Casino boat plan at docks changes
By KATHERINE GAZELLA
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 6, 2001
TARPON SPRINGS -- Businessman George Billiris is revising his plan to bring a casino boat to the Sponge Docks.
Billiris said Monday he will have SunCruz LLC pull its application for a variance and will put in a new application under his own name. He said that would allow him to negotiate with casino boat companies or businesses that offer dinner or entertainment cruises.
"I still don't know what we're putting in," said Billiris, a sponge merchant who is married to City Commissioner Beverley Billiris. "I would prefer it to be a dinner boat or an entertainment-type boat."
The request is scheduled to come up at a March 28 Board of Adjustment hearing, said Walter Fufidio, the city's director of planning and zoning. He said the city will have to advertise the changes in the plan once it receives Billiris' application.
Billiris said he wants to secure a variance to allow an offshore tour vessel, then negotiate with companies who want to dock at the waterfront space he and his brother, Ted, own on Dodecanese Boulevard.
He has not ruled out negotiating with SunCruz LLC, he said, adding that six companies are talking to him about the use of the waterfront property.
He said he wants something that would fit in with the character of the Sponge Docks.
"I want to make it more of a community thing," he said.
A boat called Excalibur previously docked at the site but left about a year ago. Because of the amount of time that has elapsed, the city requires a new variance for docking a boat there.
SunCruz LLC is a company owned by a group of investors headed by Adam Kidan, a mattress telemarketing executive. It was sold to the group last year by founder Gus Boulis, who was killed in a gangland-style murder last month in Fort Lauderdale.
Another casino boat company has applied to dock in Tarpon Springs, just a short distance from where Billiris wants a boat. Paradise of Port Richey, a rival of SunCruz LLC, wants an offshore tour vessel at Spongeorama on Dodecanese.
Larry Crow, the attorney for Paradise, said the company probably would put a shuttle boat at the dock and take passengers out to a casino boat.
Crow, a Republican state legislator from Palm Harbor, said he disagrees with the city's rule that prohibits offshore tour vessels from docking within 1,500 feet of each other. He also said the company should not have to pay $82,750 in fines, which the company accumulated three years ago when the city said Paradise operated without required city licenses.
"I haven't heard word one from the city in that amount of time," Crow said. "It's ludicrous to think the city can come back three years later and levy those fines."
Some retailers in the Sponge Docks said they don't think casino boats help their businesses. Anita Nehr, co-owner of the American Spirit flag shop on Dodecanese Boulevard, said that in the past, patrons of the casino boats rarely shopped in area stores.
"From a retail standpoint . . . I don't see that it helps," she said. "I don't think Tarpon Springs has to have them."
She said she might be more inclined to support a dinner or entertainment boat, which might bring in people who would shop at stores in the Sponge Docks. Her hunch, she said, is that people on those cruises may be more inclined than those on casino boats to stay in town when they get off the boat.
"They might go wandering afterward," she said.
- Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or email@example.com.
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