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Commission considers creating brewpub district in downtown Safety Harbor

Safety Harbor's Crooked Thumb Brewery officially opened for business on Friday, October 16, 2015.
Safety Harbor’s Crooked Thumb Brewery officially opened for business on Oct. 16, 2015.

Lost in all the hubbub over lot lines and the smart growth movement during the last Safety Harbor City Commission meeting was the discussion about another agenda item that could have a great impact on the future of the downtown district.

After receiving a request from Crooked Thumb Brewery owner Kip Kelly to amend the city’s code to allow food trucks and amplified music within certain areas of the city’s Community Development District—namely where his bar is located—Mayor Andy Steingold took the request one step further.

Understanding the direction of today’s economy, Steingold suggested the city might better served by creating a special-use district for microbreweries, brewpubs, which are breweries that serve food, and other eating establishments in areas that had previously been earmarked as industrial space.

Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.
Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.

“When we talk about fostering change in the community in certain areas, I guess it comes down to a philosophy of whether or not you want to keep this more or less a warehouse or light industrial type area, which is what it has been, or is the progression of the area moving towards microbreweries and restaurants?” the mayor said during the August 15 meeting. “What direction is it moving?”

“As time goes on, this could become an area that becomes kind of a nightlife type area,” he added. “Because it seems like we’re not getting a lot of industry here in Safety Harbor. A lot of industry is fleeing, and we’re getting a lot of either retail office or restaurants, microbreweries. So this could actually become a district unto itself.”

A screenshot showing the areas of Safety Harbor's downtown Master Plan.
A screenshot of Safety Harbor’s downtown Master Plan shows the areas in question (SC-2) in purple.

Commissioner Cliff Merz, an avowed proponent of preserving industrial lands, said he might be in favor of allowing certain sit-down eating establishments in the areas, but he asked the commission to carefully consider permanently rezoning those areas, while Commissioner Janet Hooper said she wanted to hear from residents and local business owners before moving forward with such a change to the city code.

Others, however, expressed support for the idea.

“I do support, in this kind of neighborhood, allowing new conditional uses,” Vice-Mayor Andy Zodrow said, noting he, too, would like to receive feedback from residents and merchants. “Just understanding that the world’s changing and maybe manufacturing isn’t going to be quite as heavy in these districts and brewing beer might be a huge thing.”

“It’s just a philosophical thing—are we going to keep maintaining these as warehouses and auto shops or are we going to look at these new uses like a brewery?”

“We can’t stand in the way of where the market’s going,” Commissioner Carlos Diaz added.

One business owner located directly in the area in question spoke on the subject, and he left no doubt as to where he stood.

Crooked Thumb Brewery was built in the home of an old auto body shop on 10th Avenue South in an industrial section of downtown Safety Harbor.
Crooked Thumb Brewery was built in the home of an old auto body shop on 10th Avenue South in an industrial section of downtown Safety Harbor. The commission is considering allowing more such establishments in the area.

“Ten or fifteen years ago I came before the commission here to get a conditional use for a nail salon…and I heard the same kind of arguments Crooked Thumb is hearing,” Ted Kwalwasser, who owns a business across the street from the brewery, said.

“We were told we’re going to ruin the industrial integrity of Safety Harbor by having such facilities as Crooked Thumb or a brick and mortar restaurant, and I just can’t understand that.”

“I just don’t understand what we’re preserving this particular area for,” Kwalwasser continued. “By saying this is an industrial area and shall always be an industrial area and nothing else I think is wrong.”

The discussion eventually circled back to the food truck issue, with the commission agreeing to consider removing the temporary use permits that are currently required for mobile food vendors as well as changing their hours of operation in the city.

Currently, food trucks may operate between 10:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. in town, and they may only be used as an accessory at establishments where beer and wine is sold.

City staff plans to send emails to pub and restaurant owners in town to get feedback and set up an email address to field comments and suggestions, and then report the findings back to the commission for further discussion at a later date.

Stay with Safety Harbor Connect for more coverage of this story.

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  1. I love that we have Crooked Thumb in Safety Harbor, but I don’t get the location. It’s not near any retail or restaurants or where anyone walks. It seems like every commission meeting includes discussion of “smart growth” and what we can do to get more visitors and businesses to Main Street. Now we’re talking about creating a new district that will also need to attract visitors and businesses. Would it be better if the two were connected so they could build off each other?

  2. Assuming we are talking about 10th Avenue South, have we heard from the homeowners who live within a block about any issues of music, lighting, parking/traffic both foot and car? If these brewpubs are all situated together, would the brewpubs then become “The Destination” in Safety Harbor at the expense of downtown shops, restaurants and events? If we scattered, these brewpubs we would bring people out of one main district and encourage walkabouts downtown, following “the brewpub trail”, and seeing what else Safety Harbor has to offer visitors.

  3. We are having the same issue here in Fort Myers. Certain restaurants do not want food trucks around downtown, but only serve food till 10:00/11:00. And in season 2 hour wait times for dinner in a supposedly ” downtown walkable city” with music walks and art walks does not meet the needs of the city, patrons, or visitors trying to grab a quick meal and truly visit and enjoy a downtown area. Plus places like the breweries etc. have to pull other licenses to provide food to their patrons and community. And hate to bring it up but some food trucks have great food. Cap the hours and pay the city a food truck fee so breweries etc can focus on good beer and the food trucks can become a part of the community as well. It’s a win win when you remove the politics of it and focus on what is better for the community. Will be pushing this issue in Fort Myers as well.

  4. While “brew pub district” clearly grabs the headline, we went to the city almost two years ago about our vision for the entire SC–2 district- which we think of as an artisan and entertainment district. Shortly after we purchased the property, we saw how many parents were pushing strollers down the middle of the street on their way to city park -because there are no sidewalks on parts of 10th ave. At that point, we started a dialogue with the city to allocate CRA funds to make the area more pedestrian friendly and add additional uses that the residents around the district could use. To this end, we raised the issue of improving the city right of ways with sidewalks, improving street lighting with lampposts similar to what you see on Main St, adding way faring signs, perhaps burying the telephone lines along the road, and adding some landscaping – similar to what was done on MainSt. We ourselves gave back a portion of our property so the city could landscape around the brewery. While this cost us some valuable parking spaces, we wanted to see the area beautified and set a standard for the other property owners in the district. The city responded in a positive way and began taking some measures to make those changes, and they are continuing to do so. Regarding uses, yes we discussed brew pubs, but we also discussed bringing sit down food establishments and/or a market to the area, or bringing local artisanal businesses with a retail element as well as wide distribution – like a chocolate factory or a coffee roaster. We’d like to see an artists studio or architectural salvage company come to the area. These types of businesses not only serve the residents but also gets the name of Safety Harbor out to other people and other businesses outside of town- which in turn helps the businesses in the Harbor by increasing awareness. We are already attracting musicians to this area, and I’ve heard people starting to refer to it as the “funk district” or the “arts district”. I think these terms better define our hopes for the area. My fear is that if people read “brew pub” district they may conclude it will be some raucous night club area – which is not what we envision at all. We love Safety Harbor, and whatever becomes of the district we’d like it to be an asset to the town not a nuisance.

    • As a neighbor of the Crooked Thumb I agree with Kip’s vision. We need to make this area more pedestrian friendly and promote artisanal businesses. This could be a nice corridor between the park and Main St restaurants. I would like to see a large open air market where vendors could rent space and/or have the weekly farmers market. Also would like to see something that promotes a visit from the bikers using the trail.

    • Great clarification Kip. So important to put right information out there. Branding sets the stage…looking forward to what is coming down the pipeline being a close by neighbor.

      • Thanks for the additional explanation, Kip. However, the right information was put out there from the start—the mayor and commissioners openly discussed creating a special district for microbreweries, brewpubs and sit-down restaurants in the SC-2 district. In fact the mayor used the phrase “a nightlife-type area.” To imply that the headline was used to grab attention or simply to draw readers to the article is incorrect.

    • A brewery district is a nice idea, but not for Safety Harbor. The formula that made this a success in cities like Cleveland and Ashville, are rows of large abandoned warehouses and entrepreneurs lining up to buy them. This situation is completely the opposite, where 10th Avenue is a small thriving industrial area with no empty warehouses or vacant lots. Also there is a large residential population in close proximity, which makes this not only impractical, but totally impossible!

  5. The mayor, as usual, is thinking in a balanced way about the big picture. The Thumb is a wonderful example business and community creating a mutually beneficial relationship. SH is becoming known as a dining, music and, soon, a brew destination. Creating a distinct district while maintaining good resident relations is a great step forward for visitors, residents and property values. Cheers to town leadership all around.

    • Dan, the article is correct. As currently written food trucks cannot begin operation until 10pm, in the downtown district- at a bar or tavern. This ordinance was adopted in 2012. The City Commission will seek feedback from our bar and restaurant owners on changes to the current ordinance.

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