Downtown Aquarium opponents keep fight going
CLEARWATER-Clearwater voters gave Clearwater Marine Aquarium a big victory last week in a referendum allowing the aquarium to negotiate with the city on a lease of downtown waterfront property for a $160.5 million new facility.
On Thursday, two days after the polls closed, several members of the opposition addressed City Council, signaling their intent to keep the fight alive.
Tom Petersen, who has filed a suit seeking to invalidate the referendum, said the tentative agreement between the aquarium and the city undervalues the 5 ½ acres where City Hall now stands.
Instead of $6.6 million, it should be worth $18 million, he said. Petersen based his calculations on the recent sale of a one-acre site nearby to the Church of Scientology for $3 million.
The memorandum of understanding envisions a 60-year-lease with CMA paying $7.5 million for a new city hall and $250,000 annual payments after the city hall payments are complete.
"It's now your responsibility to protect taxpayers," Petersen told the five-member council during a citizen comment portion of the meeting. The council unanimously approved the agreement in August.
Another opponent, Tom Nocera, said the city should sideline its main negotiator, City Attorney Pam Akin, from the talks because CMA's point men---former mayor Frank Hibbard and Brian Aungst Jr, an attorney and son of former mayor Brian Aungst---paint too cozy a picture.
Akin worked with Hibbard and the senior Aungst as City Attorney creating "an appearance of impropriety," Nocera said.
Council members didn't respond to Nocera or Petersen, which is usual practice during the citizen comment section. But Mayor George Cretekos couldn't hold his tongue after Joe Corvino, a leading downtown aquarium opponent, sardonically congratulated the council on "the very vigorous campaign you ran on behalf of the CMA."
Cretekos said he wanted to set the record straight. The city didn't spend any money on the campaign, he said.
Later, in an email to Corvino, Cretekos clarified his comments, saying the city did spend a few thousand dollars to send out neutral mailers outlining the issue for voters as it has done in past referendums that seek changes in the city's charter.