The Reload Gun Range, shown in a digital mockup, will sit on the 4-acre property on U.S. 19 previously occupied by Days Inn and IHOP.
TARPON SPRINGS – Tarpon Springs will soon be home to the largest and most technologically advanced gun range in the southeast United States.
For 10 years, a 4-acre lot of land has sat empty on U.S. 19. Days Inn and IHOP have both deserted the property at 40050 U.S. 19 N., but nobody wanted it. Nobody, that is, until Clearwater-based developers European Equities decided to build the 60,000-square-foot Reload Gun Range.
City commmissioners gave final approval to the project April 15.
The gun range will feature 45 shooting lanes (seven at 100 yards, 18 at 25 yards and 20 at 15 yards) and a full tactical range for law enforcement training. Reload Gun Range will also have a café, classrooms (which will be used for classes including women and youth groups), a gunsmith and a 10,000-square-foot store that would sell guns, ammunition, hunting equipment and clothing.
Plans for the 57,533-square-foot range also include two 5,500-square-foot storage warehouses, 177 parking spaces, a high-tech ventilation system to filter gun smoke residue from the air, concrete walls for soundproofing and safety, machinery that automatically collects bullet fragments to be recycled and a practice room with lifelike scenarios.
After gaining city staff approval, European Equities had to pass approval from the Tarpon Springs Planning and Zoning Board, which voted unanimously to approve the project on March 17.
Justin Floyd, the contractor on the project, proposed three advantages of the Reload Gun Range to the seven-person board: getting rid of the dilapidated hotel, providing a state-of-the-art range to be used by both the public and law enforcement and creating a company that will draw tax revenue for the city. The gun range will also hopefully increase the customer base for surrounding businesses, he said.
Noise not a concern
Although Stonehedge on the Hill mobile home park lies just a few hundred yards from Reload Gun Range, an acoustical survey confirmed that no sound is expected to travel beyond the property line. At the March Planning and Zoning Board meeting, Floyd said the ambient noise would be less of that than traffic noises of U.S. 19. Walls in the range are made of steel and concrete, and Action Target, the Utah-based shooting range developer designing Reload Gun Range, has never had a bullet leave a range.
Action Target has installed thousands of gun ranges around the world, Floyd said, including those currently used by the Sheriff Departments in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County and the Orlando Police Department. Arc 3 Architects, who designed the plans for Reload Gun Range, have also worked on a number of local ranges.
“We’ve designed this range as safe as any one in the country,” Floyd said. “These guys wouldn’t be the leaders in design if there was an issue.”
Considered a total containment system, all bullets and residue are recycled and monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency. Smoke from the firing is drawn down the range at a rate of 75 feet per minute and cycled through air filtration systems; the air within the range is cleaner and safer than outside air, Floyd said.
The Tarpon Springs Fire Department has also reviewed the plans and found no cause for concern that a fire or explosion would cause external damage.
Arthur Hayhoe, executive director of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, also hosted a meeting at the Tarpon Springs Community Center in late March; about two dozen local residents turned out to debate the proposed range.
Hayhoe, who opposes the range, argued that the city had tried to push the proposal through various committees and boards without taking the time to speak to churches, hospitals and civic organizations.
“We want a community-based facility that everyone can use,” Hayhoe said, “not a range where the only thing you can do is worship guns.”
But it was Hayhoe’s comment that the gun range would celebrate death, not life, that stirred a nearly hour-long shouting match between advocates and opposition.
Peter Grace, a Tarpon Springs resident, said he doesn’t want to see Tarpon Springs turn into the gun capital of the world.
Tim Keffalas, a Pinellas County Commission candidate, countered that the range is a business decision, rather than a conversation about gun rights. The classes provided by Reload, he said, would also provide education to anyone interested in carrying guns.
“The best thing you can do is educate people,” Keffalas said.
Kay Pitchon said she wasn’t concerned about educated gun users, but rather concealed weapons holders who would settle disputes over loud music or texting in a movie theater using a gun.
Mark Jones, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association who lives in Palm Harbor, argued that it’s not guns that kill people.
“Guns don’t kill unless you pull the trigger,” he said.
But Tarpon Springs resident Joan Hutchinson said she still worries about the clientele the gun range would draw.
“It’s going to turn sleepy little Tarpon Springs into the OK Corral,” she said.
At the April 15 City Commission meeting, Susan Murphy questioned whether the gun range fits with the nature of Tarpon Springs.
Tarpon Springs resident Pete Saroukos urged commissioners to avoid the emotional aspects behind the decision.
“This is a business decision,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you like guns. You’re obligated to make the right choices for Tarpon Springs.”
A number of residents also complained about the military tank that was shown on the outside of the building in the site plans, citing that it did not fit with the culture and heritage of Tarpon Springs.
Although no final figures have been established, Karen Lemmons, economic development manager for Tarpon Springs, estimated that the building will be valued at about $10 million, an equivalent of $54,000 in property taxes to the city each year. Beyond building and property tax costs, Reload Gun Range will employ between 25 and 40 jobs, as well as between 200 and 250 full-time temporary jobs during construction.
“This project is going to help revitalize the entire corridor,” Lemmons said at the March Planning and Zoning Board meeting.
After final approval, European Equities plans to begin demolishing and rebuilding the structure by June and hopes to have to the gun range open by early 2015.
City Commissioner Jeff Larsen moved to defer the vote but the motion failed.