Longer operating hours at Tarpon museum sought

TARPON SPRINGS - Downtown's old train depot turned museum is an under-utilized asset, members of the Tarpon Springs Area Historical Society believe, and city officials agree.

So the museum, the historical society's home, could once again have a part-time manager.

The society's president, Cyndi Tarapani, laid out the case for hire a museum manager for the city commission earlier this month.

The museum at the corner of Tarpon and Safford avenues is the "anchor to downtown," Tarapani said. "The kinds of things we think this person would do is manage the depot activities, manage our volunteers at the depot, arrange for tours of the depot, manage the depot maintenance and repairs with [city] staff and assist with historical society events."

In addition, Tarapani said, museum manager would boost the historical society's fundraising efforts.

City Manager Mark LeCouris said he and staff have been working with the historical society on a job description for the museum manager's job. The goal, he said, is to have someone in the post by September, as the fall tourist season begins.

With the task of creating the city's budget for fiscal 2014 getting under way, staff is exploring options for funding the museum manager's job, LeCouris said. The city's Community Development Agency is one potential source but others are possible, he said.

Tarapani said the historical society would initially cover 10 percent of the manager's wages, and could be paying up to 30 percent within the next three years.

"We really felt as a board that to ask for your financial support and not put our money into it as well was shortsighted and not fair," she said.

City officials, who continue to confront stagnant revenue, expressed gratitude for the society's willingness to help fund the manager's job.

"I think the 10 percent contribution from the society shows that you do in fact have skin in the game and you, as a group, believe that this position is important," said Commissioner Townsend Tarapani, the historical society president's stepson.

As for the city's 90 percent portion, commissioners spoke with optimism that it would - and should - be found.

"I'm confident we can work it out," said Commissioner Susan Slattery. "We do need to have our depot open more. It's a great place for visitors to come."

According to the historical society website, the train depot was opened in 1909 by Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, replacing a wooden structure built in 1887 but destroyed in a 1908 fire.

Filling the manager's position, which has been vacant for about five years, should allow the facility to be open five hours a day, Wednesday through Saturday, Cyndi Tarapani said.

"That tends to be when you get the strongest attendance, that Wednesday to Saturday window," she said. "Ideally, we'd like to be open every day but that's really not possible."

Historical society board members and volunteers would then operate the depot on other occasions, such as downtown special events.

Mayor David Archie said reviving the managerial position is another way to continue revitalizing the area.

"I think it's been a great partnership in the past," the mayor said, "and I believe there are things that can happen at the depot that enhance what we're trying to do downtown and in that historical area."
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