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Come visit downtown Tarpon and pull up a seat

The Main Street Association asked the City Commission on Tuesday to pay for 60 wooden benches with attached planters to be placed throughout the downtown business district.

The green, 6-foot-long wooden benches with Tarpon Springs' name painted on them would be another way to welcome pedestrians into the downtown, an area that has improved significantly in the past year, according to the group of merchants. The City Commission thought it was a good idea, too.

"There are no more boarded up old buildings," said Karen Kundra, Main Street Association president. "Now we want to make the whole area look consistently appealing."

A lot has changed recently in the city's nationally registered historic district. The addition of the contemporary, 20,000-square-foot Tarpon Springs Library on Lemon Street has had a huge impact on the downtown landscape, bringing people into the city's business district, Kundra said.

Also in the past year, the chamber of commerce renovated an old building for its new office on Orange Street. The historic Tarpon Springs post office on Lemon Street was turned into the law offices of Latour and Associates. A dilapidated building off the Pinellas Trail became the Neptune Cyclery and Lounge.

And most recently, city officials are looking into a proposal for an antique and collectible car dealership in a building at Pinellas Avenue and Boyer Street.

It all adds up to make the downtown a more pleasing place to visit, merchants said. The Main Street Association figures it is time to revive old plans to beautify the area. The association has at least $9,000 in its account to help out.

The benches, which would be constructed by the company that built the traditional St. Petersburg GreenBench, would cost the city about $12,800 and be paid for from unspent money already designated for the downtown. The City Commission could approve the benches this week.

The Main Street Association also had urged the city to cut down dying laurel oak trees on Tarpon Avenue and replace them with 30 palm trees.

But the association backed away from that proposal when it found out the Florida Department of Transportation prohibits new trees from being planted so close to the road. The city would have to take over Tarpon Avenue from the state to make such changes to the streetscape.

Several business owners also came to City Hall on Tuesday night to protest the removal of shade-giving oaks, which they said make the area more comfortable for pedestrians. The City Commission agreed the oaks should be revived and trimmed, not removed.

There is still a lot to do in the downtown. The Main Street Association has to decide how to use the old train depot on Tarpon Avenue. And two vital historic structures that need renovation are for sale: the Tarpon Arcade, which was a hotel on Pinellas Avenue, and the Inness Manor, which was home to artists George Inness Sr. and George Inness Jr.

"These structures are critical," said John Tarapani, who owns many renovated properties in the downtown and helped start the effort to revitalize the area in the early 1980s. "The downtown has been coming along well. But I think it's time to go back now and see what's left to do."

Community Affairs Administrator Kathleen Monahan also told the City Commission on Tuesday that it is time to review the goals of a 3-year-old study on improving the downtown's public spaces. Many of the projects in the plan have been accomplished, but some remain, such as widening sidewalks and creating medians and raised walkways for pedestrians.

"It's a timely thing to look back at," Monahan said.

"We might be able to come up with new ideas to improve the area, too."