Wellness Center Stirs Debate Over Business Character of ‘The Drive’

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Even as city officials struggle to bring daytime businesses to Wilton Drive, known for its nightlife, they’re hesitant to open the door to something that might change the character of the Arts & Entertainment District.

A discussion about the business character of Wilton Drive came up at the Dec. 13 Commission meeting when the owners of Thrive Spa and its supporters talked about the city allowing Thrive Spa to open in Gables Wilton Park.

Currently, medical clinics, are not allowed within the Arts & Entertainment District. Asked how a doctor’s office is allowed, Roberta Moore, Community Development Services director, said doctor offices are considered offices.

Dr. Scott Irwin said Thrive Spa, which has opened temporarily on Northeast 26 Street, will offer smoking cessation and use IV therapy to reduce inflammation and treat other conditions. “It was my dream to build a medical practice in the heart of Wilton Manors and create a quit [smoking] center.”

He said the LGBT community experiences disproportionate number of smoking deaths. Studies have shown that high stress levels, associated with coming out and the social stigma of being LGBT, is a main cause for higher levels of addiction to drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products.

Supporters of Thrive Spa talked about how important it was to give the LGBT community here a place to come and get help with the addictions many struggle with. Steve Hamilton, a Wilton Manors resident, said he was a recovering addict whose “only crutch left” was cigarettes. He credited Irwin with helping him beat his last addiction. One he had for 28 years. “I didn’t get clean and sober to die from an active addiction to cigarettes.”

Commissioner Julie Carson said Thrive Spa was an opportunity to diversity Wilton Drive’s economic base, getting away from just bars and restaurants, and attracting more visitors during the day. She added that she knows an acupuncturist who also wants to open her business on Wilton Drive but won’t come yet because they’re not allowed.

“It would bring a great daytime business to our city. My hope is to see how we can address allowing this business to exist.”

Kerry Ezrol said the city could allow the Thrive Spa to open on Wilton Drive through changing the code, making a special exception or going through Planning and Zoning.

But Mayor Gary Resnick suggested altering the zoning laws for the Arts & Entertainment District could have unintended consequences. “While you may like [Thrive Spa], you may not like someone who provides the exact service but it’s called pain medication. I don’t think this type of business is really consistent with what we’re doing on Wilton Drive.”

Vice Mayor Justin Flippen asked if middle ground could be sought.

He said he found it “very odd” that businesses could sell vaping supplies and cigarettes but a clinic dedicated to wellness was prohibited. “What should we do about that?” he asked.

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