spoor says he envisions a phased approach to the development, perhaps beginning with a boardwalk and progressing as money becomes available.
He said the city has some dollars already set aside to make improvements to the park. Penny for Pinellas money, earmarked for replacing existing restroom facilities, total $250,000. Another $218,000 comes from Community Redevelopment Agency money.
If more funding is necessary, there always are increased property taxes to consider, he said.
"It's all about how much it costs and how badly do (the residents) want it," he said.
During the meeting, Brad Purdy, the city's public communications manager, reported results of the city's ongoing Web-based survey that went up on the city's website July 24.
Based on the first 361 responses, most respondents (about three-quarters were city residents), said they wanted a local park serving the community as opposed to a regional destination park.
Nearly half (48 percent) said they didn't want any commercial building on the property, while 22 percent said a small building under 5,000 square feet would be fine.
Amenities listed on the survey included an observation tower, a splash pad, water features, canoe and kayak launches and so on.
Shade trees, walking paths and sidewalks were the most important items to the respondents.
The community was less enthusiastic about fitness facilities, boat slips and volleyball, bocce ball or shuffleboard courts.
Purdy cautioned that the survey was not scientific and features such as boat slips and water features were undefined and ambiguous.
"It's all subject to interpretation and as you narrow down your ideas, our questions can become more specific," he told the committee.
Spa owner Bill Touloumis shared his 10-year master plan for the spa, which included a 4-foot elevated wall to divide the park and resort. The Tiki bar would be moved so that it could be accessed by park visitors as well as spa guests, he said.
The committee broke into three groups and, utilizing maps of the park and templates for amenities, came up with alternative scenarios for development.
Ideas included separate walking and bike paths, a floating boat dock, handicapped-friendly kayak and canoe launches, and a storage facility to house boating equipment for the community center.
Some expressed concern about the size and scope of splash pads that could be noisy and create parking issues.
"That's why we put (the splash pad) up north away from the commercial element," said Safety Harbor Chamber chairman Marie Padavich, who was referring to her group's suggested design.
But the idea of a splash playground anywhere on the property riled resident Terrie Thomas, who wasn't a part of the committee but wanted to give input.
She challenged committee members to visit Oldsmar's current "sprayground" before making recommendations to the commission.
"To cram restaurants, parking, splash pads on that property — you just don't have the room," she said.
Terri Reeves can be reached at [email protected]