TARPON SPRINGS — For the better part of a decade Tarpon officials have discussed installing a gateway sign at the entrance to the Sponge Docks.
After a proposal by local architect Ed Hoffman to build a sign, as well as additional improvements to the docks, was rejected in 2013 by the Board of Commissioners amid an outpouring of protests, the subject remained dormant for several years until a recent iteration of the commission decided to revisit the idea of adding signage that clearly identifies the historic tourist district.
“It’s something that has been talked about forever and a day and, in my opinion, can’t really wait any more,” Commissioner Townsend Tarapani said when the BOC addressed the issue on June 11, 2019.
Following several discussions regarding the details of the design elements and procurement process in the ensuing years, Tarapani again urged the board this past January to make a final decision on the project, noting it’s “approaching two years since we started to re-talk about this entrance…I’d like to see this initiative move forward.”
The commissioners came to a consensus on the design, a pair of brick or stone columns with decorated façades as well as a metal archway overhanging Dodecanese Boulevard, after receiving the results of a Public Art Committee survey, and they decided to go with a design-build process, where one company handles the design and construction, but the item was once again thrown on the back burner last month after officials learned how much the feature would actually cost.
“I’m not ready to spend $243,000 to have a sign at the Sponge Docks,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos said when the item was addressed during the June 22 BOC meeting, noting officials had originally earmarked roughly $130,000 for the work.
Commissioner Costa Vatikiotis, who expressed reservations about the sign’s potential cost during the Jan. 12 meeting, said he was “a little frustrated with this project,” and his “concern is the cost and the priority” while noting many residents “have made their positions known” regarding the feature.
Indeed, several residents used the public comments to speak out against the item, with some comparing the feature to a “Greek Disneyland,” a “glorified highway exit sign” and a “Spongeland theme park.”
“The gateway arch is a frivolous expense,” James Spinolas said, adding it’s “better to create a vision for this area rather than waste $250,000 on an arch.”
Debby McKinney summed up the situation by stating she “thought (the sign) was a good idea, but I never thought it would cost over $200,000,” a sentiment shared by several residents and commissioners.
Vice Mayor Jacob Karr made a motion to put the item out for re-bid in hopes of getting a lower price, noting, “This is something that’s been talked about for nine or 10 years.”
City Manager Mark LeCouris, however, noted they were in a tough spot due to the choice to go with the design-build process because “you can’t price the materials until you have a design.”
Ultimately, after Commissioner Connor Donovan said he “doesn’t want to waste staff’s time because we’re too far off on this,” the board opted to table the subject until another option became available.
Afterward, Mayor Alahouzos spoke about the commission’s decision to delay the entryway sign again.
“Even though we had the results of the Public Art Committee survey, the price we had budgeted was $130,000, and this was $100,000 more,” he said by phone, adding, “I can’t see spending that much more so we gave it back to Mark LeCouris to see if he can come up with a solution.”
Alahouzos acknowledged the opposition some residents have to the sign, but he said the design they came up with was based on public and merchant input and would ultimately make a great addition to the docks, just not at that price.
“The samples were based on the survey results, they came up with several different ideas and we were going to get public input on those,” he said. “But regardless, $230,000 is too much to pay for something like that, which is why I couldn’t support that. So, this is why we decided to bring it back and try come up with something more reasonable.”