For years, the local Greek community has had to venture outside the city to find a place big enough for its Epiphany Ball, an event usually attended by the spiritual leader of Greek Orthodox Christians in America.
Next year, organizers won't have to go too far to find a place.
That's because St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs is building a 24,000-square-foot, $4-million banquet hall and youth center about a block north of the church on N Pinellas Avenue (Alt. U.S. 19). The building is to be completed by mid November.
Plans call for a basketball court with motorized baskets that retract from the ceiling and a carpeted banquet hall that can seat about 450 people and has an oak dance floor. The gym and banquet hall will be separated by a partition that can be folded so the two rooms can be combined into one large room.
But the building is much more than just a place for the St. Nicholas congregation.
"The unity has been really great," said Nikitas Manias, president of the parish council. "It's not just for the Greek community. It's for the overall community of Tarpon Springs."
The church began trying to raise the money for the building about two years ago. The fundraising effort got a big boost from two longtime local residents, Mike Pappas and Spiro Theofilos, who gave large donations, Manias said.
Pappas and Theofilos both are credited with coming up with the idea to build the youth center, he said. With their donations, the church had enough money to buy the land and get construction going.
"It's a huge building," Pappas said. "The youth will be able to use it for basketball and volleyball and table tennis. It's going to be a gorgeous building."
The church is still short about $1.5-million of the $4-million cost and plans to take out a loan to cover the amount, Manias said. If the church gets the loan, it will have to pay about $12,000 to $13,000 in monthly payments.
"The next year is going to be tough, because we are going to try to pay off the loan as soon as possible," Manias said.
Fundraising efforts have been hampered by the slow economy.
"The stock market really killed us," Manias said.
A member of the church who wishes to remain anonymous also has donated the salary of a full-time youth director for five years for the youth center, Manias said. Before the offer was made, the church was looking into having a part-time youth director.
The multi-purpose facility will be open to the entire community, and the church hopes it can be used for events such as youth programs, aerobics and dance classes for adults and seniors, school dances and baptisms.
"We are trying to give our youth a chance to congregate," Manias said. "That was the game plan. We have already had a lot of people calling and asking to rent the hall."
The church has needed a youth center ever since the previous one on Hope Street was closed last year because it had gotten too old, Manias said.
The new facility was designed by Hoffman Architects of Tarpon Springs, the firm that also designed the new Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art. The gym and banquet hall will match the decor of St. Nicholas Cathedral.
The first event at the banquet hall is scheduled for early December, said Ed Hoffman Jr., the owner of the architectural firm.
"We will be dancing in there one way or another," he said.
If you are interested in donating, call St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral at 937-3540.