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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fearing Zika, local businesses join the call for genetically-modified mosquitoes

The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce is telling residents to lobby the federal government for the release of genetically modified mosquitoes to fight Zika in Pinellas County.

"We cannot afford to have visitors cancel their vacation plans due to the Zika Virus and urge you to provide Pinellas County authorization to combat the Zika Virus immediately," reads a script the chamber is asking locals to read aloud on the phone or paste into an email to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

Last week, a bipartisan coalition of Tampa Bay lawmakers called on Burwell to use an emergency use provision to allow Pinellas to use the modified mosquitoes locally.

Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times published an in-depth story on the genetically-modified mosquitoes proposed to fight Zika.

The mosquitoes, created by a British firm called Oxitec, have virtually eliminated the population of the mosquito that carries Zika in parts of Latin America by mating with wild mosquitoes and killing their offspring. …

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Tampa bike stop numbers continue to drop

Tampa Police Department

The number of bicyclists stopped by police and ticketed continues to decline as a result of a change in tactics by the Tampa Police Department.

"We’ve tried to focus more on our education piece versus citation," Police Chief Eric Ward told the City Council last week. "I think having the officers understand the mission and the goals that we’re trying to achieve is the key to the numbers that we’re seeing trending down."

Ward was named police chief in early May 2015, less than three weeks after the Tampa Bay Times reported that an analysis of more than 10,000 bicycle tickets Tampa police issued over the course of a dozen years. The newspaper found that even though blacks make up about a quarter of the city's population, they received 79 percent of the bike tickets. In the most recent three years studied Tampa officers issued more tickets than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined.

A U.S. Justice Department review done in response to the Times' work concluded that the intent of the traffic stops wasn't discriminatory. Rather, officials said, it represented an effort to fight crime and enhance safety. …

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Tampa Sports Authority to consider fate of Sunset Music Festival

Arrests were at a three-year low but two died and more concertgoers required medical treatment during the Sunset Music Festival on May 28-29 at Raymond James Stadium.


Arrests were at a three-year low but two died and more concertgoers required medical treatment during the Sunset Music Festival on May 28-29 at Raymond James Stadium.

The Tampa Sports Authority next month is scheduled to discuss the future of the Sunset Music Festival, the scene this spring of two ecstacy-related deaths and more than 50 ambulance runs to the hospital.

Sports authority president Eric Hart told the Tampa City Council this week the authority’s board plans a special meeting on Sept. 12 “to determine the future of the festival at the grounds” of Raymond James Stadium.

Alex Haynes, 22, of Melbourne, and Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee, died after attending the electronic dance music festival outside RayJay from May 28-29. Autopsies found Ecstasy, or MDMA, and a related drug, MDA, in the blood of both. Coroners determined their cause to death to be accidental drug abuse.

They were among 57 concertgoers who were transported by city and county rescue crews from the festival to hospitals. 

At the meeting on Sept. 12, there will be no staff recommendation whether to continue or end the authority’s relationship with the festival, but rather a list of changes the authority would need from the promoter if the event goes on. …

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St. Pete to discuss bringing sunshine, more public input to CRA grants

The St. Petersburg City Council wants to make sure more public input and transparency is involved before more taxpayer dollars are spent from the city’s newly-formed South St. Petersburg Community Renewal Area.

And Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office is on board.

On Thursday, the council unanimously voted to advance ideas by council members Darden Rice and Ed Montanari to develop more citizen input and transparency into CRA procedures.

Since Kriseman announced about $319,000 in tax-incremenet finance district grants for business owners to improve their buildings’ exteriors on Aug. 11,  some residents and several leaders in the predominantly black neighborhoods which comprise most of the CRA have criticized the selection process.

And  a $531 grant that went to the Pinellas County Democratic Party for landscaping sparked public outcry.The party later said it wouldn't accept the grant.

“It’s been a rough week,” said council member Steve Kornell.

The fact that more than ⅓ of the 32 grants went to businesses in the Kenwood and Grand Central neighborhoods has also been criticized by some.

The CRA’s mission needs to be better communicated, Montanari said.. …

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St. Petersburg's wage-theft program has slow start, needs tweaks

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's wage theft program is a year old. So far, it’s been a pretty quiet debut.

The tally? St. Petersburg received 36 complaints that led to $36,562 in wage claims being paid to employees who work within city limits.

But weak enforcement tools have led to only $12,451 — out of $64,097 awarded — being collected from businesses that a hearing officer found have stolen wages from workers. The rest was brought in through negotiated settlements.

The low number worried some council members who questioned whether the program, slated to receive $127,000 in this year's budget, was worth the cost.

“It seems like a lot of money to me,” said council member Ed Montanari at a City Council commitee meeting Thursday.

The county, which launched its own wage-theft office this year, has had similar results. Another council member, Jim Kennedy, said that he would prefer the city and county merge their offices.

Council member Darden Rice said that was the ultimate goal, but the city should toughen its ordinance first,

“We’re the ones driving this," Rice said. "It would be helpful if we came up with our own solutions.” …

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Tampa City Council honors Monsignor Higgins

Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins who died Wednesday

Times file photo

Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins who died Wednesday

One day after the death of Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins, Tampa City Council honored the Irish priest who was a valued confident to many city and business leaders.

Thursday’s council meeting began with a eulogy written by Steve Michelini, a local political consultant, who has known Higgins since the late 1970s and worked with him to set up Tampa’s cable TV franchise. Higgins baptized all of Michelini’s children and grandchildren.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Monsignor Laurence Higgins, who built a parish and helped build Tampa, dies at 87

The eulogy included this poignant passage:

“He walked with kings, presidents, world leaders, popes, senators and governors, and yet never lost the common touch. He filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run. His counsel was sought by many when times were good as well as bad. He saw the ebb and flow of prosperity and decline.

Tampa was chosen as his home, no Tampa chose and embraced him and all he has done. Not a native son by birth but rather a native son by acclimation.” …

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Developer considers selling Shops at Wiregrass

WESLEY CHAPEL – Cleveland-based Forest City Realty Trust Inc. is considering hanging a for-sale sign on its malls and retail centers, including the Shops at Wiregrass.

Forest City announced earlier this week that it was studying “strategic alternatives for the company’s retail portfolio’’ of 14 regional malls and 19 specialty retail centers. The review is expected to be completed in early 2017 with an eye toward funneling proceeds from its mall sales, if that is the preferred alternative, into expanding its holdings in apartments, offices and mixed-use projects.

“They are reviewing just to see what the options are and we do fall within that group,’’ said Greg Lenners, general manager of the Shops at Wiregrass.

It doesn’t necessarily mean any property will change hands. The company’s announcement included the caveat that “there can be no assurance that this review process will result in any transaction being announced on consummated.’’ …

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Hillsborough buses to offer free rides for primary election

Registered voters in Hillsborough can catch a free bus ride to the polls on Tuesday to cast their vote in the primary election.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is offering free rides to customers with a valid voter information card. All they have to do is show their card to the bus operator when boarding.

"I appreciate HART's partnership in helping voters get to the polls on Election Day," said Craig Latimer, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. "This is an important election because several new school board members and judges will be elected during this Primary. These are nonpartisan races that everyone will have on their ballot, whether they are affiliated with a party or not."

Riders should look up routes in advance to determine which one gets them closest to their polling place. 

"As a community partner, we take pride in doing our part to offer free bus service to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to vote and are pleased to be able to offer this service to Hillsborough County residents," said Katharine Eagan, HART Chief Executive Officer.

Voters can only use this offer on regular HART buses, not HARTPlus or the TECO Line Streetcar System.


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Non-Clearwater businesses help earn city-specific national title

City Hall this week touted Clearwater's ranking from industry magazine Inc. Media as the No. 1 city in the nation for business growth relative to population size.

There was one problem.

Two of the four companies that earned Clearwater the title with their growth power aren't even in the city.

Although they have Clearwater mailing addresses, E-Telequote Insurance resides in unincorporated Pinellas County and Digital Media Solutions is actually in Dunedin.

E-Telequote had an admirable growth rate of 2,908 percent over the past three years, bringing in $15.5 million in 2015...just not in Clearwater.

And Digital Media Solutions had an 881 percent growth rate and $54.1 million in revenue in 2015...but in Dunedin.

The authentically Clearwater companies that helped earn the ranking, Stratus Video and KnowBe4, are both nestled in a downtown high rise.

Founded in 2010, Stratus Video grew 4,190 percent over the past three years with $11.5 million in revenue in 2015, according to the 35th annual Inc. 500 list, which ranks private, for profit businesses based on revenue hikes. The top spot Clearwater claimed is a sidebar list that rates the top cities based on growth relative to population size.. …

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Florida Senate District 19 candidates make final push before primary

State Rep. Ed Narainï answers a question during the Tiger Bay Club event Friday. The candidates for state Senate District 19 discussed a variety of topics, including gun violence and for-profit prisons.


State Rep. Ed Narainï answers a question during the Tiger Bay Club event Friday. The candidates for state Senate District 19 discussed a variety of topics, including gun violence and for-profit prisons.

TAMPA — The Democratic candidates in a hotly contested race to replace Sen. Arthenia Joyner are making their final push to connect with voters before next week's primary.

Three former and current state representatives along with a lawyer who is self-funding his campaign will square off in another debate tonight, focusing on issues facing young children.

The forum, organized by the Children’s Movement of Florida, starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Robert W. Saunders Library in Tampa. All democratic candidates for Florida Senate District 19, which covers parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, are expected to attend.

The candidates — state Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa, state Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, former state representative Betty Reed of Tampa and St. Petersburg's Augie Ribeiro — have faced each other in similar forums all summer long. The typical format doesn’t usually allow for much debate or engagement, so the candidates have taken to other media, such as direct mail and television ads, to try to distinguish themselves from the other democrats in the race. …

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Mettler Toledo to build new 250,000-square-foot facility in Lutz

NEW PORT RICHEY — Mettler Toledo, an international supplier of precision scales and instruments for laboratory, food-retailing and other industrial uses, is moving to Pasco County.

The  company and Pasco County officials are to announce the move at a 9 a.m. press conference. The Ohio-based company, which also has international headquarters in Switzerland, plans to build a new 250,000-square-foot building in the Northpointe  Village complex in Lutz, next to the Suncoast Parkway and State Road 54 interchange.

The company's product inspection division already has a presence in the Tampa Bay area, operating in industrial space on Benjamin Road in northwest Hillsborough. That division provides end-of-line inspection systems used for producing and packaging food, pharmaceuticals and other products.

The company said Its instruments are used in research and development, quality control, production, logistics and retail. That can range from devices measuring the acidity of beer to real-time analytic systems used in drug and chemical compound development. …

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Buckhorn: Tampa gave Schumer 'a hell of a one-night stand' — how come we never saw her again?

Comedian Amy Schumer is not a fan of Tampa

Associated Press

Comedian Amy Schumer is not a fan of Tampa

It's not quite roast-worthy, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has not been shy to fire back in defense of Tampa in the wake of comedian Amy Schumer’s description of the city as “horrendous.” 

Schumer made her comments in her memoir The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, in which she reveals she also had a one-night stand with someone she met on the flight here.

“Based on what I read, she had a hell of a one-night stand so there are some Tampanians who are doing their job so that’s a good thing,” Buckhorn quipped when asked by reporters Monday. “Certainly she is entitled to her opinion misinformed as it may be. I’m certain if she got to know us like we know each other, she’d probably want to move here.”

In her book, Schumer also takes aim at the reading habits or lack thereof of Tampa residents saying, “I know for a fact that no one who lives there has ever read a book. JKJKJKJK, but kind of not K," Schumer writes.

That led Stefani Beddingfield, owner of Inkwood Books in South Tampa, to change the sign outside her store to read, “Dear Ms. Schumer give us another chance? Love, the three people who read.”

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A city-only transportation referendum? House candidates in South Tampa are all over the map

The three candidates in Florida House District 60, which covers South Tampa and coastal areas around the bay from Dana Shores to Ruskin, have varying opinions on whether the Legislature should let Tampa hold a city-only referendum on a sales tax for transportation.


The three candidates in Florida House District 60, which covers South Tampa and coastal areas around the bay from Dana Shores to Ruskin, have varying opinions on whether the Legislature should let Tampa hold a city-only referendum on a sales tax for transportation.

For most of the years he’s been mayor, Bob Buckhorn’s wish list for the Florida Legislature consistently has included one thing: The chance for the city of Tampa to hold its own transportation sales tax referendum.

And he hasn’t been alone. In 2013, the mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Miami, Hialeah, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale came together to lobby for the proposal. They didn’t get anywhere in a Republican-led Legislature with a dim view of tax initiatives.

That might not change after this year’s election. Both Republicans in the Aug. 30 primary for state House District 60, which covers South Tampa, say transportation is a priority but neither directly embraced the city-only referendum idea after it came up Friday morning at the political breakfast group Cafe Con Tampa.

Development attorney Ron Weaver asked one candidate, construction company owner Rebecca Smith, whether she would support allowing Tampa or St. Petersburg or maybe both to hold their own referendums.

In her answer to Weaver and then after the breakfast, Smith said a lot would depend on hearing from voters directly that a referendum was something they wanted. …

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Women's health advocates say Scott, Rubio and Trump not doing enough to fight Zika

An Aedes aegypti mosquito, the breed that carries the Zika virus, sits inside a glass tube.

Associated Press

An Aedes aegypti mosquito, the breed that carries the Zika virus, sits inside a glass tube.

ST. PETERSBURG — The effort to fight Zika in Florida has three big obstacles in the eyes of women's health advocates, and their names are Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

Florida Rep. Gwen Graham said in a conference call Thursday that she foresaw Zika's presence in the state and knew preparation would be key. However, she said, when she learned that mosquito prevention resources were limited across the state, she saw a much greater need for immediate funding, which Congress did not provide before going on recess.

A clean bill is key to fund the fight against Zika, she said.

"We are facing a real epidemic in this state," Graham said. " It is absolutely time for Congress to come back in session."

Dawn Laguens, head of Planned Parenthood Votes, condemned Rubio and Scott, saying the Florida legislators "have been making things worse" by voting against access to family planning resources for years. And Trump, she said, isn't making things better.

The disease, which can also be sexually transmitted, cannot be eradicated in Florida without providing proper contraceptives or family planning, Laguens said.  …

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Pinellas Democrats switch course on TIF grant

It wasn't very much money. $531 to be exact. But a city grant to the Pinellas County Democratic Party to spruce up its St. Petersburg headquarters won't be accepted, the county chairwoman said in a news release Thursday.

Susan McGrath charged that City Council member Ed Montanari, who criticized the grant, was just trying to score political points.

City attorneys said the Democratic Party was entitled to the tax-increment financing grant from the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment  Area as the headquarters on 2250 1st Ave N was within the CRA boundaries. The grant is designed to help property owners improve their properties' exteriors with signage, paint jobs, roof repairs and other fixes.

McGrath also appeared to implicitly compare Montanari, a first-term council member and the lone Republican, to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. …

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