TARPON SPRINGS — Taking ownership of a main city artery is another step in an effort to bring life back to downtown.
City officials are close to an agreement that would give Tarpon Springs ownership of Tarpon Avenue from U.S. 19 to Alt. U.S. 19 (Pinellas Avenue). The 1-mile stretch is owned by the state.
Joseph DiPasqua, the city's Development Services director, said the Department of Transportation has agreed to compensate the city to fix a drainage issue along the road.
Tarpon Springs also asked the DOT to pay for a sidewalk improvement project in exchange for taking ownership and management of the road. DiPasqua expects to hear from the DOT this week on that request.
"It gives us the ability to do things without the constraints of state regulations," DiPasqua said of ownership of Tarpon Avenue. "It lifts that level of control off of us when it comes to road closures for events, placement of landscaping. … It just opens up opportunities for us."
The ability to shut down a street for a festivals and events is crucial, especially for smaller communities.
"It's huge because it gives exposure to the city," said Andy Steingold, mayor of Safety Harbor, which hosts more than 20 festivals a year. "With exposure, it does for us what the Super Bowl would do for the city of Tampa."
Dunedin also is known to shut down its downtown streets for festivals.
"Not only does it provide a good financial stream for the merchants and city, but it provides good quality entertainment for city residents and visitors as well," said Vince Gizzi, Dunedin's Parks and Recreation director.
"We are capitalizing on the quaintness of downtown, the quality of the shops, the merchandise being sold downtown."
Tarpon Springs shuts down a portion of Dodecanese Boulevard at the Sponge Docks for the Night in the Islands festival. The Saturday evening event includes Greek music, dancing and food.
David Gauchman, president of the Sponge Docks Merchant Association, said the festival is beneficial, especially for restaurants. But he said sometimes the payoff may not be immediate.
"If you don't get business that night, they come back later, so it may not be instant gratification," said Gauchman, who owns three apparel and accessory shops at the Sponge Docks dubbed Five Fish. "But there is an increase in business when there are festivals. They are a good thing."
Tarpon Springs officials hope that having Tarpon Avenue available would make city festivals a bigger draw for people.
"We can shut down the road a lot easier and not have to tap dance around with FDOT," said Paul Menzer, a member of the Tarpon Springs Business Alliance and owner of Menzer's Antiques on Tarpon Avenue. "We can have more people exposed to the stores that are here when you have events on the street instead of a parking lot.
"Having people in the street walking in front of all these businesses, maybe something will pique their interest."
Eleanor Krusell, executive director of Florida Festivals and Events Association, said street festivals are vital now more than ever. The association is a membership-based organization whose mission is to educate on how to create safer, more profitable events.
"Because of the economy, small town events are important for families," Krusell said. "When you can't go to large venues, it allows families the opportunity to attend activities in their own town. Small town events are often free, so that's a bargain."
In addition, the money doesn't leave the area.
"Right now with the economy, we are seeing that the smaller town events are still getting the sponsorship support so it's staying in that community," Krusell said. "We are not seeing the downturn to the support being offered to events in small towns."
Krusell said no matter where the street festival is held, whether in a downtown or along a waterfront, it's crucial for the community to take advantage of what it has to offer.
"Plant City has the Strawberry Festival, there's the Corn Festival," Krusell said. "It's really important to capture what you can highlight in your community. These festivals are very important to the family and very important for the community."
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4174.