DUNEDIN — It has been, without question, the most contentious issue to consume the city in decades, bringing residents out in droves to public meetings and pitting neighbor against neighbor.
At a recent town hall meeting to discuss the yearlong trial period for downtown paid parking, nearly 300 residents and business owners packed the Hale Center, speaking overwhelmingly against the program. And the toll the issue has taken on the spirit of the community was held up as the biggest casualty....
11/09/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — The City Council approved 3 percent raises for City Manager Bill Horne and City Attorney Pam Akin following their favorable evaluations.
The raises passed 4-1 with Mayor George Cretekos voting no, saying he was opposed to giving anything higher than a 2.2 percent cost of living increase. The Council also unanimously approved a 3 percent merit increase for union employees. ...
11/09/17 Local Government
DUNEDIN — After two years of discussions, the city has locked in the Toronto Blue Jays to play another 25 years in the city, signing a new licensing agreement with the team last week.
The contract had to be finalized before the city could secure funding for the massive renovation project designed to keep the team here — $81 million in upgrades to the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the training site at the Englebert Complex on Solon Avenue....
CLEARWATER — City residents made one thing very clear on Tuesday. They are ready for a new and improved downtown waterfront, voting 75.8 percent in favor of allowing construction on the charter-protected area.
So what happens now?
Residents won't see much action over the next year, as the $55 million Imagine Clearwater plan to reshape the waterfront and Coachman Park goes to the drawing board. The city has hired Stantec Consulting of Tampa to design the project, a process that could take 12 months. ...
CLEARWATER — Voters in Tuesday's election overwhelmingly agreed to amend the City Charter and allow construction along the downtown waterfront, effectively greenlighting the city's $55 million Imagine Clearwater redevelopment plan.
The referendum passed 75.8 percent in favor out of 15,109 votes, according to unofficial results.
"This was a grassroots effort," Mayor George Cretekos said. "I'm overwhelmed by the support. It shows people care about Clearwater and are supportive of our plan to make the downtown, Coachman Park area everybody's second neighborhood."...
11/06/17 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG —Judy Woodruff, a pioneer of political reporting in the 1970s when few women were accepted in the industry, received the Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Saturday evening at the Poynter Institute's Bowtie Ball. The ball is named for the trademark bowties favored by Nelson Poynter, who founded the nonprofit journalism institute that owns the Tampa Bay Times. ...
11/02/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — In April, Nicole Dufala stood before the Municipal Code Enforcement Board and said she "honestly didn't know" it was against city law to rent out her Countryside home by the night.
Neighbor and homeowner association president Walter Johnson had counted 15 renters rotating through the house over four months, staying three to 14 nights each. Code enforcement inspector Julie Phillips also went on HomeAway.com and was able to reserve the house on Northridge Drive for a three-week stay at $5,987....
CLEARWATER — Ray Emmons was an experienced vice and intelligence sergeant with the Clearwater Police Department in 1981 when he began the assignment that would become his legacy.
By then, the mysterious group that arrived six years earlier and bought major downtown buildings under a fake name had been revealed as the Church of Scientology. But still much was unknown about this new organization that, government documents showed, spied on local journalists and politicians, framed the mayor in a hit-and-run accident, and wrote a manifesto of plans to take over Clearwater....
10/27/17 Economic Development
CLEARWATER — When voters in 2000 handily rejected a referendum to build along the depressed waterfront, developer Al Justice wondered if dreams of a vibrant downtown were gone forever.
He had spent decades bringing major projects — the Bank of America office tower in 1974, the now FrankCrum headquarters in 1998 — and wondered why more private investment wasn't following....
10/25/17 Special Topics
CLEARWATER —The Clearwater Police Department has closed its investigation into a 17-year-old girl who fractured her skull at the Church of Scientology's international headquarters, stating the fall was accidental and nothing criminal took place.
Church video surveillance given to police, and viewed by a Tampa Bay Times reporter, shows the girl walking down a flight of interior stairs Oct. 15 when she stumbled and fell, with the back of her head hitting the marble landing. ...
CLEARWATER —The entire third floor of downtown's One Clearwater Tower is gutted, pipes exposed, and has been sitting empty for 15 years.
But come spring, real estate developer Daniels Ikajevs plans to have it transformed into Tampa Bay's latest coworking venue, a growing model of office space where small businesses and entrepreneurs ditch the cubicle and work communally.
Called The Ring, an ode to Ikajevs' love of boxing and aim to foster a fighter's mentality in entrepreneurs, the space is pitched as a hub for young professionals and business types in a health-focused atmosphere — not exactly what downtown Clearwater, peppered with its empty storefronts, is known for....
CLEARWATER — Now that the city director tasked with revitalizing downtown has resigned after his arrest on a battery charge during Oktoberfest, City Manager Bill Horne said the goal is to not leave the position vacant long.
Horne said the city was preparing to advertise the Community Redevelopment Agency director position this week to have a replacement within 60 days.
The Oct. 11 departure of former CRA director Seth Taylor comes at a delicate time, as several initiatives he launched to recruit businesses to vacant storefronts downtown remain incomplete. With Taylor's hiring in July 2016, the position was prioritized to a standalone role, since CRA responsibilities used to fall to former Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin before his retirement in December 2015....
10/19/17 Special Topics
CLEARWATER — The Clearwater Police Department is investigating an incident in which a 17-year-old girl from Mexico suffered a head injury Sunday at the Church of Scientology's international spiritual headquarters.
Chief Dan Slaughter said church staff reported the teenager slipped on stairs and hit the back of her head, which appears to be accidental.
Church staff did not call an ambulance but drove the girl four miles to Largo Medical Center for treatment, bypassing Morton Plant Hospital, which is one mile from the Flag building....
10/19/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — The Oct. 10 Downtown Development Board election for three open seats did not result in the historic dynamic it had the potential to create.
Realtor Ray Cassano, Infisystems owner Venkat Devineni and Studio 617 owner Lina Teixeira were the top three vote-getters of the nine candidates.
The race was unique in that it was apparently the first time an elected city board could have been made up by a majority of people associated with the Church of Scientology, downtown's largest and most influential property owner. Four of the nine candidates, who are required to live, work or own a business downtown, were Scientology parishioners....
CLEARWATER — It's the most aggressive revitalization investment the city has proposed in years and somewhat of a Hail Mary strategy to give visitors a daily reason to come downtown. The $55 million Imagine Clearwater plan unveiled in February calls for reshaping Coachman Park and the waterfront to have more walkable access, gardens, a larger concert green, a gateway plaza and a winding Bluff walk with terraces, paths and views of the Intracoastal. Because the City Charter prohibits anything but open space from the Bluff to the water, much of the plan hinges on voters approving a Nov. 7 referendum question allowing development. Voters will decide whether to allow structures such as playgrounds, water features, restrooms, trails, walkways, benches and other pieces central to the plan. ...