City Facilities Slowly Reopen Street Closures, Aid Debated

in city hall/news/photos

The City of Safety Harbor plans to slowly open city-run facilities that have been closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of having city hall and the Safety Harbor Public Library open by June 1. 

The city pier and waterfront boardwalks were opened over the weekend, and the fitness center in the Safety Harbor Community Center could open next week, said City Manager Matt Spoor during the Monday night city commission meeting. 

He said these facilities will be opened under Center for Disease Control guidelines that include social distancing and limited capacity.  Face shields to protect employees are being installed. Spoor said that the city needs to careful about letting the public know about openings to avoid a rush or crowd that couldn’t be handled. 

There was a lot of discussion, but no action taken on offering financial aid to people and/or businesses hurt by COVID-19 closure.  

Also, no action was taken on Mayor Joe Ayoub’s proposal to close off a portion of Main Street to vehicle traffic to make room for expanded outdoor dining at restaurants for at least the next two weekends.  

Ayoub said Spoor had been in contact with several restaurants in town and the majority were in favor of the closures, even restaurants that would not be in area that might be closed off. 

Commissioner Carlos Diaz said that while he is skeptical about the benefits from doing this, he favored giving it a try.   

Commissioner Cliff Merz said he is concerned about what might happen if weekend closures created a “3rd Friday” festival atmosphere and drew crowds. “COVID is still with us and will be with us,” he said. “And the reason that it’s at the level is it now is because of the protections that were in place, so things are slowly opening, and we’ll see how that works.”  

He said it might work if the restaurants required reservations and customers came in an orderly fashion but if it became a “big collection of people” and it was up to law enforcement to break it up then that would not be the right approach.   Commissioners Andy Zudrow and Nancy Besore also expressed concerns about potential crowding. 

After a lengthy discussion among commissioners on what kind of financial aid to give to those impacted by COVID-19 with nothing settled on, Mayor Ayoub asked the city manager to gather more information on costs and administration of giving utility discounts of $1,000 to businesses that qualify and at least $100 to individuals that qualify.   

This information may be presented at the June 1 commission meeting. 

In other action, commissioners approved $62,500 for the installation of a 20-foot gazebo/gathering place for the Folly Farm city park. There were some objections from the public over spending these funds while some citizens are in financial need due to the pandemic. 

The mayor and city commissioners pointed out that this money is from capital improvement funds that can’t be spent on social-help programs.  The gazebo was a gift to the city from George Weiss who also donated the Folly Farm park land. He donated $25,000 for the gazebo in 2019 and its been in storage.  

The $62,500 was the lowest of three bids for land preparation, grading, concrete slab, gazebo assembly, electrical work, paved patio and other site work. 

Walt spent 35 years as a reporter, feature writer. TV critic and columnist for The Tampa Tribune. Prior to that he worked in the public relations office at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and as a reporter for The Greenville (SC) News. He and his wife, Debbie, have lived in Safety Harbor for 10 years. He also taught media writing courses at the University of Tampa. Since moving here, he has been active with the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, hosting a monthly storytelling night.