TARPON SPRINGS — After months of discussion, investigation and negotiation, the City Commission has agreed to purchase a parcel of vacant land on Gulf Road with the hope of building a fire station on the land.
The 0.85-acre parcel, at 1025 Gulf Road, was earmarked by city officials earlier this year as a potential replacement site for the adjacent Station 70. Built in 1977, Station 70 is now deemed undersized and out-of-date.
During a commission meeting in May, City Manager Mark LeCouris also noted the property could be used for parks and recreation purposes should it be deemed unsuitable for a new fire station, which is not expected to be built until 2023-2025.
An analysis of the property over the summer revealed sinkholes below the surface, and the commission balked at purchasing the land, which was listed at $249,000. Further investigation, however, showed the sinkholes were only shallow voids that experts determined could safely be filled with grout. In addition, the property’s owner, Mike Kouskoutis, agreed to lower the asking price by $75,000 to help offset the estimated $110,000 remediation costs.
After both developments, the commission agreed to the deal.
“We have options to use the land now while we build the new fire station, from a passive park and playground, dog park, basketball courts,” LeCouris said when the item was addressed on Nov. 13. “So, by having this land now, it gives us a piece of property that we have a lot of options to do with in a perfect location.”
Prior to voting on the item, Kouskoutis told the commissioners he had another contract pending on the Gulf Road parcel, but he would prefer the city take ownership.
“We’re at a point now where we want to sell the property,” Kouskoutis said, adding, “The ball’s in the city’s court.”
The four commissioners at the Nov. 13 meeting agreed the property was too valuable to pass up.
“I’d like to have this property under this city’s control, and then we can discuss what we want to use it for,” Commissioner David Banther said, noting there were multiple potential uses for the property.
“I think if we pass on this tonight, we are giving up a very scarce piece of property.”
Commissioner Susan Kikta noted Station 70 is “not in good shape” and “has some issues” and she would like to see a replacement “sooner rather than later,” and she was all for the city purchasing the land.
“In Pinellas County, let alone Tarpon Springs, it’s rare to have a vacant piece of land to purchase anymore,” Kikta said.
Commissioners Rea Sieber and Jacob Karr also expressed approval, with Karr stating, “I think this is an opportunity for the city to purchase a piece of property here just to have as an option, and then if we need to sell it, we could sell it at a future date.”
The item passed by a vote of 4-0.
Mayor Chris Alahouzos was absent from the meeting, but later he commented on the sale by phone.
“My main goal is to put a fire station there, because this is the perfect location to serve that area of the community,” Alahouzos said. “But in the meantime, we can use it for something temporary.”
At the Nov. 13 meeting, the City Commission also agreed to purchase a piece of property adjacent to Sisler Field for $125,000. Sisler Field is a Little League baseball and softball complex at the corner of Meres Boulevard and Bayou Avenue, adjacent to the city-owned Tarpon Springs Golf Course.
“We’ve been looking at that or the one other property that’s there, and this was the more ideal one because it abuts up on city property on both sides,” LeCouris said. “So, it gives us a huge area and it’ll be an advantage to the community and Little League and I recommend moving forward with this purchase.”
The item received unanimous commission approval, with Karr noting Sisler Field is a historically significant site in the city.
“Growing up I heard rumors that Babe Ruth played there,” Karr said, adding the St. Louis Browns held Spring Training at the field in the early 1920s. “And it turns out he really did play here. So, there’s a lot of history in this field, too, and it’s good to preserve that.”
The complex is named for George Sisler, a Ruth contemporary who was a player and manager for the St. Louis Browns, the team now known as the Baltimore Orioles.