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Sponge Docks gear up for Olympic festivities

Tarpon Springs plans a weekend of Greek celebrations in honor of the Games' return to Athens.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published August 11, 2004

TARPON SPRINGS - Got a bad case of Olympics fever? Toss on your toga and trot into town. With the international games just days away from kicking off in Athens, Tarpon Springs plans to get its Greek on in style this weekend.

City officials and local business owners are putting the final touches on plans for an impromptu weekendlong festival at the Sponge Docks in celebration of the Olympics' return to its Greek roots this summer. Greek garb is not required, but a love for sports and curiosity about Florida's famous Greek enclave might help.

"We just want people to come and have a good time with us and enjoy some Greek food and Greek dancing and music," said Sponge Docks merchant Mercury Giallourakis.

Local business owners like Giallourakis and city officials are sponsoring the three-day Sponge Docks festival, which starts Friday and ends Sunday. Friday's celebration will kick off at the Sponge Docks at 8 p.m. with a broadcast of the Olympics' opening ceremony in Athens on a big screen television.

The games in Athens will run for 16 days through Aug. 29. More than 10,000 athletes from around the world will compete in 28 sports that are expected to be watched by 4-billion TV viewers. Although terrorism fears have slowed ticket sales in Athens, more than 5-million spectators are expected to attend the games, according to the Olympics' Athens 2004 Web site.

NBC's live television coverage of the first days' Olympic events will run continuously throughout the festival, said Sponge Docks Merchants Association vice president David Gauchman. Outdoor seating and tables for food will be set up near the Sponge Exchange on Dodecanese Boulevard, which will be blocked off most of the weekend.

"We want to show our love for the Olympics and the relationship between Tarpon Springs and Greece that's been here for almost 100 years," Gauchman said.

Giallourakis and Gauchman are not the only ones planning to party hearty this weekend. Mayor Beverley Billiris asked the city to back the event at last week's City Commission meeting. She and others came up with the idea for the festival during a brainstorming session with local business and tourism industry leaders late last month. Making the connection between the Olympics in Athens and tourism in Tarpon Springs - home of Greek sponge diving - was a no-brainer, she said.

"I'm very excited," Billiris said. "The more that we do with Greece, the more it benefits us. This all ties in well with recognizing our Greek heritage and its importance for tourism."

Festival organizers have invited several traditional Greek dancers to kick up their heels, and a local Greek band is expected to play at various times during the weekend, Gauchman said. Gyros and all kinds of Greek gastronomy will be on hand at festival food booths and local restaurants.

Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 727 771-4307 or rondeaux@sptimes.com

IF YOU GO

The Tarpon Springs' Athens 2004 Olympics festival starts Friday evening and ends Sunday. Live broadcasts of Olympics coverage, music and traditional Greek dancing will be featured from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.

[Last modified August 11, 2004, 01:38:25]


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