SAFETY HARBOR — A green grocery store, a hardware store, restaurants, boutiques and multi-use buildings are all wanted downtown, according to discussion at a community redevelopment workshop held last week. And to bring them to the Main Street district, city commissioners, led by Mayor Joe Ayoub, gave City Manager Matt Spoor and community development director Marcie Stenmark an assignment: Get the ball rolling.
"Let's empower the city manager to figure out who is interested in working with properties on Main Street,'' said Ayoub, who has been pushing for a focus on redevelopment since taking office last spring.
City commissioners also directed Spoor to find a volunteer willing to be an economic development liaison to help the team with marketing and recruiting efforts.
Ayoub later said that although Safety Harbor already has a downtown core, "there is a need to build on what is already in place. We have momentum, but we can do more. There's vacant buildings that have been vacant for a while, and some buildings are worn-out and need to be updated.''
Although all the commissioners approved of the need to strengthen downtown's core, several were hesitant on how to move forward. Vice Mayor Carlos Diaz hoped fellow commissioners would create stronger infrastructures before reaching out to potential businesses. Commissioner Cliff Merz encouraged more back-and-forth with the community before targeting any outside businesses to set up shop permanently downtown.
Not everyone was in agreement.
"I'm dead set against this,'' resident John Estok. "I would like to know why the chamber of commerce can't do this, and why does the city manager, the CEO of our city have to do this.''
Ayoub, who had proposed adding a paid economic development director to city payroll several weeks ago, did not entirely disagree.
"That (Spoor's time) was one of the reasons I was pushing for hiring an economic development director. But the desire was not there with the commission,'' he said. "Now we have added the volunteer position, and that person will be in place to assist the city manager.''
Betsy Byrd is a former president of the chamber and owner of the Stuffed Mushroom. In 1998, she moved the business from Largo after buying the building at 825 Main St. for about $150,000. After almost 20 years operating a successful catering company from the spot, three months ago, with the help of a city grant, Byrd added a retail area.
"In order to bring businesses, you need to be able to provide incentives and grants. And the money is something that only the city can manage. The Chamber of Commerce can't do that,'' she said.
Byrd also agrees with Ayoub that Safety Harbor currently has momentum.
"I can say this. I walk down Main Street and I am amazed. There has got to be four times the number of businesses here now then there were when we first opened.''
Spoor and his staff are also creating a survey for the Safety Harbor community. In the coming weeks, the community will be invited to go to the city website to provide input for community redevelopment.
Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected] Follow @Florida_PBJC.