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Local Business Owners Voice Opinions On Firmenich Proposal

One week before a pivotal commission meeting on the issue, Safety Harbor Patch solicited opinions from those who stand the most to gain from the project

In the last six months we’ve heard numerous arguments on both sides of the Firmenich proposal issue, including those of city officials, spokespeople for the developer and concerned residents of Safety Harbor.

But we hadn’t heard much from one segment of the community that stands to gain the most from the Richman Group’s plan to build a 276-unit apartment complex on the old citrus center site: business owners.

On Feb. 4, the city commission is expected to either approve or reject the Richman Group’s latest proposal, a decision that could affect the entire city for years to come.

So Safety Harbor Patch took to the streets to get some feedback from business owners. And we learned the merchants are pretty divided on the issue as well. 

“If I lived right next to it I can see being unhappy with it,” said Jeff Harrell, owner of Bar Fly and its new offshoot, Saltwater Grill. “But as a business owner I see it as a good thing.”

“I think the city leaders are doing a good job being careful about the proposal, which is great,” he added. “We’ve got to be selective on what we allow before we say yes.”

Walk down Main Street a bit, and we found other business owners expressed similar sentiments. 

Craig Davide, owner of Nolan’s Pub, acknowledges that something will be built on the 34-acre parcel, so the commission needs to do what’s best for business owners and residents.

“Someone is going to put something on 34 acres of property in a densely populated area,” he said. “So you have to ask, what do you want there, apartments, homes or an industrial complex?” 

“I’d rather see houses,” he added. “But as a business owner I can see why they’d want to put apartments there.”

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At Polished salon a few blocks west, owner Duy Pham was working on Kristin Shea’s nails. Shea’s family owns the Main Street Jewelery next door.

As a lifelong resident of Safety Harbor, Kristin is torn between putting a large residential complex on the property and the increased revenue it could bring to the area. 

“It’s good for business but bad for traffic,” she said. “As a business owner I think it would be great.”

“But I’ve lived here my whole life and played in those woods. The only way I would want an apartment building there is if the other options were worse.”

Pham, who is getting ready to celebrate the salon’s 10-year anniversary, is wholeheartedly in favor of bringing more people to the downtown district.

“I’m in support of any build out and commercial development,” he said. “I’m not a resident, but I’m definitely pro development.” 

“This is what we’re here for, right? More development means more business. It would bring people to the area, and we need people in the area.” 

Other merchants have made suggestions as to what needs to be done to bring revenue to the area.

Dee Dokumaci, owner of the Rose Garden Boutique, suggested forming a downtown merchants association to help raise money and formulate ideas for growth.

“The Chamber of Commerce does a great job, but they are a non profit organization who rely on our support to stay afloat,” she said. “They are not able to help bring funds to our city, which is why a merchants association is important.” 

With the critical decision on the issue just one week away, merchants know the future of some local businesses could be riding on the outcome.

“You need people to support businesses, so adding more residents should mean those people are going to frequent downtown businesses and attractions,” Harrell said. “Right now I know people who go to other towns to get what we could have here.”

“I understand people are afraid of change, of new things, of growth,” he added. “But this is not going to become Tampa.”

What do you think, Harborites? Do you believe businesses would benefit from the proposed property? Or are you dead set against adding an apartment complex to Safety Harbor no matter what? Let us know in the comments below.

Dee Dokumaci January 30, 2013 at 10:56 PM
I would also like to share with everybody something wonderful happened today as I stepped out of my boutique for little fresh air, somebody came running to tell me to look at my car, my heart beat fast I thought somebody damaged my car but instead I was looking at a beautiful sight, a white bird with pink beak sitting on my car what was special about this bird was before the major construction on Main & Bayshore this bird always visited often but once the construction began that bird disappeared & I didn't see it for a long time up until today of course I grabbed my camera and took lots of pictures which I am posting, this beautiful sight that I am sharing with all of you has a special meaning, this wonderful town of ours is full of nature unfortunately many of us get so caught up with everyday life obligations we rarely notice the beauty around us, we are all so busy with the constant building of these brick & mortar which is destroying nature that is all around us, please take a moment to appreciate our surroundings, Safety Harbor has adequate amount of buildings, this is a charming & quaint town with a huge historical value, all the visitors who I talk to are in love with the natural beauty surrounding us, why do you want to destroy that beautiful image, please think about it very carefully because once it's gone we can never capture it again, enjoy the picture....
Dee Dokumaci January 30, 2013 at 11:35 PM
Thank you Gary maybe not half million dollar homes but at least $250,000 & up cause these are the people who are more likely to shop here, there are many vacationers staying at the Resort/Spa all they talk about is investing in a home in our charming town to escape from the big city living around US, they come to Safety Harbor to relax, they love our Marina, Museum, Art Gallery, Chamber of Commerce, all the quaint shops & restaurants, these are people are not interested in a rental, they want to own now how are they going to feel if they find out a rental apartment being built right next door to home owners, they are going to take their money & run due to the fact rentals bring down the value of a home, yes another valid reason not to build this rental property...
Jimmy p January 31, 2013 at 03:15 PM
Dee please sign the petition, your voice matters.
Kristin Shea January 31, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Hi, Kristin Shea here from Main Street Jewelry (Jeff, you spelled jewelry wrong above, haha)......Dee, your point is right on the money. My first wish would be that that area just be left alone...clear out the buildings and leave the trees and wildlife. Don't even put a park, we have enough of those. Just leave it. I grew up right behind where the apartment complex is going to be. I used to play in those woods and swim in Lake Hancock. My friends and I used to build little 'lean to's" among the pines....such great times. There are plenty of homes here already. But....I was told that something has to be built there.....why I wonder? Why can't it just be left alone?
Barbara W. Hugg February 03, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Nothing like waiting to poll the businesses at the last minute. Contrary to popular belief I believe there is more than a handful the citizens against this project as it stands now. Please come out and let you voice be heard at the meeting tomorrow night...

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