Fire-damaged St. Demetrios calls off its Greek Festival

Church awaits repairs; says suitable, alternate site couldn't be found
2013-07-30T00:00:00Z Fire-damaged St. Demetrios calls off its Greek FestivalVeronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 30, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Folks who look forward to savoring souvlaki and spanakopita at September's annual Tucson Greek Festival will have to wait at least a year.

The fundraiser celebrating all things Greek has been canceled this year due to a fire that ravaged the festival's home, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in May.

This year would have marked the festival's 38th year, said Chrys Lynn Kotzambasis, president of the church council. It's the first time the event has been canceled.

On May 29, an unattended candle started a fire that caused more than $1 million in damage to the church at 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road, east of North First Avenue.

The fire caused extensive smoke damage to the adjoining Hellenic Center, the church's event hall, and the facility's kitchen, used to prepare food for the festival, rendering it useless for this year's event, Kotzambasis said.

"We made the decision that of course we can't have it due to the lack of time to prepare," she said.

After the fire, it was determined that the building could not be occupied until it was repaired under permit, said Teresa Williams, code-enforcement administrator for the city of Tucson.

The church is in the process of obtaining a permit for repair work, Williams said.

Organizers did seek an alternate location for this year's festival but decided against it, Kotzambasis said.

"There's just a lot of reasons why the other location wouldn't be feasible for us," she said. "The kitchen facilities were not adequate with such short notice."

Each year the festival, which offers Greek food, pastries and beverages and traditional music and dances, draws thousands of visitors to the north-side church.

Shari Scott said she and her husband, Todd, owners of Todd's Restaurant at Ryan Airfield, have been attending the festival for decades. "I first started coming when I was in college in the '70s and '90s," she said.

She was upset to learn that this year's event was a no-go.

"I own a restaurant and if I had a place that was big enough ... I'd be the first to step up and say 'you can have it here,' " Scott said.

For Scott the festival is a place to not only enjoy tasty food and hear good music but also an opportunity to connect with old friends and meet new ones.

Not having the festival is a major blow to the church's revenue, said Jim Howell, the parish council secretary.

"At this point, just in every aspect, we're trying to raise as much as possible," he said.

A jazz concert is set for August to help raise money for repairs not covered by insurance, Howell said.

The performance, Jazz for St. Demetrios, will be at the Fox Theatre.

Performers are Tucson-born bassist and composer Brian Bromberg; Los Angeles based pianist Bill Cantos, brother of the church's pastor, the Rev. Earl Cantos; pianist Mari Falcone, who is Bill Cantos' wife; and the Tucson Jazz Institute Ellington Big Band.

Bill Cantos and Falcone performed a fundraiser concert for the church in January 2012, Howell said.

"So we thought it would be a good idea to do that again and maybe expand a little more and ... it would be a good way to reach out to the community to attract some donation to offset what we've lost here," Howell said.

The church's fate is still undetermined.

A structural engineer's report found the building was 40 percent damaged and could be renovated, but most of the damage was to crucial elements of the building such as the roof and beams, Howell said.

The church is awaiting the findings of a second report to decide whether the church will be repaired or torn down and rebuilt, Howell said. "We're still up in the air."

If you go

• What: Jazz for St. Demetrios fundraiser concert

• When: 7 p.m. Aug. 27

• Where: Fox Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

• Tickets: $20-$65; Available at St. Demetrios Church office, 1145 E. Fort Lowell Road, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. 888-0505. Tickets will be available at www.foxtucsontheatre.org.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4224.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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