TARPON SPRINGS — According to all parties involved, there was never any doubt Tarpon’s monthly First Friday events would continue uninterrupted in 2020.
It just took an emergency meeting a few days before Christmas between representatives from the city, the police department, downtown business owners and the Tarpon Springs Merchants Association to ensure the association’s series would return as planned, on Feb. 7.
Thanks to that holiday week work session, the sides were able to iron out the issues with the First Friday setup that first arose during the Dec. 10 City Commission meeting and nearly led to the cancellation, or at least postponement, of the event. The Merchants Association started staging the First Friday events five years ago and they have quickly grown into one of the biggest revenue drivers for the city.
“I just want to thank the merchants … for coordinating with the city, the police department, the local merchants and also the commission, with having some more communication with the business owners about the event itself,” Commissioner Jacob Karr said when the consent agenda item was read on Jan. 14. “I’m encouraged to see the outcome of that, and I’m encouraged to support this event for many, many more months.”
Karr and Commissioner Townsend Tarapani objected to the association’s request to close downtown streets 30 minutes earlier than in the past, at 3:30 p.m., for First Fridays. This promoted the City Commission to table discussion of the issue in early December.
Association officials said the additional half-hour would give vendors more time to set up and aid efforts by police to clear illegally parked vehicles from downtown.
Commissioner Rea Sieber, who missed the previous meeting due to an out-of-state business engagement, lamented the fact that there was a near monthlong hiccup in approving the 2020 schedule.
“First Fridays are not only an economic driver for our businesses, they’re an event that our city residents and people from outside of the area come to,” Sieber, a former Merchants Association president, said.
“Not only do the businesses count on First Fridays, but so do the hundreds of employees that are employed by these businesses,” she added.
Stating she was “quite surprised” and “pretty bewildered” by the news of the potential stoppage, Sieber noted the unexpected delay led to some difficulties bringing the next one together.
“Putting the (vote) off until this month had some difficulties with the merchant’s association in permitting and getting things in order in time for the First Friday in February,” she said before thanking association officials for their efforts.
Commissioner Connor Donovan, the only commission member to attend an informal Dec. 19 meeting due to state’s Government in the Sunshine Laws, also thanked the organization for “being extremely flexible” during the discussions and he praised the cooperation Maj. Michael Trill and other Police Department officials.
“A lot of these changes and a lot of the recommendations came from their personal knowledge and experience in handling these events,” he said of the city police officers, who reportedly supported the association’s request to close the streets at 3:30 p.m.
With that, Karr made the motion to approve the item, and it passed by a unanimous vote, 5-0.
“I’m so happy they saw the light and realized this event benefits the whole town and surrounding towns, too,” Carol Rodriquez, the Merchants Association director of special events, said by phone the next day, The association ran into a snag with its liquor license due to the unexpected delay, but it has since been resolved, she said.
Rodriguez thank the Police Department and city residents for their support of First Fridays.