Home / Government / Commission wrestles with ways to boost economic development in Downtown Safety Harbor

Commission wrestles with ways to boost economic development in Downtown Safety Harbor

Downtown Safety Harbor.

Ever since the municipal election in March, Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub and his fellow City Commissioners have been wrestling with ways to boost economic development in the city, specifically in the downtown district.

During a commission meeting in July, Ayoub floated the idea of forming a committee to help stimulate economic growth until local lawmakers decide if there’s enough money in the budget to hire either an economic development director on a full or part-time basis.

Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub.

On Monday night during a Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, Ayoub backed off that idea a bit, leading to a lengthy discussion that produced several suggestions as to how to tackle the issue, including using public polls, incentive programs and other means.

“Upon getting feedback from different elected officials and other people in the area, it seemed to me that the committee…would get in the way and slow things down,”Ayoub said at the start of the 90-minute workshop that was held after the regular commission meeting.

The mayor then suggested empowering City Manager Matt Spoor to “go out and negotiate and do some things in the role of the committee,” adding if they were to select someone to assist with the work, the position be filled by a single volunteer who would report to Spoor.

“In the short term, if we were going to do a volunteer position or committee, I would prefer a one-person committee because with a one-person committee, it gives that person more flexibility,” Ayoub said.

The other commissioners agreed with the mayor’s idea to allow Spoor, as well as Community Development Director Marcie Stenmark, to work with developers interested in certain properties in the downtown district, including the old Captain’s Pizza building and the vacant lot across from the Chamber of Commerce, which, according to Spoor, currently has two interested parties inquiring about it.

Captain’s Pizza was a fixture in downtown Safety Harbor for more than 30 years before it closed in 2014. The City Commission wants the City Manager, along with a volunteer economic development liaison, to work on developing the iconic property.

But they cautioned more needs to be done in order to boost the district’s relatively stagnant economy.

“The focus is to recruit targeted businesses, but what is a targeted business?” Commissioner Cliff Merz asked, adding he would like the City to conduct a poll to find out what businesses residents would like to see downtown.

“If we poll what people want, we don’t have to sell it.”

Commissioner Scott Long, a strong proponent of hiring an EDD, concurred with Merz, stating he is in favor of targeting certain business that fit in the downtown district.

“If I can’t sell folks on an economic development director, if I can’t sell you guys on a committee to come up with these incentives, I think we start by empowering Matt and Marcie and existing City staff to go out and get us a grocery store and get us a hardware store,” he said.

But Commissioner Andy Zodrow cautioned against adding businesses that have already failed.

“I see the points…and I’d love to see a small upscale grocery store here,” he said. “But it’s difficult. I used to go to the hardware store every day, and I was very upset when it closed.”

Zodrow added he’s “more on the side of using those funds with the grants because I don’t know how you get those types of stores to come to downtown.”

According to City officials, a couple of developers are interested in this vacant lot on the corner of Second Street North and Main Street in downtown Safety Harbor. The lot is currently being used for public and event parking.

Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz disagreed with the targeted approach and said he wanted to take a bigger approach to the issue.

“An economic development director will not be successful until we create a foundation for businesses to come in,” Diaz said. “It’s going to have to be someone coming in and developing locations so businesses can thrive.”

“Incentives are good. But I don’t think an economic development officer will do well until we have a structure in place to support it.”

Safety Harbor Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz.

Diaz noted the only new businesses that have been really successful in the last few years are ones that have been established in redeveloped locations: Crooked Thumb Brewery and the recently relocated Barfly Saltwater Grill.

“I don’t think you can control (what comes in),” he said. “The only thing we can do is create opportunities for the City to flourish…and right now, we don’t have it.”

Ultimately the commission decided to allow Spoor and a volunteer liaison to work with parties interested in developing certain downtown properties; to scrap the $100,000 earmarked in the budget for economic development; and to poll residents on what businesses they would like to see in town.

In a separate discussion, the CRA also agreed to allow the Public Art Committee’s grant funds to accumulate with the intention of commissioning a large-scale piece of artwork in the future.

“I like the idea of rolling the money forward and accumulating it and doing a big project at the Waterfront Park,” Ayoub said.

Afterwards, the mayor and city manager shared their thoughts on the work session

“I thought the discussion went very well last night,” Ayoub said via email. “It was clear that the commission is behind the idea of moving forward with stimulating our downtown and is willing to take action to do so.”

“As a result of the meeting we gave our city manager our backing and some tools to help him recruit the kinds of businesses that will help our downtown continue to improve,” he continued. “His effort will also take some engagement from the community so I’m glad we were able to move forward on the idea of creating a volunteer economic development liaison.”

Safety Harbor City Manager Matt Spoor.

Spoor, also via email, said, “The City Commission has directed staff to bring forward potential incentives and agreements that will encourage positive change to some of our most challenging and, in some cases, dilapidated properties in the downtown core.”

“This new opportunity, together with changes to our ongoing Downtown Partnership Grant Program, will further the economic development goals and efforts of the City Commission.”

Spoor added the City is looking for an Economic Development Liaison to assist the City Manager and Community Development Director in recruitment of select target businesses to downtown Safety Harbor, including but not limited to a grocer/market, a hardware store and anchor restaurants.

“This is a volunteer position that will report directly to the City Manager with occasional reports/presentations to the City Commission as needed,” he wrote. “Communication/meetings with the City Manager and/or staff will occur on a weekly basis.”

Interested Safety Harbor residents and/or property owners should send their resume to mspoor@cityofsafetyharbor.com. Resumes are due by Friday, August 18th. Interviews and final selection will be based on relevant experience related to economic development.

Harborites, what are your thoughts on this topic? What businesses would you like to see on Main Street? Let us know in the comments below or on the Safety Harbor Connect Facebook page.

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  1. I’d love to see a good Cuban restaurant go in downtown. Nothing fancy. Something family friendly with good quality breakfast, lunches and dinners. Cafe con leche, Cuban toast, ropa viejo, plantains, picadillo and some flan to finish it off. Along the lines of a La Teresita.

  2. How about incentives for a mini Trader Joes???Entice Elizabeth’s Bakery to expand here….I’d love a yarn store. How about a specialized business that will draw customers here. The current businesses could provide little discounts to customers of the spa, to bring them up Main Street. We are out of the way and don’t have much parking, but that’s a good thing. Lucy

  3. I have been a resident of Safety Harbor for over a year now. I’m trying to figure what this town wants and I’m struggling to understand why so many people want it to remain the same. In this world, if you do not change, you will not survive. If “quaint” means “stagnant” then, we are there. I drive down Main Street almost every day – over the bumpy intersections of the quaint brick design that seems to require constant maintenance – pass by the trees that have lights in them (great idea if they would all light up) – pass the many storefronts that once had businesses – the empty lots that are part grass, part dirt. I hear the many residents who complain about the families that are tearing down bungalows and replacing them with new homes (I have no problem when we see development that – it brings up all of our home values). I was actually approached by a resident one day when I was looking at an old run down home that was for sale – the person asked me if I was going to tear it down and build one of those fancy big homes because if I was, I should just move along. (PS. I never bought that house and now live in a home that was not from a tear down.) With attitudes like that, we will never change and will never grow. Change is inevitable and, until we accept that, our town will not grow.
    The town needs a facelift, which will cost us all some money – taxpayer money. If we do not agree, then we have no right to complain that downtown is not growing. If we do not do something to attract young people to our town, we will not grow. Allowing chickens in backyards is not progress – it’s preserving the past that is no longer prevalent in our society today – and will not help attract any businesses or young people to us.
    I agree with prior comments that a grocery store or hardware store will not survive in our town with all of the competition from grocery chains and big box home improvement stores. Think about your own shopping habits – do you go to high priced small stores anymore? These stores have no choice but to raise their prices to pay for their rent and distribution model. And just about every big store delivers today.
    I also agree that we need more food/entertainment businesses in our town. But, we will have to think about where their patrons will park or they will not come. A Mazzaros-type business is a good idea, if there is enough parking spaces for them. A bakery with reasonable prices might work in our town as well – though they will have heavy competition from Publix. A restaurant with outside seating might work, though sidewalk space is at a premium in many locations along Main Street. If you look at towns that have a lot of constant foot traffic, you do see a lot of businesses with outside seating – why not take advantage of our beautiful weather, right?
    I don’t pretend to know the answer to what the right mix of businesses would be for our town. But, I do see that, if we don’t have a plan, we will stagnate. Residents need to unite rather than complain about spending money to help develop our town. We are attracting lots of new residents to our town but not businesses – it’s time we invested in downtown to make it more attractive to a business looking to open here.

    • Welcome MAB and thank you for your comments. Well thought out and insightful. We know exactly the people who would say “move along” or “just go away”. We heard it also and happy we ignored them. We feel the future is bright, especially with newcomers like you seeing the positive impact the City of Safety Harbor will have if it moves forward with a vision.

  4. Dear Mayor,

    How would some sort of bi level record store/coffee serving barista brews and baked fare in a light airy, light filled space!
    I have always dreamed of opening up a venue where local artist could display their talents on the walls, as well as providing a comfortable atmosphere where patrons could come sit and have a tea or coffee and choose their music on vinyl.
    It would be a warm, inviting , casual, hip place to spend time in our beautiful downtown.
    Each day of the week could represent different musical genres!
    It would be perfect for casual meetings of catering to students, tourists and groups looking for something different.
    Serving coffee, tea and baked

  5. Some great ideas though I agree with Desanya that we could benefit from an Economic Development Director to work with prospective businesses, developers and property owners. An EDD does not only work to attract business to existing space, but could also work to broker and negotiate development and improvements to our infrastructure. I was frustrated at the meeting to hear some say thet we first need the infrastructure or we first need to survey residents to see what businesses they want. That should all fall under the EDD job. You don’t design your whole house and then hire the Architect. Secondly, we held a big survey in March, and 2/3 of the voters sided with the message of Economic Development, progress, and a more vibrant downtown. Let’s not kick the can down the road. That said, I know Matt and staff do a great job, and glad he was given the power to explore incentives. But think how much more he could accomplish with an EDD director on his team. And last, it’s a shame to lower the ED budget from 200k to 100k. Take a closer look at our Mainstreet infrastructure. I think the additional spend would be a great investment toward our economic future and a more vibrant downtown.

  6. Really great and positive ideas and thoughts posted in these replies. Jeff, thanks for writing this article to generate them. Keep these ideas coming and keep letting your commissioners and mayor know you want a vibrant downtown, etc.

  7. You can get economic development without an economic development director. Here is what I would love to see:

    1) Stop messing with setbacks. It makes housing more expensive when you increase them and reduces available land.
    2) Allow residential zoning everywhere. A healthy downtown (St. Pete, Dunedin, etc) has a healthy residential base that has walkability. Downtown Tampa has made tremendous strides, but it still lacks a huge residential population. Downtown Safety Harbor is the same. Prioritize dense residential around downtown and foot traffic will come.
    3) Stop complaining about every new development. I have seen so many complaints about the condos, townhomes, new houses, etc. that it makes me sick. People are willing to pay a minimum of $500,000 to live near downtown Safety Harbor and existing residents complain and moan about them. Why? Charm doesn’t pay the bills.
    4) Remove parking requirements or significantly lower them. How can I build on Main Street if I’m required to have so much parking? I can’t. This goes along with #2. If you have more residents within walking/biking distance, then parking doesn’t matter.

    • Agreed on parking, the last thing we need is more traffic and more lots contributing to making SH less walkable. Parking lots should be on the outskirts for people that don’t live in town.

      Disagree on taking away building codes. The reason SH is so successful is because of its small town feel and charm. Start building condos and taking away greenspace and you lose that. Once that’s gone you’re competing with Clearwater Beach and the rest of the concrete jungle around here. Keep this goldmine that’s Safety Harbor.

      • That is simply not true. It has taken over 10 years for one condo building to even be built.

        Stop acting like they are popping up everywhere.

        • Safety Harbor is small and there have been two major builds just in the past few years with another on the way. That is pretty significant.

        • I’m sorry, did I miss the part where I said they are everywhere? I said if we did build them everywhere it would change the city, not that it has.

    • Charm doesn’t pay the bills, but it certainly brings people to the area who will pay the bills. My husband and I and many of our friends lived in big cement blocks out at the beach and we are thoroughly enjoying the “yes, charm” of birds and trees and the ambiance of walking the streets of our wonderful town and stopping for a meal or a visit with friends along the way. Don’t close us in please!

      • Yet there are vacant stores along Main street everywhere, empty parking lots, and suburban development downtown. None of that is charming.

  8. Great ideas Stephen! Designation businesses. Barfly, POP (Parts of Paris), Pizzeria Gregorio, Sandwich on Main, Whistle Stop, Joey Biscotti, and Crooked Thumb have become those and we should welcome more. A Mazzaros or the like would be great and exactly what DTSH deserves. We need an Economic Director to broker those deals and attract good solid businesses that fit in throughout the city of SH. To seek businesses that are “out of the box” and to work with existing Landlords to contribute towards attracting those businesses. Also, the ED should work with Landlords to improve their buildings and/or encourage renovations. IMHO there are too many slumlords that do not care what their buildings look like or if they sit empty, dirty and falling in disrepair. Hopefully they can be encouraged to make changes to improve their investments.
    I am nearing retirement age and I can’t begin to count the number of my fellow associates and friends who say they are selling their homes in the burbs to move to an area where they can walk for all their needs. They are tired of driving and are seeking a lifestyle of walking/biking to shop, eat, hair, doctors, banking, etc. SH has a good start, lets continue in a positive direction.

  9. My citizen input: Retail like hardware and grocery stores in dtsh would struggle because of big box stores, internet and not enough traffic. Even the smaller store idea is already here: ACE hardware and numerous small delis & vegetable stands are close. They would have to charge more to cover their overhead and they lack pricing power of buying directly or in bulk…the classic Walmart and Amazon problem…so people would buy elsewhere….and did.
    Service/Entertainment/Leisure have the best chance of success here in my opinion. People like SH for it’s charm…so charm it up! Create a UNIQUE experience and service that people want to come back to again and again…..like the Bar Fly…or Starbucks. The “experience” has to be high quality, classy, CLEAN, consistent, interesting, great value to customers, a safe place they want to invite or meet their friends/family. There is room for more restaurant, bar, tavern, bakery or combo there of as people will come from other areas. People shop on their computers and phones, but they have to go out to have an experience with others. That can’t be “Amazoned”…not yet anyway (yes I know the robots are coming, I already have mine ordered). It’s not that people don’t have good business ideas, it’s probably more that they don’t know how to properly run a business!-cash flow,bookkeeping, marketing, service, all the hats you have to wear.
    For example: I picture that old Captain’s pizza building as the perfect “old world” tavern / deli / bakery with awesome classic affordable American & European sandwiches & dishes, fantastic bakery and great assortment of alcoholic beverages (beer & wine, with many craft brews)—kind of like Mazzaros in St. Petersburg, but maybe better! They can’t keep people out of that place! -why? Because it’s affordable, consistent, fun and great food!…you don’t mind standing in line!
    I can see the black wrought iron street lamps and/or sconces with the hanging old world sign with a super catchy/ cool name & fun unique logo! Maybe tudor style decoration with some colorful flowers outside-old England or German style! Inside, you have rustic but classy atmosphere with fascinating “historic pieces and fun art” all over the place to make it fun to look around. The service and staff would have to be actual professionals-and well paid/benefits to keep them! Great smells emanating for blocks…..you get the idea. I would go there! If I get tired of being a financial advisor maybe I’ll do it myself…lol.
    Anyway, the point is to have places that people are HAPPY to go out of their way to go to! Build on the inherent charm of SH…..amplify it, cultivate it! It doesn’t have to be competition to existing businesses as people who there will check out the other SH experiences…and if it forces other businesses to up their game, then all the better for the community…and it’s businesses…a “win, win”!-Stephen Weik

    • Stephen – thanks for sharing your thoughts. You have some great ideas regarding the old Captain’s Pizza building and it would be great if we could make something similar to what you suggested happen. Please stay engaged and we look forward to hearing more of your ideas.

      • Mayor Ayoub,

        I have also noticed when riding my bike through town that there is a lack of bike racks. I believe Paradise restaurant has one and that is all I can think of at the moment. I think the city should invest some money in placing bike racks near businesses. Crooked Thumb, Barfly, 8th avenue, etc. It is a little frustrating to not have anywhere to lock it up.

        • There is one by Starbucks and Crooked thumb already has a bike rack.

          Otherwise I agree, 8th avenue pub definitely needs a rack. One near the market would be nice too for access to PoP, GSB and Greggarios.

    • We already have a fantastic sandwich shop.

      As an ex- economic development analyst all you would be doing is subsidizing businesses with taxpayer funds. Once the funds disappear so will the businesses.

      A better way forward would be incentivizing demand for Safety Harbor. A marketing campaign letting the rest of the bay know about our restaurants would be a great start. Keep funding parks and recreation to drive people to the area. Improve schools. This is where funds should be spent, not directly to businesses. If we build demand the businesses will come on their own.

    • You are so right! I would like to see a creative and delicious breakfast and lunch spot outdoors under the trees with pretty umbrella tables. The food needs to have some healthy choices too. Quiet classical music, bird houses, flower gardens. I picture a restaurant like one in Blowing Rock NC that I visited. A charming little house downtown would be perfect. Not everyone wants more breweries. We need balance and daytime activities. We have a great start, let’s support what we have and build on it.

  10. Why doesn’t the chamber handle this? I do not want one dime of my tax dollars spent for economic development. There certainly is no shortage of people wanting to live here with exorbitant real estate prices. If a business doesn’t succeed, then may e the business should evaluate the business plan and market. We had a grocery store and hardware store and both closed. Why not have people that are already on the payroll add duties. And as an English teacher I am mortified by the phrase “one person committee” that was used. Anyone else see the folly in that?

  11. I’d like to see a small neighborhood market. Fresh produce, some grocery items. Picture a smaller version of Fresh Market.

  12. Well, you said the answer in the Statement “support it.”

    Safety Harbor Vice-Mayor Carlos Diaz.
    Diaz noted the only new businesses that have been really successful in the last few years are ones that have been established in redeveloped locations: Crooked Thumb Brewery and the recently relocated Barfly Saltwater Grill.”.
    Maybe, that is because THAT (those type of businesses) are what the people want. Not Real Estate offices.
    If they are successful, start there. What is it that attracts so many people. Don’t copy them, but fit in with it. Casual Key West / Dunedin Vibe. Like it or not……

  13. Can the city look into reducing bypassing traffic on phillipe parkway? This town is used by people to get to bayshore blvd. I have seen too many speeding vehicles and traffic is getting bad. This is a beautiful city and traffic takes that away ftom us. Its only going get worse if we dont do something.
    Things we can do :
    1) put up traffic camera
    2) reduce traffic speeds all along that road. 40miles is too fast for a residential area. 35 miles to drivers means they can drive at 40 miles.
    3) put speed bumps and more traffic light

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