The 34-acre Firmeich property on SR 590 in Safety Harbor has been a source of controversy and failed development deals for more than four years.
Near the conclusion of the Safety Harbor City Commission meeting on Monday, December 5, Mayor Andy Steingold mentioned something that could greatly impact to the city.
During his Commission Comments, the mayor spoke about the state of businesses in and around the downtown district, and while recalling a recent conversation with Chamber of Commerce President Susan Petersen, Steingold revealed he’s had discussions with someone who is interested in developing the long-abandoned Firmenich property on SR 590.
“I think we’re filling our businesses downtown, and I’ve spoken to Susan about that,” Steingold said.
“And she’s kind of conveyed we’re doing a pretty good job here in Safety Harbor, and we’re doing such a good job in Safety Harbor that we’re getting some play on some other lands that aren’t necessarily in the downtown area.”
Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold.
Steingold went on to explain how earlier in the day, he and City Manager Matt Spoor met with representatives of a group that reportedly has interest in developing the 34-acre parcel.
“I will tell you, without identifying the group, that Matt and I met today with a potential interested party in the Firmenich property,” Steingold said.
Steingold also mentioned this was the second party to show interest in the property recently, although he did not elaborate on the nature of the talks or the identity of either group.
City officials confirmed a Clearwater company inquired about developing the entire site last summer and went so far as to meet with residents to discuss the deal this past fall. However, no formal proposal was ever made.
When questioned about the potential new development after the meeting, Steingold remained vague but hopeful something would be done with the property sometime in the near future.
“Matt and I met with someone who wanted to pick our brains regarding the location,” the mayor told Safety Harbor Connect.
“They’re investigating now, and we should know something over the next several months.”
The 34-acre Firmenich property is located on Tenth Street South/SR 590 in Safety Harbor.
The news is just the latest in the ongoing Firmenich saga that has stretched more than four years.
In 2012, the Richman Group of Florida presented a plan to build a 296-unit apartment complex, along with 25,000 square feet of office space, on the parcel, which had been home to the Firmenich Citrus Center plant before the company relocated to Lakeland in 2009.
After receiving blowback from residents concerned about the amount of traffic the development would generate, representatives for the Richman Group reworked their proposal and received approval from the Safety Harbor City Commission as well as the Pinellas Planning Council to move forward with the new plan.
But the deal was struck down, not once but twice, by the Board of County Commissioners, defying a judge’s ruling not to do so, a decision that ultimately led to a lawsuit and a $16 million judgement in favor of the Richman Group last June.
Since then, area health care giant BayCare flirted with the idea of building a 120,000-square-foot office building on the property, but pulled out the deal at the eleventh hour, much to the consternation of city officials.
BayCare backed out an agreement in May 2016 to build an office park in Safety Harbor similar to this on on Drew Street in Clearwater.
“The city staff had put a lot of work into the project, and the commission was pretty receptive to it,” Mayor Steingold said in May 2016.
“We’re saddened by the last minute withdrawal, because we could see a good partnership with BayCare. But unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Sometimes, business is business.”
Now comes the latest possible Firmenich development, which at this point appears to be in the informal discussion stages rather than the concrete proposal phase.
Still, when asked to assess the probability of a deal being made after the collapse of the previous plans, the mayor remained positive.
“I believe they’re more serious than not,” Steingold said of the mystery group.
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