SAFETY HARBOR — No matter what happens in the upcoming municipal election, Seat 1 on the City Commission will be occupied by a familiar face.
Nancy J. Besore, who served on the commission from 2009 to 2014 and ran for mayor in 2014, is going up against incumbent Scott Long, who defeated Besore and two other candidates in a close election last year.
A retired Hillsborough County social studies teacher and a city resident for almost 27 years, Besore was part of a commission that laid much of the groundwork for Waterfront Park, which opened last year. She is also an advocate for historic preservation and a volunteer for the Safety Harbor Historical Society and the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center.
As a past member of the Environmental and Neighborhood Beautification Board, she describes herself as favoring "responsible development.’’
Besore says she decided to make another run for public office in large part because of the city’s budget discussions leading up to the current fiscal year, along with recent City Commission decisions on redevelopment.
"I want to be one who watches over the budget,’’ said Besore, 61. "We have done such a good job over the years, and I want to ensure our growth is aligned with our infrastructure.’’
An event last December also influenced Besore’s decision to run — an announcement by Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal that Pinellas County does not owe the Richman Group of Florida money for halting the proposed 2013 apartment complex project on the former Firmenich Citrus Plant property. Back in February 2013, while the majority of council members approved the apartment complex, Besore was an outspoken opponent and led protests against that vote.
"Recently, when the judge spoke so highly about what residents of Safety Harbor did, it definitely inspired me,’’ she said. "At the time, I was representing the residents’ wish to not put apartments there,’’ she said. "And if I’m reelected now, I’d continue with representation.’’
Long, who has been endorsed by the Safety Harbor Professional Fire Fighters Local 2267, is owner and founder of Ante Up Poker Media LLC and a former Tampa Bay Times editor. He is completing the term of Janet Hooper, who gave up her Seat 1 post to run for mayor.
He describes the current City Commission as one that "is working well together.’’
"Of course we don’t always agree but we are always congenial,’’ said Long, 45. "And that’s a departure from the past.’’
Since taking over for Hooper eight months ago, the incumbent has been a strong supporter of economic development and has advocated for the city to hire a full-time economic development director.
Despite not having that person in place, Long says the commission is steering growth in a positive direction. He cited the recent approval of a development agreement between Bay to Bay Properties’ and the city for a multiuse project at Main Street and Second Avenue N as an example.
"It is exciting because for the first time, on a grand scale, we used a development agreement,’’ he said. "The developer made a number of concessions. We received plenty of parking out of it and the developer got some impact fees waived. We have a good developer on this one, and now we hope this will lead to interest from other good developers.’’
Long also has been instrumental in several community events including his fundraiser, Melons for Moolah, which generated $8,000 for nine local nonprofit organizations. And in an announcement at Monday’s commission meeting, he announced the 2018 event will be linked to a familiar organization.
"Guinness World Records has cleared the city of Safety Harbor and whoever wants to participate in the attempt to break the world record for the largest watermelon eating contest on July 1," he said. "The current record is only 200 participants, and I think we can crush that.’’
Although much of this 2018 campaign season is focused on Main Street, with the sole candidate forum being sponsored by the city’s Chamber of Commerce and held at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa last week, both Long and Besore stressed they give all residents equal attention. But the candidates also concede that decisions on downtown growth are a priority.
Besore says she is constantly making notes as she goes door-to-door.
"When I talk to people, whether in Rainbow Farms, near downtown, or by the hospital, they say they love Safety Harbor," she said. "But even when they live a few miles from Main Street, they are telling me, ‘You know, I am concerned about what’s going on down there. I don’t want high buildings. I don’t want it to be crowded on Main Street.’"
She added: "I will work to ensure what we have is measured development.’’
Long stressed that even for people who do not live near downtown, "or have no interest to go there, a healthy downtown will benefit everyone.’’
A vibrant downtown increases property values, taking pressure off the city to raise property tax rates, he said.
"We don’t have multiple commercial areas otherwise to do this, like other places. That fact makes Safety Harbor different," he said. "So that in itself is a big, big part of why Main Street needs a lot of attention.’’
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.