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'A good project, but is it Tarpon Springs?'
A resort aimed at "mega yachters" evokes mixed reactions.
By ELENA LESLEY
Published June 7, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - Jumbles of masts, some partly sunken, and rusted metal roofs frame the industrial skyline across from the Sponge Docks.

It's a somewhat ramshackle backdrop for diners and shoppers on the south side of the Anclote River.

It's also an authentic one.

But a plan for a resort hotel on the river's north side could transform the character of this quaint waterfront.

Jerry Fletcher, president of Bayland Development Group LLC, told city commissioners at Tuesday night's meeting that his planned 200-room destination resort and spa would draw high-end tourists and money to the city.

And he claimed it could be built without driving out what's left of Tarpon's working waterfront.

Commissioners said they needed time to think, and asked Fletcher to return in two weeks for their vote on whether to negotiate a development agreement with him.

Their decision, nearly all agreed, is much bigger than deciding if Fletcher is entitled to permits to build an 84-foot-tall terraced structure that would require dredging some previously filled riverbed. It's a decision that evokes what Tarpon Springs has been and what it will become.

"Sure, it's a good project," George Billiris, husband of Mayor Beverley Billiris, said during the public comments portion of the meeting. But, he asked, "is this Tarpon Springs?"

Fletcher thinks it is. His plan calls for a $700-million resort marketed to well-heeled yachters. Amenities would include 200 to 300 dry slips, 50 to 70 wet slips, a spa and wellness center and space for boats up to 165 feet long. He said the project, located on Island Avenue, would create 270 jobs.

Fletcher described luxury yacht owners, dripping money, who would dock their boats, enjoy the resort's amenities, and then take water taxis over to Dodecanese Boulevard to shop and eat. And they "do buy T-shirts and they do buy trinkets," he said. "And they would buy 20 where I would buy one."

Fletcher called "mega yachters" an underserved niche market. He said resort rooms would be marketed to those willing to buy six-week fractional shares. He predicted the new tourists would pump $300-million annually into the regional economy.

Despite all these potential benefits, commissioners and some residents still struggled with the question of identity.

"Do we want to be Fort Lauderdale, or do we want to be Tarpon Springs?" George Billiris asked the audience.

The problem is, said those supporting Fletcher, maybe Tarpon Springs can no longer afford to be Tarpon Springs -- an authentic little Greek waterfront with lots of history and no hotel rooms.

"That charm is not working any longer," said John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance and owner of one the properties Fletcher has under contract. "Tourism is going down, buildings at the sponge docks are dilapidated. There are more parking lots than businesses."

In Williams' opinion, the best way to save Tarpon Springs, particularly its working waterfront, is to develop. Plus, Fletcher has offered to accommodate the six shrimping boats -- owned by Williams and a partner -- that the project would displace, and help start a fisheries co-op in the area.

"The fisheries are part of what makes Tarpon attractive to tourists," said Spiro Verras, one of the lawyers who, along with former Rep. Mike Bilirakis, is representing Fletcher.

Commissioner Peter Dalacos, the only commissioner who wanted to enter development negotiations immediately, said he saw where the fishermen were coming from.

"We are rooted in our history, but we have a chance to make new history," he said.

Still, other commissioners weren't convinced this was the future they wanted for Tarpon Springs. They asked Fletcher to return June 19 with plans at varying heights and examples of similar structures they could examine.

"What we have, if we lose it, I don't believe we can ever get it back," Commissioner David Archie said.


http://www.sptimes.com/2007/06/07/Northpinellas/_A_good_project___but.shtml
 

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$700 million for a hotel project in Tarpon Springs? While if this does go through I'm very happy for this small city, does it really fit in? I honestly dont see much of a market for this in a place like TS.
 

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I'm wondering on how the $700m is calculated. For a 84 foot tall building that is an impressive amount of cash. That would be three Trump Tower Tampa's... In all it's luxury and height. Perhaps the figure is somehow calculating in the estimated economic impact?
 

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Some of the eclectic multi-millionaires would come for the seclusion of a small town. I know I would if I was vacationing with my family and my mega yacht.
 

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84 feet! Good Lord, call the FAA!

Just tell them to put a model of the Acropolis with a couple of statues of sponge divers having a relaxing smoke, drinking uzo, and eating spanokopita on top of the buidling, and we can all pretend it fits with Tarpon Springs' ambiance.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I think it is more the demographic of people this would attract, and the conflict of businesses, that are the problems more so then the height, although I'm sure this height doesn't help.

That said, if they hope to financially save many of the bussiness along the spounge docks, they need some hotel rooms or some kind of connection to attract tourists. In this case the connection would be by boat, apropriatley.
 

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I'm wondering on how the $700m is calculated. For a 84 foot tall building that is an impressive amount of cash. That would be three Trump Tower Tampa's... In all it's luxury and height. Perhaps the figure is somehow calculating in the estimated economic impact?
It's a large waterfront resort which happens to have a hotel which is 84ft tall. The price includes everything, not just the hotel.
 

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^ Eh. I'm still calling BS. The hotel portion is tiny, 200 rooms. Overall the whole project is set to create 270 jobs. That doesn't sound very big to me. The medium sized resorts in Las Vegas employ 20x that many people and still don't cost that much. Closer to home, the Ritz Carlton Sarasota cost a mere $130m and I have to believe the land cost in Sarasota was more.
 

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Well, don't buy it then.

But I've got to assume that you haven't priced out a dry slip or wet slip for boats up to 165ft long lately either... And the article also says the project will feature a resort and spa for the bluebloods tooling around on those yachts...

Nothing about that project's description says that it will generate anything less than several hundred million dollars in sales at build out. Whether it adds up to $700m, I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me.
 

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Well, don't buy it then.

But I've got to assume that you haven't priced out a dry slip or wet slip for boats up to 165ft long lately either... And the article also says the project will feature a resort and spa for the bluebloods tooling around on those yachts...

Nothing about that project's description says that it will generate anything less than several hundred million dollars in sales at build out. Whether it adds up to $700m, I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me.
I couldnt imagine having a 165 foot boat. My family's sailboat is 45 feet long and I think thats big. This project will probably be targeting some high rollers in the Bay Area.
 

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^Definitely... This will probably be seen as a cost effective alternative to pricier high-end marinas along the coast in SW FL, and even over in the Cape are and Palm Coast (for people who live in the middle of the state and travel to their boat, and also snowbirds, who RV down.) I wouldn't expect the market to be all that big, but I seriously doubt this guy would ever get a dime if the demand wasn't there... heck, there's even a bit of kitchy culture to be enjoyed in Tarpon Springs.

And besides, there are probably only a percentage of spaces for very large boats... I would assume that the marina is generally targeting smaller boats.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
People with 165 foot boats travel the world with them. They'll come from all over the world to this resort if they want to see Tarpon Springs. It sort of destroys the purpose of having a 165 foot boat if you just stay in Tampa Bay.
 

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This is something Tarpon needs and no one can say it doesn't. This article brought up something that many don't realize, TS tourism has dropped. Businesses and tourism have dropped and why come here if you can go somewhere closer to Clearwater or Tampa. A resort at this size will be a well needed growth to the area. If this isn't a turning point in the tourism sluggish, then I can't wait to see what is.

And yeah, $700 mil. for this, I don't think so!
 

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I wonder if it was a type-o and they actually meant to say $70 million...
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
^^Maybe $700 mil. is correct, after all canal dredging may be involved and that is pricey.

Huge Sponge Docks spa-hotel planned
By Vivienne Green of The Suncoast News

Published: June 9, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. - The first mega yacht resort in the United States could be built in Tarpon Springs in a couple of years, but commissioners hearing the proposal from a group of Safety Harbor developers Tuesday, June 12 appeared hesitant.

"One of the biggest issues is the height," Mayor Beverly Billiris insisted, during a three-hour vocal tug-of-war with the developers and merchants from the Sponge Docks who supported the proposal.

The Mariners' Club & Resort, a 200-room, 84-foot-high development, to be built on six acres of Island Avenue just across from the Sponge Docks north of the Anclote River, would pull as much as $600 million in annual revenues to the city, he said, translating into much tax revenue and a boost to businesses in the area.

Jerry Fletcher, president of Bayland Development Group and former U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, his attorney, were seeking the go-ahead from commissioners so they may start negotiating terms of the development agreement with zoning staff, which would later bring it back to the Board of Commissioners for approval.

Fletcher, who showed renderings of the development, described it as a "world class destination spa and luxury hotel" with boat slips for large vessels to attract high spending yacht owners.

With the hotel would come 275 new "high paying" jobs, he added. A fisheries co-op would be formed to preserve the local fishing industry; a complete sewer system and a fire control system would be installed; there would be some dredging in the bay to remove copper and other substances that have blocked plant life there for years; and a dry marina.

Dozens of Sponge Docks merchants who came to support the venture, hailed it as an answer to the continued decline in business in the area.

"The docks need help, we're barely making money. Stores are not even making $100 a day," said David Gauchman, head of the Sponge Docks Merchants Association and owner of Five Fish clothing store on Dodecanese Boulevard.

"There's absolutely no downside to this," declared John Williams Thursday, June 7.
Williams, the executive director of Southern Shrimp Alliance, owns Northside Seafood and four of the six fishing boats that will be the only ones directly impacted by the development. His business partner, Bill Hardee owns the other two.

Imported shrimp has been forcing shrimpers out of business and as a result Williams has had his property up for sale almost a year.

Reluctant to completely give up the business, he turned down two offers and approached the city with a proposal: He would sell the city his business, they would lease it back to him at a reasonable rate and he would "keep the working waterfront as it is." But they had no funds to do that, he said.

"We don't want to sell. We don't want to leave. Then along comes this project. We sell our property to them, get the full value for it and remain in the Tarpon Springs fishing industry. This is a perfect fit for me, the city, the fishing industry all of us combined. We're excited about it."
Commissioner Peter Dalacos called it "a win-win situation for our fisheries," but other commissioners were hesitant.

They had already turned down several developers who wanted to build 75-foot structures at the site of the former Pappas riverside Restaurant on Dodecanese Boulevard, out of concerns shared for years with the merchants that the city.

The area attracts roughly 800,000 tourists to the docks annually. Some merchants are concerned the area could lose its working waterfront and the quaint authentic charm that made it the attraction it is.

In fact, the city is now in the process of amending its Land Development Code to lower the maximum allowed height for buildings on Dodecanese Boulevard and surrounding areas from 75 feet to 50 feet. The first reading of this ordinance is due to come up before the City Commission on July 3.

Making changes to accommodate the proposal could prompt other developers to present plans for similar sized structures in the area, the mayor said.

"We had a developer in today and we mandated that person to 50 ft.," she said.
Fletcher said reducing the size to 50 feet would render the building "ugly" and unappealing to the niche group they were trying to attract.

He appealed to commissioners to at least let staff members start the process of negotiating the development agreement, but a four-to-one vote declined the request until after the next board sitting June 26.

The commissioners said they wanted time for research and to visualize what an 84-foot building in the area would look like.

http://suncoastpinellas.tbo.com/content/2007/jun/09/huge-sponge-docks-spa-hotel-planned/?news
 

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If the project brings in $600 million in taxes annually to the city, I don't see how they could deny it. 84 feet isn't exactly a huge tower or anything.
 

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84ft is nothing!! For $600 million anually in taxes they would be morons to not approve this project. Not to mention improve the tourism of a not so intresting Tarpon Springs.
 
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