Tarpon Springs leaders call boutique hotel a ‘dream come true’ for downtown

A developer is looking to restore a former livery stable and boarding house into a self-service mini-hotel downtown at Ring Avenue and Orange Street in downtown Tarpon Springs.

TARPON SPRINGS — It looks like Tarpon Springs will be getting a new hotel after all.

Tarpon Springs officials gave the two land-use approvals needed to build an eight-room “boutique hotel” in the downtown character district of the city.

By a 5-0 vote, city commissioners approved both a future land-use change, and a conditional-use permit needed to restore a former livery stable and boarding house into a self-service mini-hotel downtown.

“It’s a commercial construction project that’s consistent with the mixed-use area located there,” said Renea Vincent, director of planning for Tarpon Springs.

The board had given the project preliminary approval on June 14.

The approval comes approximately two months after it had shot down the proposed 80-90 room Cambria Hotel project that would have been built in the city’s historic Sponge Docks area.

Located at the intersection of Ring Avenue and Orange Street, the former two-story livery stable is designated an existing city historical structure. The .32-acre site also houses a single-family house relocated there in 2015.

Joseph Kokolakis, owner of Tarpon Springs-based Kokolakis J Contracting, Inc., will restore the former livery stable built in 1909 and converted into the Scotia Hotel in 1926.

The hotel restoration plans call for adding an 11-to-12 space parking lot next to the building, Kokolakis said.

Kokolakis described his hotel project as a “restoration,” not a re-use.

“This is a restoration of a critical piece of Tarpon Springs fabric,” said Kokolakis, whose construction business office is across the street from the property.

Once all city approvals are secured, Kokolakis said it will take one year to restore the hotel building.

A Dunedin resident, Kokolakis says he also has plans to build a 79-room hotel next to Mease Dunedin Hospital.

The eight-room boutique hotel will be essentially automated with no on-premises staff.

Customers will book reservations online and the hotel will use an electronically automated interior kiosk system for guests to access their rooms, Kokolakis said.

The 200-square-foot rooms will rent for $170 per night, he said.

The hotel restoration plan also includes an 11-to-12 space lighted parking lot located behind the buildings on the east side, Kokolakis said.

The existing adjacent single-family home will remain unchanged and could serve as housing for a caretaker to supervise the hotel, he added.

City residents who live near the site offered both criticism and praise for the project.

Nancy Casto Subic said the project is another example of commercial development encroaching on the city’s residential downtown area.

“I don’t want a bunch of undesirables; and I don’t want the traffic and the noise,” Subic said. “I don’t want a hotel there; I don’t want to look at it.”

Subic also questioned whether an eight-room hotel would generate substantial visitor foot traffic in the downtown area.

“How is this eight-room hotel going to house all these people coming to Tarpon Springs?” Subic asked.

Mark Wood, who lives approximately 800 feet from the site, voiced similar concerns about commercial development overtaking the residential area’s “historic integrity.”

“I just want to see the neighborhood developed carefully and thoughtfully,” Wood said.

Wood also questioned security of the facility since no staff is to be on the premises.

“We will do our best to ensure that our quests will be safe,” Kokolakis said.

Former Tarpon Springs mayor Anita Protos said the hotel would fit well in the area.

“It will fit and it will upgrade it,” Protos said. “He (Kokolakis) is willing to restore and preserve a historic site.”

Erica Switzer, owner of Currents Restaurant on East Tarpon Street, also praised the project.

“I think it’s admirable that we have people in our community willing to invest money and time in a restoration project like this,” Switzer said.

The Board of Commissioners generally supported the project.

“I appreciate the project,” said Mayor Costa Vatikiotis. “It is an excellent example of adaptive re-use of an old building,”

“I see that there’s a need for this (hotel) within the downtown area,” said Vice Mayor Craig Lunt.

Commissioner Jacob Karr said the hotel would be “a dream come true to the many business owners and residents in downtown Tampa Springs.”

Commissioner Panagiotis Koulias said the city needs lodging facilities like this to accommodate tourists and visitors.

“There’s got to be a point where we provide lodging in the downtown area,” Koulias said. “But we don’t want to influx it too quickly. This is a project that is a good steppingstone for that area.”

Commissioner Michael Eisner agreed the city needs a lodging facility.

“I’m just glad that it is not an 80-room, a 120-room or a 160-room fiasco,” said Eisner, referring to the rejected Cambria project. “This will be a quaint little place.”