Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Oldsmar tech company gives $25,000 to Friends of Greenlight

An Oldsmar technology company has helped nudge the Friends of Greenlight closer to its $1 million fundraising goal.

Vology, Inc. gave $25,000 to the political action committee this month, accounting for most of the $26,260 collected July 5-18, according to the latest campaign finance report posted Friday.

The company sells new and pre-owned networking equipment worldwide, according to its website.

"We believe that the current lack of public transportation infrastructure in Tampa Bay is the biggest risk to the continued success of our region if we look out 10-plus years, so supporting this initiative seems to be the responsible thing for us to do," chief executive officer Barry Shevlin said in an email to Bay Buzz.

The donation brings the group's grand total to $615,175. The company joins other large donors including the Tampa Bay Rays, Raymond James Financial, Regions Bank, and BayCare Health System.

Opposition group No Tax for Tracks raised $1,465 in the same period, bringing its total to $38,466.04. …

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Legg backs Gregg in Pasco primary

House District 36 candidate Chris Gregg picked up state Sen. John Legg's endorsement this week after House Speaker Will Weatherford announced his support for the New Port Richey Republican last week.

"Chris Gregg has demonstrated a commitment to service as an (Air Force) veteran," Legg, R-Lutz, said in a statement Friday. "As a small business owner, Chris knows firsthand just what it takes to spur job creation and grow our local economy. I’m excited to support his bid for state representative."

Gregg, a Republican, is challenging Jim Mathieu, chairman of Pasco's Republican Party, in the Aug. 26 primary to take on Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey.

"Senator Legg is a true leader in Pasco County and has been a champion for education reform in the state Senate," Gregg said. "Having the support of such a trusted leader is a huge boost to our campaign and continues to demonstrate the growing momentum and support we are picking up as each day passes."

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St. Petersburg City Council moves forward on charter amendment


ST. PETERSBURG -- The City Council's fire in the belly to change the city's charter so that council members can opine on high-level mayoral appointments may be cooling, but supporters of the change appear to have the votes to get the proposal on the November ballot. 

At Thursday's meeting, Council member Charlie Gerdes said he was reluctant to alter a "foundational document" 

"It just gives me pause," he said.  

Gerdes ended up voting to advance the proposal by Council member Karl Nurse in spite of his reservations. As did Council member Jim Kennedy who said he was cautious about the change, feeling it might "whittling away at the strong mayor concept." 

Council chairman Bill Dudley wasn't conflicted. He voted no, saying he thought council was overstepping its bounds in putting the issue before voters on Nov. 4.  

Currently, the charter prohibits council members from voicing an opinion on mayoral appointments. If they do, they could be removed from office.  

Even if Gerdes and Kennedy peel off, though, only five votes are needed to pass the amendment.   

Council members Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton are firmly in the yes camp.  …

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State Rep. Dwight Dudley's wife to play judge on CBS show 'Reckless'

ST. PETERSBURG ­­— Mary Rachel Dudley, the wife of state Rep. Dwight Dudley, will play a judge in the CBS television series Reckless on Sunday.

For those unaware of Reckless, the website IMDB describes the plot this way: “In sultry Charleston, where summer is long and secrets simmer behind every door, sex and crime walk hand in hand as two adversaries, a gorgeous Yankee litigator and a southern City Attorney, struggle to hide their intense attraction while clashing over a police sex scandal that threatens to implode the city.”

Mary Rachel Dudley’s agent advised her against any spoiler leaks. She said she plays in at least two scenes. 

She has been acting for more than 25 years. Her father, John Michael Quinn was in The Alamo with John Wayne and also had a role in Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 

When he’s not making laws, Dwight Dudley said he often lends his wife a hand with her scripts.

“Oh God yes,” Dwight Dudley said. “I read with her sometimes and she’ll ask me, ‘Honey, can you hold the camera?’”

Mary Rachel Dudley had a few minor roles in the 1990s and has done TV commercials. In 2010 she got a role in Dear John, starring Channing Tatum. …

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Developer seeks demolition permit for Belleview Biltmore hotel

BELLEAIR| The St. Petersburg developer pursuing the purchase of the Belleview Biltmore has  filed applications asking the town to approve his requests that the hotel be demolished, the site rezoned and his vision for condos, townhomes and a boutique hotel approved.

Attorney Ed Armstrong submitted the more-than-300-page packet plus exhibits Friday on behalf of JMC Communities founder Mike Cheezem, who is in the process of buying the hotel from Miami investors Daniel and Raphael Ades for $6.6 million.

The documents include a preliminary development plan, application for a demolition permit based on "economic hardship" and a request that town commissioners change the property's hotel and single family-only zoning to a mixed-use designation recently added to town code.

Click here for details.


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Dunedin aims to create St. Petersburg-inspired arts district

DUNEDIN| If city leaders get their way, Dunedin - home of Honeymoon Island, craft beer, Blue Jays baseball and many things Scottish - could soon add another identity: arts capital of Florida.

After years of talk, the city has moved on road improvements, and approved the creation of grants, permit fee reductions and other incentives aimed at turning a 45-acre swath just north of downtown into a place where artists would buy deteriorating properties, renovating them into homes that double as work studios. The artists would occasionally be allowed to post sidewalk signs and sell their wares during special events, such as the 2nd Friday Art Walk, or other designated times.

The goal, officials say, is to create a niche that draws tourists and potential residents who are already enamored with offerings at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, nearby galleries and the popular arts community in South Pinellas.

"We've seen this happen in St. Petersburg, where some very difficult streets taken over by artists really changed the flavor of the whole neighborhood," said Dunedin planning and development director Greg Rice. "We were hoping for some of the same kind of revitalization."

Read details here.

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$32 million in construction for additional tankers at MacDill expected in next few years

KC-135 Stratotankers take part in a nose-to-tail "elephant walk," as it's known in the Air Force, at MacDill Air Force Base in 2012. MacDill has 16 KC-135 tankers and is expected to receive eight more in 2018 once a new generation of KC-46 tankers starts to roll off Boeing's assembly line.

Senior Airman Melissa V. Paradis | MacDill AFB (2012)

KC-135 Stratotankers take part in a nose-to-tail "elephant walk," as it's known in the Air Force, at MacDill Air Force Base in 2012. MacDill has 16 KC-135 tankers and is expected to receive eight more in 2018 once a new generation of KC-46 tankers starts to roll off Boeing's assembly line.

The Pentagon expects to budget $32 million for infrastructure upgrades at MacDill Air Force Base to support new KC-135 jet tankers being transferred to Tampa, Department of Defense officials told five members of the Tampa Bay area's congressional delegation on Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Repubican representatives Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, David Jolly of Indian Shores, Rich Nugent of Spring Hill and Dennis Ross of Lakeland met at Castor's office with a group from the Pentagon that included Kathleen Ferguson, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics.

During the discussion, according to Castor's staff, the delegation focused on the infrastructure projects needed to support eight new KC-135 jet tankers and nearly 300 new personnel that the Air Force has said it plans to move to MacDill in 2018. MacDill already is home to 16 of the KC-135 "Stratotankers."

“Additional aircraft and personnel means economic expansion and jobs for the Tampa Bay area,” Castor said in a statement after the meeting. "Ensuring MacDill’s vitality helps to sustain the vitality of our local economy." …

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Lisa Montelione seeking re-election to Tampa City Council

Lisa Montelione

Lisa Montelione

Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione on Tuesday filed to run for re-election to the council's District 7 seat representing North Tampa and New Tampa.

Montelione, 53, lives in the Terrace Park neighborhood and works as the business manager for Rising Force Construction, a firm that specializes in environmentally friendly green projects.

"There are a lot of things in the north and New Tampa and Tampa Palms areas that I think could use improvement," she said. "There are a lot of people who need representatiion, whether they are registered voters or just people who happen to live within those boundaries, that I want to serve." …

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Hillsborough government director finalist for Virginia job

A department director being forced out of Hillsborough County government is a finalist for a similar job in Virginia.

Venerria "Ven" Thomas is a one of two finalists to be director of human services at the city of Newport News, the city announced Tuesday. Thomas and one other candidate are interviewing with city officials this week. 

Thomas, 58, is director of Family and Aging Services in Hillsborough, and has been told her job will be phased out in September, she said Tuesday. Thomas makes $144,997 here. She formerly oversaw operations including the county's Social Services Division, which spawned several controversies for Hillsborough government, most notably problems that led to the closure of the Homeless Recovery program.  

"It's not something I took personally," said Thomas of the news she needed to start looking for work. "I've been in public service long enough to know that administrators, mayors, and chief executives make reorganization decisions all the time ... This sounds like it would be a great job." 




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St. Petersburg gets closer to refinancing some stadium debt

ST. PETERSBURG | The city advanced a plan to refinance a portion of its debt related to Tropicana Field on Thursday, though final approval by the City Council is required at next week's meeting.

Under a deal with SunTrust Bank, the city will refinance about $17 million remaining on debt that matures in 2025 and is covered by a $2 million annual payment from the state to the city.

SunTrust has agreed to give the city an annual interest rate of 2.63 percent, leading to a projected savings of about $1.7 million, finance director Anne Fritz told a city council budget committee. (See our earlier story on the issue here.)

The city will pour those savings into other Tropicana debts, Fritz said.

As part of the deal, the city will give up its right to a jury trial. City attorneys said that's become standard in these types of transactions.

The matter will go before the full council on July 24.

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And the winners of this year's Hillsborough Hob Nob straw poll are...


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Weatherford endorses Gregg in Pasco GOP primary

Republican House candidate Jim Mathieu, his party's leader in Pasco County, is getting snubbed again by outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Weatherford is endorsing Mathieu's opponent, Chris Gregg, in the House District 36 Republican primary.

"Pasco County needs effective leaders to help represent our great county in Tallahassee," Weatherford said in a statement released Tuesday.

He went on to praise Gregg for being a veteran, as well as his background in business and the health care industry.

Gregg was an Air Force medic and currently works for a laboratory testing company, Miramar-based American Health Associates.

“I’m thrilled and humbled to receive the support of such a great leader for our state and our county," Gregg said.

While Weatherford's choice of endorsement might seem surprising, it's not exactly precedent-setting.

When Mathieu ran for District 36 in last summer's special election, Weatherford endorsed Mathieu's GOP rival, Bill Gunter.

Other members of Pasco's Republican legislative delegation did the same also.

At the time, Mathieu said he posed a threat to the "old boy establishment." …

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Ybor City cigar factory's fight against proposed FDA rule gets national attention

Motorists on Interstate 4 can see banners hung from the clock tower of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co., in Ybor City urging people to comment on the FDA's proposed rules about tobacco products.

SUSAN THURSTON | Times (2014)

Motorists on Interstate 4 can see banners hung from the clock tower of the J.C. Newman Cigar Co., in Ybor City urging people to comment on the FDA's proposed rules about tobacco products.

National Public Radio on Tuesday weighed in on the health policy debate that Tampa officials say threatens the future of J.C. Newman Cigar Co., the city's lone surviving cigar factory.

Click here for NPR's story.

It wasn't part of NPR's coverage, but you can click here for a video Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn made in support of the factory.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, the New York Times ran its own front-page story on J.C. Newman.

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Buckhorn, Kriseman to lead bay area's first joint trade mission to Chile

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, shown at an event in Tampa in April, will lead a trade mission to Chile along with Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times (2014)

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, shown at an event in Tampa in April, will lead a trade mission to Chile along with Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will be among the local elected officials leading a trade mission to Santiago, Chile from Dec. 1-5.

The mission is being organized by the Tampa Bay Export Alliance, a new collaboration between the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and Pinellas County Economic Development.

“This mission to Chile is our first joint mission since we made that announcement (of the export alliance’s creation) in May,” said Jennifer Mikosky, the Tampa Hillsborough EDC’s vice president of marketing and communications.

Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel and Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr. also will help lead the mission. The export alliance will use private funds to cover the $2,360-per-person travel costs for the elected officials going on the trip, Mikosky said.

This sort of trip is becoming increasingly familiar to Buckhorn who, as mayor, has traveled to Panama (three times), Germany, Switzerland, Colombia, Brazil, Israel and India to promote his city. …

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Yolie Capin, Charlie Miranda, Bob Buckhorn all on the move this week

Tampa City Council members Yvonne Yolie Capin and Charlie Miranda leave this week for separate trips to Cuba.

Capin, who went on a trip organized by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce last May, is returning with a different group that will travel on the a similar “people to people” license for cultural and educational exchanges. Capin said she wants to get a better sense of what Tampa’s relationship to Cuba could be if and when the United States alters its embargo on trade and travel with Cuba.

“I feel like, if I go, even it’s for four days, you’re immersing yourself in the culture and the people and when the change comes, you feel like you have a better feel for Tampa’s position,” Capin said.

Like Capin, Miranda will miss Thursday’s City Council meeting for his own trip to Cuba. Miranda, who worked to arrange the University of Tampa’s baseball team’s exhibition games in Cuba earlier this year, said he will work on another baseball-related project. …

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