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    Plans collapse for Pappas restaurant

    The owner of Louis Pappas' Riverside Restaurant in Tarpon says he doesn't know why the developer let the contract expire.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 21, 2002


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Eight months after the announcement of a massive project to add a hotel and casino boat to the landmark Louis Pappas' Riverside Restaurant, the deal has fallen apart.

    As proposed, the project would have dramatically remade the entrance to the Sponge Docks, and it generated some initial excitement. But over time, the project lost enough steam that news of its demise this week provoked little surprise or disappointment.

    "Based on my experience, with large development deals that I've seen, probably 50 percent of them come to fruition," City Manager Ellen Posivach said Thursday. "There had been kind of a slowdown of momentum."

    Louis Pappas plans to carry on his family's legacy and continue to run the restaurant.

    "I'm relieved," he said. "I don't know what I would do without this place."

    Clearwater hotelier Tony Markopoulos had approached Pappas about buying the restaurant before the deal was announced publicly in October, Pappas said.

    Markopoulos proposed keeping the restaurant open under the Pappas name and adding a $50-million hotel and convention center next to the restaurant and on a parking lot across Dodecanese Boulevard. He also wanted to add a parking garage and a casino boat. An elevated pedestrian skyway would have straddled Dodecanese.

    The contract between the two businessmen expired a couple of months ago, but Pappas extended it until recently. Pappas said he didn't know why Markopoulos had allowed it to expire. No money had changed hands, Pappas said, and he would not disclose the agreed-upon sales price.

    Markopoulos would not comment.

    Pappas still would like to have a hotel on the property, but he hasn't talked to other hoteliers, he said. While he doesn't want a large boat docked behind the restaurant, he would like a shuttle boat there that would take passengers to an offshore gambling boat in the Gulf of Mexico, he said.

    "A shuttle service, I don't have a problem with," he said.

    And this may not be the last time Markopoulos considers developing the property, Pappas said.

    "He expressed some interest in possibly coming back," Pappas said.

    City officials said they weren't surprised to hear the deal was off.

    "The bigger they are, sometimes the more complicated they are to pull off," Mayor Frank DiDonato said. "It's just an unfortunate thing."

    After the October announcement of the ambitious plans, there was a flurry of activity followed by months in which little seemed to happen.

    The city had planned to hold public meetings about the development agreement earlier this week but had not received all the necessary paperwork. The meetings were postponed, and now probably won't be held at all.

    James Staack, Markopoulos' attorney, told City Attorney John Hubbard this week that the deal had been terminated and it was "extremely unlikely" that Markopoulos would want to go ahead with the development agreement with the city, Hubbard wrote in a letter to city officials.

    While some elected officials and business owners liked certain aspects of the plan, several people said they weren't disappointed to hear the deal is off.

    "I'm relieved that that boat is not going to be coming in there," City Commissioner Karen Brayboy said of the planned boat, which could have been 200 feet long with room for 800 passengers and a crew.

    "It seems they wanted it only for the casino, not for the hotel," said Andy Salivaras, owner of the Mykonos Restaurant along the Sponge Docks. "Tarpon Springs is not for the casino. Tarpon Springs is for the historical Greek community. ... People will be very glad the casino isn't coming. They liked the hotel but not the casino."

    Commissioner Beverley Billiris said she didn't like the proposed size of the boat and worried it could have caused environmental problems in the Anclote River. She also didn't like the size of the rest of the project, including the parking garage and the 150-room hotel.

    Now, she thinks other hoteliers might try to build on other property along the river.

    "Although this project will not be going forward, I feel quite confident there will be other developers looking at the Live Oak (Street) area to put in a hotel," Billiris said.

    The city had raised the height limit for hotels in the waterfront district from three stories to six to make way for the proposed hotel. The city may want to reconsider that change and tighten the ordinances related to offshore tour vessels, Brayboy said.

    "Now that there isn't a deal on the table, I think we need to calmly address that change that we made, as well as the boat issue," she said. "It's time to step back and reassess."

    She wants the offshore tour vessel ordinance to require that safety and environmental effects be known before boats are approved by the city.

    Brayboy also wants to look at the portion of the ordinance that allows boats that hold 124 people or fewer not to be classified as offshore tour vessels, and therefore not to be subject to city restrictions that cover larger boats.

    Meanwhile, Pappas plans to continue opening market cafes like the restaurant he has in New Tampa. He plans to open cafes in Citrus Park and south Tampa in the fall, and on McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater in six months or so.

    "My focus is on trying to open up these little cafes," he said.

    As for the family restaurant, a destination for 600,000 to 800,000 diners a year, he said he has no immediate plans to sell.

    "I don't think we're going anywhere," he said.

    -- Katherine Gazella can be reached at 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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