City Profile: Safety Harbor

Downtown Safety Harbor

Downtown Safety Harbor

I have always been a big fan of main street USA and small towns, and Safety Harbor is just such a town.  Safety Harbor is really more of an enclave in a big metro area than anything else. It sits away from the main highway up Pinellas County so a lot of people don’t know anything about it. I must confess despite growing up in the Tampa Bay area myself I hadn’t been back to Safety Harbor for many decades….it’s like a forgotten little part of Old Florida and I think its residents relish the whole concept of being forgotten. Safety Harbor sits on the upper reaches of Tampa Bay and is in between Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg, which makes it’s a great bedroom community of these larger cities.

The big appeal of Safety Harbor is its quaint main street, aptly named Main Street, which runs about eight blocks long. The street is lined with small 1-3 story buildings that all line up close to the road. At the end of Main Street you’ll find the Bay and the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. As a sidebar, I think this building alignment is one of the prime ingredients in what makes a ‘proper’ main street. Developers and planners got away from this approach in the 60’s and 70’s and made the huge mistake of setting the buildings further back from the road and putting parking lots in front of the buildings, catering to the automobile and as a reaction to suburban highway strip development. Unfortunately that destroys the pedestrian interconnection and discourages interactivity.  Fortunately a lot developers, city planners, and architects have rekindled the proper realignment of buildings and have put people first and pushed the cars and parking lots to the rear or beyond.  Back here in Naples, that’s why you see areas like Fifth Avenue and Mercato flourishing. Safety Harbor, with just a couple of exceptions avoided this in their city planning.

You won’t find the typical chain stores and restaurants in downtown Safety Harbor, except for the one Starbucks, which makes it refreshing break from the mediocre. The town is sort of old for Florida standards, dating back to 1917 and boasts a population of about 17,000 within its city limits. The town got its name because ships in the 1800’s were often attacked by pirates in the area and found refuge at this end of Tampa Bay, thus named “Safety Harbor”.  Not too many pirates these days, mostly a nice blend of refurbished ‘craftsman’ architecture (see below), older homes, and a lot of mature oak trees.

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So next time you’re in the Tampa Bay area get a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of modern urban sprawl and stop into Safety Harbor for a lunch or dinner (better make it early; the town does seem to roll up after 8 pm!). And as always feel free to contact me any time with your commercial real estate needs.

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