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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

40 years in the making, new section of Tampa’s Riverwalk set to open

The newest section of Tampa’s Riverwalk, going north under the Kennedy Boulevard bridge and ending at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, officially opens today at 5 p.m. Its whale-ribbed frames hold up large fabric awnings to shade passing walkers.

RICHARD DANIELSON | Times

The newest section of Tampa’s Riverwalk, going north under the Kennedy Boulevard bridge and ending at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, officially opens today at 5 p.m. Its whale-ribbed frames hold up large fabric awnings to shade passing walkers.

UPDATE: Because of expected rain, city officials have cancelled the free showing of Dolphin Tale at 8 p.m. The ribbon-cutting will take place at 5 p.m., and if it's raining then, the ceremony will be under the overhang at the Tampa Museum of Art. Other scheduled activities will go on as planned starting at 6 p.m.

 

 

Tampa’s newest section of the Riverwalk doesn’t officially open until 5 p.m. today, but who could blame René Girven for going by early for a sneak peek?

“I live in the Element, and I’ve been watching this project since its inception,” said Girven, 47, a regular walker and biker in downtown. Kept out by a single strand of yellow caution tape, she was tempted by the idea of a quick, unauthorized stroll.

“Can we?” she wondered aloud to a reporter who also dropped by for an advance look late Thursday. “I’m sitting here chomping at the bit.”

So is Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

“Six mayors,” he says of the project, “40 years in the making.”

The 1,460-foot-long section on which Buckhorn and four previous mayors — Pam Iorio, Dick Greco, Sandy Freedman and Bob Martinez — will cut the ribbon today is the marquee section of the Riverwalk. …

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After eight years of speaking out, Mary Mulhern doesn't stop at her last Tampa City Council meeting

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor (left) applauds as City Council member Mary Mulhern prepares to speak to her colleagues during her last regular council meeting on Thursday.

Richard Danielson

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor (left) applauds as City Council member Mary Mulhern prepares to speak to her colleagues during her last regular council meeting on Thursday.

The Tampa City Council said good-bye Thursday to two-term member Mary Mulhern, known for her liberal politics, independent streak and readiness to speak her mind.

Since winning a seat against a veteran council member who raised more than four times as much money, Mulhern, 56, has championed the arts and environment, opposed the purchase of downtown surveillance cameras and questioned what she described as the militarization of police ahead of the Republican National Convention. She also opposed bans on panhandling that did not address the underlying problems of poverty and homelessness.

At times, she was an unapologetic critic of both mayors Pam Iorio and Bob Buckhorn, who she nonetheless said Thursday had taught her a lot, as well as a sparring partner for fellow council members. Not long after she was elected, the then-city attorney told her that she might not fully understand an issue under discussion.

“I’m not a real estate lawyer,” she responded, “but I have a pretty good b---s--- detector.”

Mulhern told colleagues Thursday that the best thing about her eight years on the council was the opportunity to get to know a lot of different people from all over the city. …

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St. Petersburg Council decides to go slow on historic preservation changes

The St. Petersburg City Council has decided it will take its time on a controversial historic preservation ordinance that has riled some property owners and discomfited the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

The measure, approved by a city board last month, would offer a potentially easier route for neighborhoods to apply for historic status among other things. That has worried some residents who think it might cost them more to renovate or expand their homes and businesses. Historic preservationists point to studies showing neighborhoods with local landmark status have higher property values. They also say that St. Petersburg is in the minority of cities that even require a vote by neighborhood residents to kickstart a move toward historic status.

Council members Darden Rice and Jim Kennedy suggested a public meeting and a workshop to work through the complicated issues, which also has provisions for third-parties to initiate a historic designation on a property after a site  plan has been submitted and limitations that some have argued with bar hurricane proof windows on historic structures. …

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St. Petersburg Council considers muting late-night music at downtown bars

Some bars in downtown St. Petersburg attract patrons by putting speakers on the sidewalk blaring music. That advertising strategy has perturbed high-rise condo owners and spurred Council member Karl Nurse to figure out a way to mute the noise.

At Thursday's Public Services and Infrastructure Committee, the normally empty conference room at City Hall was full of those residents who listened to a new idea: force the bar owners to bring the speakers inside after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on the weekend. 

Police officers told council members that the loud music interferred with their jobs as they often can't hear their shoulder radios. 

Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn said the proposal was easier for police to enforce than trying to estimate noise levels at certain distances. 

The committee voted unanimously to have Winn prepare a draft ordinance for its April 9 meeting. 

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Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn visits White House for small business trade meeting with President Barack Obama

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is at the far right of this photo from Wednesday's small business roundtable discussion at the White House with President Barack Obama.

Associated Press

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is at the far right of this photo from Wednesday's small business roundtable discussion at the White House with President Barack Obama.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was at the White House on Wednesday night for a small business roundtable meeting with President Barack Obama and other local elected officials and small businesses from across the country.

They met in the Roosevelt Room to discuss the opportunities and benefits of trade as well as the challenges that small business exporters face.

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Pinellas transit board agrees to bypass transit referendum next year

ST. PETERSBURG -- Any remaining hope for a Pinellas County transit referendum in 2016 likely died Wednesday when the Pinellas Transit Suncoast Authority board agreed on a road map for the next two to three years that doesn’t include another ballot initiative. 

As part of a presentation on a suggested “path forward,” chief executive officer Brad Miller recommended the agency make it clear that another referendum is not in the cards next year.

“PSTA’s about moving people with buses, and we’re focused on a customer-oriented bus service and making improvements every day,” Miller told the board. “It also means we are not focused on a new ballot initiative for 2016.”

No members of the board, which is comprised mostly of local elected officials, talked specifically for or against that suggestion but gave their initial blessing to Miller’s overall approach to get the transit agency on solid financial footing after county voters overwhelmingly rejected the Greenlight Pinellas sales tax increase last November. …

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Election notebook: In Maniscalco’s win, party politics mattered — a lot

Guido Maniscalco embraces his mother, Marietta Maniscalco, as election returns turn in his favor Tuesday night.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Guido Maniscalco embraces his mother, Marietta Maniscalco, as election returns turn in his favor Tuesday night.

When Tampa City Council member-elect Guido Maniscalco said his campaign won its 151-vote victory on election day, he was right, and that's because party politics drove this (officially) non-partisan race.

Here’s how voting broke down:

• Absentees: Jackie Toledo won the mail-in vote 55 to 45 percent (2,555 votes to 2,088).

• Early voting: Maniscalco closed the gap a little, winning early voting 61 to 39 percent (347 votes to 226).

• Election day: This is where Maniscalco made up the ground he needed, winning Tuesday’s ballots 62 to 38 percent (1,296 votes to 799).

This is consistent with a party-driven election.

“Usually Republicans do better at absentee,” University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus said, though she added that trend is changing.

Another thing that’s changed? That whole non-partisan thing.

“The days of non-partisan races being truly non-partisan are gone,” MacManus said, and that’s been the case for a couple of election cycles. “It’s not just here. It’s all over the state and all over the country, because partisan politics has become pervasive at every level.” …

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St. Petersburg council member wants to pump the brake on historical preservation changes

A proposal to revamp historic preservation efforts in St. Petersburg has worried some Old Northeast neighborhood residents who have started on online petition to delay an expected April vote by City Council.

On Tuesday, council member Darden Rice said she also wants the city to slow down.

Instead of a council vote in April, she suggested a series of four public meetings across the city to vet the complicated issue, which seeks to lower the voting threshold to submit an application to declare a neighborhood historic among a multitude of other changes.

Since the plan was approved by a city board last month, Rice said, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and others have voiced reservations about the plan endorsed by Mayor Rick Kriseman and St. Petersburg Preservation.

After speaking with both sides, Rice said she believes more discussion will result in a compromise.

"There is more room for agreement than first meets the eye," she said.

Council was slated to consider the ordinance in April, but Rice prefers that process be slowed by at least a few months. The first public meeting should happen sometime that month, she said.  …

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100 days in, Tampa's Coast bike program attracts more than 3,250 riders

Coast Bike Share has more one-day users who take longer trips, probably for sight-seeing, organizers say, and fewer regular riders who use the blue rental bikes to commute or run errands.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times (2014)

Coast Bike Share has more one-day users who take longer trips, probably for sight-seeing, organizers say, and fewer regular riders who use the blue rental bikes to commute or run errands.

At its 100-day mark, Tampa’s Coast Bike Share program has attracted 3,258 members who have pedaled more than 23,750 miles — not quite as far as a trip around the world.

The membership breakdown so far: 203 founding and annual members, 36 monthly memberships and 2,969 one-day riders. (The rest are corporate or business plans.)

Annual members average about 2 miles per trip, while one-time riders average 3.16 miles per ride.

This suggests the system is being used as planned, Coast program director Eric Trull said, with locals taking shorter but more frequent trips, such as to get to work or run an errand, while visitors check out bikes to cruise around the waterfront.

Coast’s busiest hubs are Hyde Park Village, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Dick Greco Plaza near the Tampa Convention Center. Trull said the program plans to announce some new hubs in the next few weeks and install them by the end of April. …

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Going into election day, turnout in Tampa City Council District 6 tops 9 percent

With one day of voting left — election day on Tuesday — turnout in the runoff for Tampa City Council District 6 has the potential to match turnout during March 3 municipal election, which would be unusual.

By the end of early voting on Sunday, more than 9 percent of District 6’s registered voters had cast ballots in the race between civil engineer Jackie Toledo and jeweler Guido Maniscalco. By comparison, about 15.6 percent of District 6’s voters cast ballots in the March 3 election that eliminated a third candidate, Tommy Castellano.

While early voting is off slightly, overall "we're really still on pace with where we were" going into March 3, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections spokeswoman Gerri Kramer said Monday.

District 6 is the sole race on the runoff ballot, so only its 52,000 voters will be able to cast ballots. District 6 covers West Tampa, the southern parts of Seminole Heights and the area of South Tampa near West Shore.

Going into election day, seven of District 6’s 28 voting precincts so far had accounted for more than half the ballots cast. They are: …

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Despite lobbying, funding for rapid bus service in St. Pete isn't in Senate budget

Pinellas County transit backers had high hopes that state lawmakers would carve out $1.25 million in the state budget to fund a rapid bus service pilot project for the city's Central Avenue corridor. 

It didn't happen. 

Despite active lobbying by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the budget released Friday does not include the money for the fledgling bus rapid transit, or BRT, service.

"I didn't put it in the budget," said Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who chairs the Senate's transportation, tourism and economic development appropriations subcommitee and sits on the appropriations committee. "There's a system that's similar to that in operation down there and when you have to look at priorities, there's only so much to go around. We just didn't have the money to do that." …

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Tampa City Council District 6 candidates would bring different experiences, styles to the job

Not since that guy threw a chair at Joe Redner has Tampa politics seen a local race as ugly or personal as the one between Guido Maniscalco and Jackie Toledo.

Only this time, the attacks leading up to Tuesday’s runoff in Tampa City Council District 6 are not flying in from 10 feet away.

Instead, they’re being lobbed via the U.S. mail, mostly from behind the cover of an all-but-anonymous political action committee.

Lost in the drama, however, is a sense of how these two candidates would approach routine but essential aspects of the job: building a consensus, casting necessary but unpopular votes and helping to set budget priorities.

So we asked.

Building consensus

Four, says council member Harry Cohen, is the most important number on the City Council.

“To get anything done on City Council, it takes four votes,” Cohen said during the campaign. “Part of the job is being able to persuade your colleagues to move in the direction that you want to take things.”

Hence, our first question: Did you ever have to talk one or more people into coming around to your position? How did you do it? What did you learn that you would apply to serving on council? …

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Pinellas projects pepper Senate budget

From the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County projects are sprinkled throughout the Florida Senate's version of the 2016 budget released Friday.

It's not surprising since Republican Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg hold so much sway. Keep in mind, though, that the allocations must survive the budget conference process with the House and then Gov. Rick Scott's enthusiastic veto pen.

Here are some highlights:

• $1.5 million, Clearwater Marine Aquarium. It's a fraction of the $68 million price tag for the new facility envisioned for downtown, but every bit helps as backers work to cobble together the money from various sources.

• $1.5 million, Mahaffey Theater acoustical renovation

• $1 million, East Lake Community Library expansion

• $750,000, Florida Holocaust Museum

• $500,000, Clearwater Homeless Emergency Project …

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St. Pete grounds drones at Grand Prix

Any drone hobbyist hoping to capture some dramatic footage at the Grand Prix later this month might consider staking out a prime ground-level spot for a camera instead.

The St. Petersburg City Council voted 7-1 Thursday to ban drones from operating at the March 29 race.

"Drones are becoming a problem everywhere. We wouldn't want one hovering over the race and dropping on a car going 80 miles-per-hour," said City Attorney John Wolfe. 

If the U.S. Coast Guard hears that a drone is in the area, they won't do a planned fly over, city officials said, adding the city considered it a public safety issue.

Council member Wengay Newton said the issue needed more vetting and asked that it be sent to committee. None of his colleagues supported his motion.

Newton was the only council member to vote against the ordinance change. 

Thursday's action isn't likely to be the last regarding drones. Wider regulations are being considered, Wolfe said.

"We're going to look at the whole thing about drones...separately at another time," Wolfe said.

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Yolie Capin, Frank Reddick endorse Guido Maniscalco in Tampa City Council District 6

Two more Tampa City Council members have taken a side in Tuesday's hard-fought council runoff between Guido Maniscalco and Jackie Toledo.

On Wednesday night, Yvonne Yolie Capin and Frank Reddick announced their support for Maniscalco during a party honoring outgoing colleague Mary Mulhern, who will leave the City Council at the end of the month because of term limits.

During the party at Gaspar’s Grotto, Capin held up four mailers she had received from Moving Tampa Forward, a political action committee that has supported Toledo and targeted Maniscalco without providing much information about who is paying for or organizing its efforts.

“It has gotten out of hand,” Capin said Thursday, “but more importantly, I feel he is the better candidate to fill that seat. His integrity, his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, his neighborhood activism, his business acumen will all serve us well.”

Capin said she had felt that way “for a long time,” but was pushed to support Maniscalco publicly by Moving Tampa Forward’s mailers, which Toledo and her campaign consultant have said have no connection to their campaign. …

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