Safety Harbor’s Downtown Makeover

Safety Harbor is a sleepy, village-like community nestled along Tampa Bay in eastern Pinellas County. It could be the poster burg for quaint. Its downtown is a mix of small shops, waterfront vistas and the landmark Safety Harbor Resort & Spa.

Look for that to change.

Sometime this spring Olympia Development Group will break ground – at the corner of Main Street and Bayshore Drive — on an upscale, mixed-use project that has raised lots of expectations for a downtown renaissance. Dunedin-based Olympia will develop Harbour Pointe: 45 condominiums, eight town homes and 45,000 square feet of retail and office on 3.3 acres.

The condos -in two 4-story buildings –will overlook the bay and a marina. Prices will start at $500,000. Construction is slated to begin by the end of the second quarter.The Shoppes at Harbour Pointe – consisting of a 2- and 3-story building – will feature a European village ambience. Construction should start by the end of the first quarter.

Moreover, Olympia recently bought the Spa property, which sits across the street from Harbour Pointe on 30 acres, from Arlington, Va.-based MeriStar Hospitality Co. According to MeriStar, the purchase price was in excess of $20 million. Olympia has ambitious plans for upgrading the 189-room resort plus major mixed-use development. The scenario – in a 5-to-7-year build out – could include more than 300 condos, retail, and a 300-room hotel.

“Harbour Pointe is important for our downtown,” emphasizes Ron Pianta, Safety Harbor’s assistant city manager and community development director. “Olympia has been very cooperative in working with us and making adjustments to the development order. This is a very sensitive project.

“And now they’ve purchased the Spa,” adds Pianta. “Obviously they have an affinity for the community and are in it for the long haul. They’re local, and they’re investing in the community.”

From Olympia’s perspective, giving downtown Safety Harbor a major makeover represents the culmination of a market evolution for the 14-year-old company. Its stock in trade had been commercial development – including more than 75 free-standing Walgreens throughout the Southeast.

“We’ve done enough of that kind of work to economically allow us to do other things,” explains Eddie Entreken, Olympia’s vice president/project development. “Mixed-use development is very popular. Our owner is an architect, and this is a project that excites him – and us as a company.”

That owner is 68-year-old William Touloumis, an immigrant Horatio Alger from Greece.

“We wanted to diversify, and this is a good vehicle for that,” underscores Touloumis, whose hands-on design work will be very much in evidence at Harbour Pointe. “We are creating an urban environment with resort-style amenities and restoring a pedestrian marketplace to downtown. We are also making a statement. For many generations people will benefit. I’ve always said, ‘If a job is done well and properly, the profit is a by-product.'”

To date, good will with local officials has been the by-product of Olympia’s two-year effort to seek input – including focus groups – from the community and to establish solid rapport with the chamber of commerce. Olympia is now viewed as vested.

And it hardly hurt that Olympia anted up for a restaurant and a community events-oriented plaza to sweeten the deal.

“We see this as a true partnership,” says Safety Harbor commissioner Nadine Nickeson. “It benefits them, and we wanted a draw downtown for our residents and those who drive through. This is not overwhelming – but a good fit. It’s all coming to fruition.”

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