TARPON SPRINGS — For more than a decade, the vacant lot at 144 E. Tarpon Ave. has stood out like a missing tooth, creating a gap between the tight-knit buildings in Tarpon’s historic downtown district.

Since the City Commission, acting in its capacity as the Community Redevelopment Agency, purchased the property in 2012, there have been several attempts to develop the parcel, most recently when the CRA voted 4-1 in favor of a proposal to build a new CrossFit facility on the lot in May 2018.

That project never came to fruition, but after city staff received two unsolicited officers to develop the site in recent months, the CRA, during its latest meeting in May, voted unanimously in favor of a mixed-use project that would bring retail and residential space to the downtown.

“This is something we’ve been waiting for a long time, to develop that property,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos said after the May 5 decision. “The first time around, with the CrossFit project, it did not materialize, but the second time around we’re moving forward with a project that fits the vision we have for the CRA.”

The agency was tasked with ranking proposals from Pennytree Capital and Denami Holdings, a pair of LLCs led by local businessmen with long histories of investing in the community.

The plan from Pennytree, formed in 2019 by Replay Museum founder Brian Cheaney, featured a two-story building with entrances on Tarpon Avenue and Court Street that would include an expansion of his arcade and a rebranded Orange Cycle Creamery, along with retail space on the ground floor. The second floor would feature a business incubator/IT center, and it would be capped by a rooftop bar/event terrace.

“My desire was to work with the city of Tarpon Springs to develop something for the people,” Cheaney said.

While the board members praised Cheaney for his proposal and his willingness to bring innovative business ideas to the city, Commissioner Townsend Tarapani said he was “a little disappointed” the plan lacked a residential component, a key element of the CRA’s vision for the district.

“I’m looking for the biggest bang for our buck,” Tarapani said.

Led by longtime local businessmen Nick and Leon Mavromatis, Denami’s plan addressed that issue with a proposal that featured a three-story mixed-use development, with commercial/retail space on the ground floor and two floors of apartment units above.

“We’ve been in Tarpon for over 30 years and seeing that property we felt compelled to get involved with it and submit an unsolicited proposal that will reflect the CRA goals and contribute to the beautification of the downtown area,” Nick Mavromatis explained during the meeting.

Although Denami’s proposal initially called for 16 one- and two-bedroom apartments occupying the top two floors of the building, Mavromatis agreed to a maximum of 11 units after staff cited the city’s Floor Area Ratio requirements.

The proposal also addressed concerns about putting a three-story building between two one-story dwellings by recessing the third floor so it sits back from the street and incorporating design elements from surrounding buildings to help it blend in with others in the historic district.

“I love the retail element, and I think there’s a shortfall of apartments downtown,” Vice-Mayor Jacob Karr.

Tarapani agreed.

“For me, the residential component of this application is my preference,” he said.

After the City Clerk read four emails and letters from the public, all in support of Denami’s proposal, the CRA voted 5-0 in favor of the Mavromatis project.

Afterward, Alahouzos said the agency was impressed with both proposals, but they ultimately chose the one that best fit the CRA’s vision for the downtown district.

“I was very impressed with the presentation Mr. Cheaney gave us, his idea of introducing new technology and innovations to the area,” he said. “I think it’s a terrific idea but it’s just not the vision we had for the CRA. But Mr. Mavromatis made changes from the first proposal to follow what the code allows and that’s why I supported it, because it meets our vision to have residential and retail downtown. The market value for that property is $240,000 and we’re giving it to them for free because in return we are getting a building that complements the area with a quality design and keeps the historic integrity of the downtown.”

JEFF ROSENFIELD

The lot at 144 E. Tarpon Ave. has been vacant for more than a decade, but a recent decision by Tarpon’s Community Redevelopment Agency paved the way for a mixed-use retail/residential/office project to be built on the property.

Image courtesy of DENAMI HOLDINGS

Shown is an image of Nick and Leon Mavromatis’s proposal, which features a three-story mixed-use development, with commercial/retail space on the ground floor and two floors of apartment units above.