TARPON SPRINGS — The owner of a troubled motel has accepted an offer from the city to buy the property, ending for now a thorn in the city’s side that divided both residents and commissioners.
Sunbay Motel owner Peter Fanoudis gave the nod to the city’s offer of $862,000 including attorney’s fees. After the deal closes, Fanoudis will have 30 days to vacate the 12-room, light-blue motel across from the city’s prized Spring Bayou. Fanoudis could not be reached for comment, but his lawyer said there will be at least a dozen extended stay residents displaced by the sale.
Mayor Chris Alahouzos, who originally floated the offer at a meeting last week and voted for it along with commissioners David Banther and Jacob Karr, said the acceptance marks the end of a public safety concern and opens a redevelopment opportunity in the downtown district. Conversations to buy the property sprang from a fatal shooting at the motel in August 2016.
"In the long run," Alahouzos said, "it’s going to be a benefit not only to the city but to the business owners of the area as well as the residents."
But not everyone was happy. Critics of the sale believe the city is paying too much for the 0.18-acre property at 57 W Tarpon Ave. and that crime won’t go away.
"I don’t think it will end here. It’s going to move somewhere else in the community," said Commissioner Susan Miccio-Kikta, who, along with Commissioner Rea Sieber voted against the sale. "We lost. I believe the city lost with this purchase."
It’s not difficult to imagine where crime may go, she said. The Tarpon Inn across the street and, on Grand Boulevard, Glen’s Eureka Apartments, where Officer Charles Kondek was killed in December 2014, have been labeled nuisance properties by the city as well.
A recent presentation showed police activity in a two-block area encompassing the properties had dropped after the first couple months of 2017 with the majority being initiated by police.
"It (crime) does occur, but it’s not to the degree we were advised," said police operations Maj. Michael Trill.
Police officials dispute a cost analysis conducted by a former city manager that said department had spent close to $1 million annually policing the area. The author, Costa Vatikiotis, said he stands by the report, which he authored out of concern the city hadn’t yet conducted one on its own.
Regardless, the plan is to continue to address crime in the Spring Bayou area and beyond, Trill said.
"If it’s there, it’s there," Trill said. "If it’s somewhere else, we’re going to go after it somewhere else."
As the dispute over the motel simmered around Tarpon, the motel owner was encountering his own hassles with the city, said his lawyer, Anthony Policastro.
The process leading up to the sale was unusual based on Policastro’s 20 years of experience, he said. The city and the owner went through a mediation process that ended with a settlement purchase price the city ended up rejecting.
Accepting the offer, Policastro said, "was a way to basically get out from under a situation where who knows if he (Fanoudis) didn’t sell what the city would have in store for him."
The future of the property is unknown, but the plan is to bundle development with a roughly 0.45-acre neighboring property owned by architect Edward Hoffman.
Hoffman said he’s considering a few ideas: a mixed use building with office space and apartments, a boutique hotel or maybe a park. He’s also open to relocating the nearby Safford House Museum, although he acknowledged moving the building would be a "herculean effort."
Whatever happens, Hoffman said he plans to design it himself and find a developer for the rest. He hopes to have more firm plans in place in the next six months, he said.
"Now that the Sunbay is going to be gone," Hoffman said, "I no longer have excuses for not doing something. I’m excited about the different possibilities."
Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.