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7 views of Safety Harbor downtown

Editor's note: The Times asked people in Safety Harbor what their concerns are in the March 8 election. A few people asked about the status of the downtown redevelopment project. Here, we'll give you some background on the project, where it stands now and the candidates' vision for a new and improved downtown.

What once was considered one of the city's most divisive issues now has people excited, hopeful and most importantly, unified for the future.

"Downtown redevelopment" is a catch phrase that has cropped up in many metropolitan areas and smaller cities in recent years, including Safety Harbor. Despite a number of false starts, in-fighting and disagreements on everything from aesthetics to cost, a potpourri of residents have set the stage for completing the first, and arguably most important, phase _ streetscaping.

Improving the city's quaint downtown has been discussed for several years. City officials thought of downtown redevelopment as a 30-year plan to dress up Main Street and attract new businesses and offices.

The city committed $2-million to the streetscaping project, considered the cornerstone of downtown redevelopment, and is working with a local engineer on that aspect of the project. It was agreed that a public/private partnership would be formed among city officials and others.

Last November, a task force of business merchants, property owners and residents was created. A March seafood festival is one of the first activities planned to raise funds and fuel residents' interest in becoming part of the project. Among the other issues that still are being hashed out is whether the city will gain ownership of State Road 590.

It was not until the late 1980s that steps were taken to make downtown redevelopment a reality. In 1989, former Mayor Art Levine proposed that the City Commission appoint a downtown redevelopment board to make recommendations about the city's economic future.

At the time he commissioned the redevelopment board, Levine envisioned a downtown similar to Old Hyde Park Village in Tampa or St. Armand's Key in Sarasota.

The seven candidates running for the City Commission have differing opinions about downtown. Jill Cincotta, who is extensively involved with the redevelopment project, and Don Fletcher are running for seat 1. Paul Marron is running against incumbent Pamela Corbino for seat 2. Marron recently opened a downtown business, the family-owned CruiseLine Vacations. Fran Barnhisel, Bill Rupp and Sandy Huff are vying for seat 3.

Photojournalist Huff, 51, said she wants to see downtown become an "artists colony," complete with a sidewalk cafe. It is time to move forward, she said, because redevelopment has been talked about for so long.

Barnhisel, who manages her husband's downtown dental office, said she is excited about redevelopment plans. Barnhisel, a 50-year-old retired nurse, works with the downtown partnership. Attracting new businesses, like the proposed seafood restaurant, should be a priority, she said.

Aesthetically, Barnhisel said she favors moving overhead utilities back, rather than putting them underground, which was deemed too expensive.

Cincotta, 33, who co-owns Unique Engineering on Main Street, said having residents and business owners working together is a plus, and that these groups, rather than the city, must step up their efforts to have a successful project.

Corbino, 45, a computer teacher at Safety Harbor Middle School, agreed that residents and the city should continue to work together on the project, and that it should maintain Safety Harbor's small-town feel.

Rupp, 66, a retired police officer, said downtown needs something that will make it well-known. He said that Main Street's overhead utilities should be placed underground.

"Tarpon Springs has its sponge docks, Dunedin has its antiques. We need something like that here that will set us apart," Rupp said.

Marron, 37, said the city should move forward with its streetscaping plans and encourage more development.

Fletcher, also 37, said more money should be spent to improve the older downtown neighborhoods, rather than spending so much money on streetscaping.

"I can't see major tax money being spent downtown when there are other problems," he said. "The money could be spent in other places."