The sign indicates the business district is called the Narrows, but local business people still call it the Triangle.
Photo by BRIAN GOFF
The Holiday Inn is the largest establishment in the district with special height requirements granted when the building was first erected.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – In recent months the Indian Rocks Beach Commission has been spending a lot of time trying to define the main business part of town. So far they haven’t even come up with a name that will stick. Try to find a common vision from city leaders and business people and it gets even stickier.
The area in question is bordered on Walsingham Road to the north and the Intracoastal Waterway to the east. It goes south until First Street meets Gulf Boulevard. From above it is the shape of a triangle, thus one of the names, The Business Triangle. That aerial view is what bothers Mayor R.B. Johnson, who doesn’t like the Triangle moniker.
“Nobody knows what the Triangle looks like unless you fly over,” he said. “Just to avoid confusion we should settle on a name for signs and promotional literature.”
Johnson prefers the name The Narrows because he said the area is located exactly where the Intracoastal narrows down for a bit.
Businessman Todd Plumlee, whose family has operated a real estate business in the area for years, doesn’t like either the Triangle or the Narrows as a name. He wants to call it Downtown Indian Rocks Beach.
“I grew up here and to be the Narrows doesn’t make sense and unless you are flying over, the Triangle doesn’t make sense either,” he said. “And you don’t go out to dinner in a triangle; you go out to dinner downtown.”
The task of visioning what the area will look like becomes that much harder when no one can agree on a name. But that is the task of the City Commission and the City Manager Chuck Coward. Visioning is near and dear to Coward’s heart. When he was city manager in Treasure Island he spearheaded a visioning process that remade that city and brought a sense of consistency to the look of the city.
For the time being Coward is concentrating on improving the infrastructure in the business district.
“Part of our urban design in the capital design program is to do the intersections and re-make all the sidewalks,” he said. “They will be paver sidewalks. And a second project will be for a complete sign system that will be of the same design all over.”
From there Coward becomes a little more vague:
“We have to beautify the entrances and the interior and concentrate on making it more pedestrian friendly, yet at the same time make it better for vehicular access.”
Just before Coward was hired, the city commissioned a study by the University of South Florida to look at the district and recommend improvements. Coward said for the most part the USF study did that, but there was one recommendation that didn’t get off the ground.
“USF wanted to make Chic-A-Si Park a community storm drainage project,” he said. “That was ludicrous; it would have meant we would have had to abandon the park, get rid of the museum and the business next to it. It couldn’t have happened.”
Which begs the original question; where to go from here?
Johnson feels the city is on the right track.
“It is not a very large place and there is not much room for further development,” he said. “It is not like we’re radically going to change or build up the area, we have to fill in the gaps and flush it out a bit. We need better signage and better sidewalks. For the most part it is functioning well right now.”
Cookie Kennedy has a unique place in the discussion. On one hand she is a city Commissioner charged with making decisions that affect the district; on the other hand she operates a business and lives there.
“I think the future has already begun for the
Triangle,” she said. “We now have the docks and
the re-make of the Keegan Clair Park, we have the expanded museum and we’re ready to begin work on upgrading the sidewalks. All these things are for the future.”
Kennedy would like to see some aesthetic continuity to the Triangle.
“I think it would be nice if we took on a Kay West look,” she said. “The Key West flair is a huge spectrum; we’d want people who move in here to have their own unique ideas.”
As for the name, here is yet another differing opinion.
“I don’t like the Narrows, those of us who work here call it the Triangle, we should come up with a name for all of us,” said Kennedy.
Plumlee, who is passionate about calling it downtown, said the area has all the ingredients to make it more vibrant.
“I’d like to see it evolve from a business triangle to a living, working downtown,” he said. “We have some residential property planned so it will flow well. We have to do it right and not piecemeal. I’m guilty of that. I’ve got five buildings that make up my business. We got those properties over time but we now have to make them flow together.”
Like Kennedy he favors a Key West look for the area.
“I see the potential for a kind of really neat thing as people come by foot or by car or by boat to eat and shop.”
For 30 years Matt Loder and his family have operated Crabby Bill’s restaurant on Gulf Boulevard, an iconic establishment in the district. For him the most immediate improvement to the area would be to improve the signage for businesses and that, he said, should lead to making the area more business-friendly.
Loder saids the needs are plenty in his city.
“We need a dry-cleaner and a beach sundry store,” he said. “Right now there is nothing in the business district that makes it any more attractive than anywhere else in the city.”
As for the name Loder said that doesn’t matter.
“The real issue is to make this place attractive to get people to come here, and then it will happen. Whatever they call it is all right with me as so we can get more action to make it more active.”
One of Loder’s beefs is that the city, in his mind, has made it tough for businessman Bob Munce to get a hotel off the ground.
“He’s a great guy and he needs that hotel to be viable,” he said. “They have given him a 50-foot height restriction. The Holiday Inn is higher than that. It blows my mind how we can’t become more visionary.”
Munce himself said he’s ready to move forward with what is available now. He said the paperwork to begin the project will take four to six months.
“This is now a Planned Development District (PDD) so there is extra paperwork and steps that must be taken; we’ll need the help of an architect” he said. “We’re not anywhere near close to the drawing of plans, but at least we now know the process. We’ll begin right away in the new year.”
The hotel planned by Munce is a budget-type hotel, in his words a “Hampton Inn type hotel.”
“We’re in a position to talk to whatever flag we want to,” he said. “We’ve talked to Hilton, we’ve talked to Marriott and both have said they would like to work with us. So we have to decide if we want a standard layout or suites. Those decisions don’t have to be made until we satisfy the PDD requirements.”
Munce envisions his hotel as being part of a large feeder system in the business district, along with restaurants and shops, businesses that would feed into the economy of the city. “Businesses attract other businesses. Improvements have already begun. It will be better than it is now,” he said.
As for a name, “I have no feeling on what it should be called.”
Whatever it is called, and however it looks, the final goal for the business district is perhaps best summed up by Commissioner-businesswoman Kennedy.
“A decade ago we began visioning for the district. We want to see it being friendly to pedestrians, people with disabilities, seniors, children, with easy access so people can live here as well as work here,” she said. “I’ll be happy when people want to come here and come back here, when they are walking all over and lined up at our restaurants and businesses. This is going to be a vibrant area of Indian Rocks Beach.”