TARPON SPRINGS — Imagine a waterfront commercial building across from the Sponge Docks that vastly reduces power usage and conserves water through alternative energy technologies.
Inside, high-tech corporations create high-paying jobs for employees who work with nonprofit organizations and educational partners, searching out ways to produce clean water and conserve energy, and performing marine research that could benefit the Anclote River and Gulf of Mexico.
Through partnerships, local high school and college students get hands-on experience in alternative energy and marine science fields, setting themselves up for future career opportunities in a "job incubator" program.
This project is the brainchild of Steve Hickok, founder and president of Sustainable Environment Research Foundation (SERF), which has registered with the state as a nonprofit and is awaiting its IRS tax-exempt status.
The imagined building doesn't exist yet, and neither do its envisioned programs, but Hickok's hopes are high.
"It's a multifaceted approach, but everything fits so well that if we are successful, and I have no doubt we will be, this could be a model for nonprofits in the future," Hickok said.
The project was unveiled to the public at a Tarpon Springs City Commission meeting. Organizers are talking to potential donors and looking for grants to fund the design phase of the project.
A proposed timeline calls for completion of designs later this year, with construction commencing in mid 2013 and possible opening in 2014, said owner representative Tom Mudano.
"The goal is being able to pull in the marine research aspect of this with direct access to the Gulf and the Anclote River to help organizations be able to conduct research in those estuaries," Mudano said.
"The next phase is regarding coastal building construction methods," he said, "to show we can build an underground basement and water storage tanks ... to be able to allow businesses to further research and determine how to clean large volumes of water."
The group also is in talks with local educational leaders in hopes of providing career path opportunities to high school and college students through a "job incubator" model. Students would get to work with, and learn from, high-tech businesses and nonprofit organizations in areas including marine science and research, and environmentally sustainable construction methods and technologies.
"The whole idea is when a young person comes out of college, they've now had training and internships that nobody else has had and it gives them an edge when they go looking for a job," Hickok said.
The building would be on the property of Tarpon Springs Yacht Services at 1058 Island Ave. Hickok is a minority owner of the business, he said.
The business has agreed to lease part of the property for the new building, which would be constructed using a variety of environmentally sustainable "green" methods, including geothermal technology and solar and wind power. The goal is to reduce energy consumption to the point that nothing is coming from the power grid.
"This facility will create a hub of activity between students, businesses and nonprofits, all working together to improve our environment and create alternative energy options. How exciting is that?" Mudano said.
Organizers hope their project could influence future commercial construction.
"I can't think of anything that anybody in the United States is doing that will have the same impact," Hickok said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.