TARPON SPRINGS — After years of negotiations, the city and the state have come to an agreement that gives the city ownership of Tarpon Avenue from U.S. 19 to Alt. U.S. 19.
The City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to accept the agreement and the 1-mile stretch of road that runs through the heart of Tarpon's downtown.
"It's been a long road and a long wait," said City Manager Mark LeCouris. "We will talk in the future of some of the things we want to do on the road — tree planting, look at the (Safford Avenue) intersection. There are a whole lot of things we want to do with the road."
Now that the city controls Tarpon Avenue, it can enact its own standards for shutting down the road for festivals and parades and establish criteria for planting trees. The city also can string banners and put flags along the road, which was prohibited when the Florida Department of Transportation controlled it.
"It seems like it's been a long time coming," said Mayor David Archie. "We can now look at doing some entertaining."
But first, he wants the city to look into installing a four-way stop at Tarpon Avenue's busy intersection with Safford Avenue and the Pinellas Trail.
As part of the deal, Tarpon Springs agreed to take over the road's regular maintenance. The state agreed to pay the city $135,000 to fix a drainage issue and to improve a sidewalk along the road.
Commissioner Susan Slattery questioned whether that was enough money to do the work. While in favor of taking ownership of the road, Slattery also questioned the recurring cost to maintain it.
"I want to make sure there is enough to do what we need to do," she said. "We still have a lot of flooding at Disston and Tarpon avenues. We had a few cars underwater during the last storm."
LeCouris said he was confident the city could get the work done. Slattery suggested setting up a reserve fund for the road's maintenance.
Commissioner Townsend Tarapani said now is the perfect time to take ownership of Tarpon Avenue because the state just resurfaced it in 2008. "From a maintenance standpoint, there's not a better time," he said.
And he agreed with Slattery that the city should set up a maintenance fund. He said the city should contribute to it annually so "when it comes time to resurface in 10 to 15 years, it will not be a big hit."
Officials say taking ownership of one of the city's main arteries will empower Tarpon Springs to bring more people to its fledging downtown. LeCouris said now the street can be easily closed for a farmer's market or an antique fair that would bring visitors "right in front of the stores."
"We now don't have to adhere to the state road standard," he said, "but we can follow our standards."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com and (727) 445-4174