Tarpon puts money where the music is

The City Commission agrees to commit $50,000 to fund a proper home for its summer concerts series.

Published July 29, 2006

TARPON SPRINGS - By showtime, the wet and stormy afternoon petered into an intermittent drizzle, and a rainbow-striped sky wrapped the horizon.

So the band played on.

Hours later, a raspy rendition of Janis Joplin filled the bulb-shaped Sunset Beach. Little girls, still in their swimsuits, fluttered amid the rows of collapsible chairs and coolers, waving day-glo sticks.

The monthly concert series, which has been steadily drawing 1,000-plus people, still drew nearly 200 Thursday night. But the inclement weather meant the wild platinum-haired singer and the rest of Blind Rage had to cram beneath a low-roofed picnic shelter with refrigerator-sized amplifiers and the stacks of tables.

That should not be the case much longer, though.

The Tarpon Springs City Commission agreed Tuesday to commit $50,000 to fund a proper home for its monthly summer concerts series.

Soon, the cover bands, jazz ensembles and acoustic singer-songwriters who play Sunset Beach will be perched atop a new concert pavilion.

"We're really excited that by this time next year, it should be a reality," said Marlene Gravitz, the founder of "Friends of Music on the Beach," the feisty volunteer group that has already collected $15,000 for the project.

When the city's summer series began in 2000, about 150 people showed up at each of the three concerts, said Daniela Smyth of the city's recreation department. The concept quickly gained steam, with the city booking eight dates last summer.

Gravitz said the extended schedule and expanding crowds helped to quickly fill the group's contribution buckets.

"Then Katrina came along and pretty much stifled out fundraising efforts," Gravitz said. "It also raised costs of construction."

Based on a rendering by local architect Edward C. Hoffman, the new pavilion was originally estimated to cost about $50,000, she said.

"I am very optimistic, but we don't have submittable plans yet, so we have not been able to get a solid estimate," said Gravitz.

The city had budgeted $5,000 for the project this year, but rather than maintain the allotment next year, the commissioners asked staff if the city coffers could handle funding the balance of construction estimates.

Bolstering the cause was this year's estimated $300-million surge in the city's tax base.

While the budget process will ensue for several more weeks, the commission's unusually unified stand suggests the newly padded pavilion fund will emerge intact.

To music fans like Gravitz, the news of the city commission's decision was music to the ears.