The past could be Safety Harbor's future

Brainstorming by city officials leads to a vision of a city with a tree-lined Main Street and outdoor cafes.

Published May 14, 2007

What will Safety Harbor look like in 2012?

It should, city officials mused last week, have a green grocer, a tree-lined Main Street, and lots of outdoor cafes.

And it should be safe.

People should be able walk to anywhere they need to go and never have to leave downtown to go to the mall or the supermarket.

In other words, the Safety Harbor of 2012 should look like any charming small town of 1912.

But instead of trolley cars, there should be a high-speed rail system taking residents from the east side of town to the west side.

That suggestion, made in jest by City Commissioner James McCormick, came during a brainstorming session the city organized last week at St. Petersburg College.

Facilitators chuckled but did not dismiss the idea.

The college's Collaborative Labs operation, which helps companies and organizations chart a course for the future at an accelerated pace, is open to all concepts, brave or tame.

The city is paying the organization about $28, 000 to help it define what Safety Harbor will look like in five years.

During the session, which took place at the college's EpiCenter in mid-Pinellas, officials threw out ideas, and facilitators organized them on whiteboards, often adding quick, detailed sketches to enliven and illustrate the discussion.

In 2 hours and 45 minutes, city commissioners and department heads had a clearer vision of what they want.

And what they want is an oasis in the middle of Pinellas County.

"There's a hustling, bustling downtown, " said Mayor Andy Steingold, referring to the future city. "Not vehicular traffic, but foot traffic. It's a stress-free Safety Harbor."

And the city will have a better relationship with the Chamber of Commerce, he added.

Quipped City Engineer Bill Baker: "I'd like to live there."

Two half-day community forums, a full-day stakeholder session and another meeting with commissioners and department heads are also planned, but the dates have not yet been set.

All city residents are invited to participate. A survey will likely be put on the city's Web site and another mailed out seeking community comment.

City Commissioner Nadine Nickeson said questions could include:

- What are five aspects of the city you would like to see improved?

- Are you satisfied with the city's services?

- What types of businesses would you like to see in Safety Harbor?

- What architectural style do you prefer?

Nickeson also suggested creating a pie chart showing residents where their tax dollars are spent now and giving them each $100 in Monopoly money and asking them where they would rather it to go.

Like other towns across the country, the Safety Harbor of 2007 is struggling with its character, said Vice Mayor Kathleen Earle.

But in 2012, "it's been largely resolved, " she said of the future city.

"We've become more self-sufficient, " she said. "There's a sense of completeness. It's not that we can't go anywhere else, we don't want to go anywhere else."

She envisioned a casual city with less pollution and a tree ordinance.

The study will address issues such as building height, density, cut-through traffic, parking, city programs and the library expansion among others.

"It was a start, " said Steingold of the initial session. "Just like other small cities, we're struggling with our identity and in no way trying to stagger economic development and growth."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.