Tarpon Springs may honor the legacy of longtime sponge merchant George Billiris who passed away a year ago at the age of 89, a Tampa Bay Times report says.
Billiris was known for promoting Tarpon Springs in every way possible. He had tried to revitalize the area sponge industry, including bringing Greek divers to the city to create a new generation of sponge-harvesters.
In March, the city commission honored Billiris and presented his widow, former Mayor Beverley Billiris, with a plaque. Now Commissioner David Banther has proposed that the city honors Billiris in some way, the report says.
Banther’s proposal is to name the right-wing of the Tarpon Springs Heritage Center the “George M. Billiris Wing”. The center’s right-wing is focused on Greek heritage and history and the Commissioner believes the move will revitalize the building.
The Billiris family agrees with the proposal because, as Beverly Billiris told the Tampa Bay Times, “George was in every magazine in every country, throughout the United States. There would be six pages about Tarpon Springs. The man lived and breathed it.”
“They used to bring in between 800,000 and a million tourists each year. That was because he was always out promoting the community,” Billiris continued. “Journalists would come to Tarpon Springs from all over the country to interview George. And he wouldn’t talk about George. He would talk about the divers that gave their lives for this community.”
And when the sponge industry started going downhill, Beverly Billiris said, George started to teach about sponging at St. Petersburg College.