Is Pokemon GO ruining Safety Harbor?

The Safety Harbor Marina is a haven for Poke Stops, making the city one of the hottest places in Pinellas County to play Pokemon GO.

The Safety Harbor Marina is a haven for Poke Stops, making the city one of the hottest places in Pinellas County to play Pokemon GO.

There was a time not too long ago when a trip to the Safety Harbor Marina would reveal small groups of visitors relaxing at Veterans Park, a handful sightseers hoping to spot a manatee or dolphin from the pier, some boaters using the boat ramp, and a few fisherman hauling in the day’s fresh catch.

But a trip to the area today reveals a starkly different scene, one filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of people of all ages walking, then stopping, then walking again, all with their heads pointed down at a mobile device cradled in their hand.

Yes, the Pokemon GO craze has invaded the City of Safety Harbor, for better or worse, and while much has been said and written about the country’s affinity for the recently released app, a deeper look into the phenomenon suggests many Harborites are unsure of how to handle the sudden rush to catch all of the digitally created critters.

“Pokemon must go. He is ruining our fair city,” Tom Swenarton wrote on the Safety Harbor Connect Facebook page last week.

A group of Pokemon GO players search for the electronic creatures at the Safety Harbor Marina on Monday evening.

A group of Pokemon GO players at the Safety Harbor Marina on Monday evening.

“Hopefully it can soak the phones of all the Pokemon GO peeps that have been taking over the marina lately,” Julie Perretta McCarthy commented on the article about the mayor’s interactive fountain idea.

“I wish we could go back to the manatee being the main attraction of the marina instead of this (sic) silly virtual characters.”

There’s little doubt that the transition from a relatively quiet and relaxing marina to a fully-loaded Poke Stop has been a difficult for some to grasp.

But for every resident lamenting the influx of the gamers, there are those who sing the praises of the app that encourages people to meet up, head outside and enjoy each others company.

“I think it’s fun, and it’s great exercise,” Safety Harbor resident Laurie F. said on Monday evening as she and her husband walked the marina in search of the catchable Pokemon creatures.

“It gets my husband to come out and walk with me, and how can you beat this view down here by the water, especially when it’s so hot outside?”

Judging by the large groups of Pokemon GO-ers in the area, Laurie wasn’t alone in her thinking.

The Safety Harbor Parks & Rec department is encouraging its summer campers to catch 'em all. Credit: City of Safety Harbor Facebook.

The Safety Harbor Parks & Rec department is encouraging its summer campers to catch ’em all in Pokemon GO camp. Credit: City of Safety Harbor Facebook.

With the craze currently in full swing, city officials as well as some residents are working to capitalize on, and control, the crush of newcomers.

During Monday night’s City Commission meeting, City Manager Matt Spoor addressed a question from Commissioner Carlos Diaz about what the city was doing to help deal with the sudden flood of visitors to the area.

“We’re working with the sheriff,” Spoor said. “We don’t mind the visitors. We don’t mind the individuals using our park. But the issues have been park hours—they’re there ‘til the wee hours of the morning, after midnight—and the issue’s been parking.”

“I was down there last week and there were cars parked on the grass, there were cars parked illegally in the handicapped spaces, and there were cars parked where the boat trailer spaces are. So we’re working with them (sheriff’s deputies) in trying to develop a plan.”

In addition to devising a plan to deal with curfew breakers and parking space violators, others in town are developing plans to coexist with, and potentially benefit from, all the Pokemon GO players.

The city’s parks and rec department is hosting a special Pokemon GO camp this week, with participants taking daily excursions around the city in search of the elusive creatures, culminating in a massive themed party at City Park this Friday night.

And one resident is in the process of coming up with ways for merchants to take advantage of the additional Poke-traffic in the downtown district.

“I’ve been involved with computers and technology for more than 30 years, teaching kids and studying new trends, and this Pokemon GO craze has really fascinated me,” Nancy Vellucci, a longtime resident who is very active in the community, told Safety Harbor Connect by phone.

“After seeing how many people in town are playing it, I thought, we need to come up with a way to capitalize on it, and find out how can we deal with the negatives while taking advantage of the positives.”

The Safety Harbor Marina is a haven for Poke Stops, making the city one of the hottest places in Pinellas County to play Pokemon GO.

The Safety Harbor Marina is a haven for Poke Stops, helping the city become one of the most popular places to play Pokemon GO in Pinellas County.

Vellucci, a self-described idea person who normally likes to remain behind the scenes, recently brought her ideas to MOSH as the official representative for SHAMC, and she said she is working on ways to effectively use the fanaticism behind Pokemon GO to benefit the community.

“I’m working on a map of all the Poke Stops in Safety Harbor,” she said, noting there are upwards of 50 such locations in the downtown district alone. “And we’re going to come up with an e-blast to send out that will help merchants take advantage of the additional foot traffic in town as a result of the game.”

A mother and daughter play Pokemon GO at the Safety Harbor marina on Monday.

A mother and daughter play Pokemon GO at the Safety Harbor marina on Monday.

“It’s such an interesting phenomenon for me, because it’s getting kids to interact with their parents and other adults when they normally might not be.”

“People are getting outside because of Pokemon GO,” she added. “They might have their heads down looking at their phones, but if you’re going to take something with technology and put it outside, I think that’s great.”

Whether or not Vellucci’s plan to help merchants draw revenue from a roving band of video game players remains to be seen.

But for now, and for the foreseeable future, Safety Harbor is the epicenter of the Pokemon GO world, and Harborites will have to learn how to live with it.

Harborites, how do you feel about the Pokemon GO craze invading the city? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below:

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