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. ...
CLEARWATER — When Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates saw an architect's initial design for the facility's massive expansion project, he told them to start all over.
Renderings of bleachers in front of the dolphin pools gave the wrong impression. The overall look was too theme-park.
Because here in 2017, as Sea World continues to hemorrhage from declining revenue and attendance, after Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped touring amid animal welfare concerns, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is leaning in, investing $66 million in an expansion to rehabilitate more animals and host more visitors....
10/13/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — A downtown farmers market is expected to return to the waterfront for a third season this fall, but a new face is likely to be running the show.
The city is negotiating with Orlando-based Red Top Productions and expects to have the company launching a new market on Thanksgiving weekend, according to Parks and Recreation director Kevin Dunbar.
Natalie Nagengast, who operated the Pierce Street Market for two seasons, was disqualified from the bidding process because she failed to disclose her list of vendors, a requirement for consideration....
CLEARWATER — A fifth candidate has filed paper work to run for one of two open seats in the March 13 City Council election.
Tom Keller, a 30-year employee of Metro Bench Outdoor Advertising, announced his bid to run for Seat 4 against retired contractor David Allbritton and software tester Martin Hughes. City Council member Bill Jonson is term-limited from the seat.
Real estate broker and Community Development Board Chairman John Funk announced his bid last month to run against incumbent Hoyt Hamilton for Seat 5....
10/12/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, has sponsored a proposed bill for the 2018 Legislative session that would amend a 1925 law preventing the city from relocating its concert bandshell for its $55 million Imagine Clearwater redevelopment plan.
The 1925 Special Act, passed when the state granted Clearwater strips of uplands and submerged lands to construct the Causeway Memorial bridge, prohibits any "carnivals or shows of any character" in the 500 feet north of a boundary that runs by the bridge. That 500-foot stretch is nearly the exact location of the proposed site for the new bandshell. ...
10/11/17 The Heater
PONCE, Puerto Rico —While Hurricane Maria's 155 mph winds were rushing over Dr. Jaime Matta's coffee farm in the mountains Sept. 20, his thoughts raced to the precious vials of cancerous tissue in his lab at Ponce Health Sciences University.
A decade's worth of study hinged on the precisely negative 150 degree Celsius coolers maintaining their temperature. Once the storm passed, there was no way he would trust the generators while the island dealt with a catastrophic recovery and weeks without power....
10/11/17 The Heater
PONCE, Puerto Rico — Players, staff and coaches of the Tampa Bay Rays have watched in horror as Puerto Rico continues to suffer from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall Sept. 20.
Hearing pleas from the Tampa Bay community with connections to the territory, senior director of public affairs Rafaela Amador Fink said the team knew it had to act.
They chartered a Boeing 737 and coordinated with several local agencies on what was most critical to bring to the island, which has been wiped of power and supplies. On Wednesday morning, the wheels went up and a relief mission clicked into gear. ...
10/10/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — One of the city's top government employees was arrested over the weekend after police said he drove a golf cart while intoxicated into outdoor tables at the Clear Sky restaurant on Cleveland Street, grabbed a patron filming the incident out of a chair by the neck and fled the scene.
Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor, 38, was transported to the Pinellas County Jail but was not booked, according to the arrest affidavit. Instead he was entered into the Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion Program at 4 a.m. Sunday, which allows adults arrested for low-level crimes to avoid jail by completing community service, counseling or drug treatment....
DADE CITY — The owners of Dade City's Wild Things have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the nonprofit zoo into their personal business account, paying for their son's wedding and other private expenses with donations raised in the name of saving animals, according to a lawsuit filed by Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The civil suit alleges proceeds from ticket sales and animal encounters were collected under the guise of caring for animals and assisting conservation efforts but at least $212,000 was transferred to Kathy and Kenneth Stearns' turf business since March 2016....
10/06/17 Local Government
CLEARWATER — For what appears to be the first time ever, an elected city board could be made up by a majority of people associated with the Church of Scientology, downtown's largest and most influential property owner.
The Downtown Development Board, which oversees a special taxing district tasked with marketing downtown and promoting events, has three of its seven seats up for grabs in an election that will be counted Tuesday. Four of the nine candidates, who are required to live, work or own a business downtown, are Scientology parishioners. ...
09/29/17 Economic Development
DUNEDIN — A downtown development project that was killed in February has a new life.
The three-story Plaza development of 18 condos and 20,000 square feet of retail space pitched for the middle of downtown was killed by the City Commission in February.
This month, developer Arlis Construction tried again with a new name, a new design and a more compatible plan. This time, the project cleared the commission on a 5-0 vote, with a final approval scheduled for Oct. 19....
09/27/17 Local Government
DUNEDIN — Conceptual details for the contract to keep the Toronto Blue Jays in the city for the next 25 years are coming together, but the window for signing on the dotted line is closing in.
The City Commission is now expected to vote on a final agreement in November. A deal is required before the city can apply for state dollars to help fund $81 million in upgrades to the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the training site at the Englebert Complex on Solon Avenue....