TARPON SPRINGS — In a city filled with historic sites, Cycadia Cemetery stands out.
Located on a leafy, 30-acre parcel at the northeast corner of E Tarpon Avenue and U.S. 19, the site has served as the final resting place for Tarponites for more than 130 years, and the headstones feature names of some of the area’s most prominent families, including Safford and Meares, Beekman and Richey.
Fifteen years ago, however, the cemetery sold its last inground plot. Since then, Cycadia has used lawn crypts, inground plots without monument headstones, to meet the demand for burial sites.
"We’re not making any more ground, but we’ve learned how to utilize and maximize the space we have," Dave Witkowski, the lead operator of Cycadia Cemetery, said.
City officials had been searching for a solution to the problem for several years, according to Public Services Director Paul Smith,
"We first started talking about expansion five years ago," Smith said during a visit to Cycadia. "What was holding us back was the land. There wasn’t any available.’’
A solution appeared last year, when a vacant parcel adjacent to the cemetery came on the market. The city quickly bought the land from its owner, Harold Haftel, with an eye toward expanding the historic cemetery.
"We were very fortunate to be able to purchase the property from Mr. Haftel last year," Smith said of the 2.55-acre lot on the northeast corner of Tarpon Avenue and Jasmine Street.
The expansion project features804 inground plots, 43 parking spaces, a covered "committal" shelter and a mausoleum. He said wetland identification, a geotechnical investigation, surveys and arborist evaluations of the site had already been completed and noted the new addition would also feature multiple burial options.
"Our goal is to maintain a variety of memorials and services for us into the future," Smith said. "We want to have a place here, in our home, for people to be remembered and have different types of ways to do that in the future."
The project would be put out for bid at the beginning of next year, with an eye toward awarding the bid by March and a projected construction start date of April, Smith said. Based on that tentative schedule, plots could potentially be available for sale at the beginning of 2020.
"It’s very important that we continue to offer the in-ground (burial) service," Mayor Chris Alahouzos said.
Mike Kouskoutis, a lawyer who helps organize the city’s annual Epiphany event, thanked the city for moving forward with the expansion, which he called "long overdue."
"We need to look forward to where we are going to be (buried) and where our families are, my father, my mother and all my cousins," Kouskoutis said.
Witkowski, who has run Cycadia Cemetery for the past six years, said he quickly learned how important that is to the people of Tarpon Springs.
"I hear a lot from younger people, third generation Tarponites, they say, ‘I want to be buried here in Tarpon Springs with my family,’" Witkowski said. "It’s really important to them, and this expansion gives them another chance to do that. I know it’s going to be a huge success."