SEMINOLE — Some City Council members, concerned about the number of empty storefronts in the city, wonder if more could be done to encourage businesses to move to Seminole.
"What do we do about all the crappy vacant buildings throughout our community?" Dan Hester asked Saturday during the council's annual retreat.
Some of the larger properties have been vacant for a long time, he said. The situation is going to get worse when the Publix moves across 113th Street N from its current location in Seminole Mall. The mall, he said, already has several empty storefronts.
"Seminole Mall is turning into an eyesore," Hester said. "It's embarrassing."
Hester wondered if the city should hire someone to encourage businesses to move here.
Seminole had 34 vacant storefronts as of February, the last time the Seminole Chamber issued a report. That is an uptick in the number of vacancies, said Gretchen Cain Wells, who is in charge of the business assistance program designed to keep companies in the city and encourage others to move in.
Wells said it's hard to know what percentage of the city's available commercial properties are open because no count has ever been done. And comparing the open storefronts to the approximately 1,300 occupational licenses issued last year doesn't say much because many of those are home-based businesses.
Mayor Jimmy Johnson, who is also the chamber's executive director, said that many business owners are interested in moving to Seminole. Chamber officials talk with them regularly, he said. Among those are a grocery store and a motel. Several people have looked at the site of the former Bay Pines Mobile Home Park opposite the veterans hospital.
The talk of Publix's move raised another issue: Traffic control. Council members worried about seniors who live around Seminole Mall trying to cross 113th to get to Publix.
The city has spoken to the county about the issue, said Mark Ely, Seminole's development director. The situation is tricky, he said, because the Publix is in unincorporated Pinellas and 113th Street is a county road that is partly in the city and partly in the county. The two jurisdictions, he said, will have to work together to find a solution.