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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

With Blue Jays looking to leave, Dunedin to start pursuing other spring training teams

Wanted: One Major League Baseball team looking for a good spring training home.

Mayor Dave Eggers says he is going to start contacting teams that might be candidates to replace the Toronto Blue Jays if that organization pulls out of Dunedin. The Jays and the Houston Astros are pursuing a proposal for a joint spring training stadium in Palm Beach Gardens on Florida's east coast.

"They're doing their thing, so we're going to do our thing," Eggers said.

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For now, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn 'on the sidelines' in governor's race

Hillsborough Clerk of Court Pat Frank recently called to ask Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn if he would take part in a Tampa fundraiser last weekend for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.

Thanks but no thanks, the Democratic mayor said, for reasons he described as more practical than political.

"I've got too much on my legislative agenda that I'm not getting involved at a minimum until after the session's done, if at all," Buckhorn said Tuesday.

If at all?

"I'm going to see how the race shapes up," said Buckhorn, who has expressed frustration that the Democratic bench is not deeper and that the party could end up with a candidate who is saying different things today than he said two years ago.

Besides, he said, "I've got a lot of stuff I've got to get done.”

That includes helping Tampa International Airport lobby the Legislature for about $300 million for a major expansion, trying to win legislative approval so big cities could hold their own sales tax referendums on rail and talking about rail alignments and other issues that would lead up to a future referendum on transit. …

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Dunedin: Historic Fenway Hotel close to purchase, replacement

DUNEDIN - The city says bank officials are slated to approve a developer's bid to purchase the Fenway Hotel "any day now."

James and Christy Bower, a father and daughter real estate development team out of Pennsylvania, plan to tear down the deteriorating structure at 453 Edgewater Drive and build an 88-room independent boutique hotel in the exact same image as the original building.

The concrete and steel-reinforced facility is also envisioned to feature a courtyard, 27 to 33 waterside condos, a 1920s interior and artifacts, as well as 11,000 to 19,000 square feet of conference space. The hotel would be similar in size to what's already there and retain some form of the Fenway name.

In anticipation of PNC Bank approving sale of the foreclosed property as early as this week, city commissioners on Thursday gave the staff the unanimous okay to start drafting a development agreement. That document would authorize the city to expedite its permitting process so the hotel could open by Jan. 1, 2015 - peak tourism season.

More details here.

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Biltmore zoning changes get tentative nod

BELLEAIR -- Developers' plans to bulldoze the Belleview Biltmore appeared to move forward Tuesday as town commissioners threw their tentative support behind proposed zoning changes that would allow the historic resort's owners to erect condos and townhomes in its place.

Town staffers have proposed a new zoning designation, RM-10, which would allow only 10 unit per acre. But developers would be able to gain height bonuses if they incorporate certain elements such as a parking structure underneath buildings, or if they go beyond the minimum setback requirements.

The town would have discretion over whether to offer the incentives individually or in combination, meaning the tallest building on site could be a maximum of 80 feet.

The goal, said town planning consultant David Healey, is to urge developers to build fewer units and include more green space while also designing buildings of varied sizes, which would be more visually interesting.

Town commissioners appeared receptive. However, there was some disagreement about the maximum building heights and minimum unit sizes that should be allowed under the new designation.

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County to reconsider controversial Safety Harbor apartments

When the Pinellas County Commission struck down a proposed luxury apartment complex slated for the site of the former Firmenich Citrus Plant, opponents believed they had dealt the project a death blow.

Turns out that was only an intermission.

The administrative law judge, Bram Canter, ruled late Monday that commissioners had erred in their decision not to allow the complex at McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590, and had based their decision on a policy that had never been etched into code.

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Seat 4 City Council seat likely a three-way contest in Clearwater

Clearwater —Both City Council races are now likely three-way contests as a 28-year-old pastor has announced his candidacy against Seat 4 incumbent Bill Jonson.

Konrad McCree Jr., a pastor at Simply Kingdom Ministeries, a non-denominational church which he describes as having about 100 members, also works as a senior business analyst at WellCare Health Plans, Inc.

He said he decided to enter politics because the city council isn’t attuned to the interests of young people.

“Unfortunately, as times change, the issues change. The city council—it’s always the same faces, the same people,” McCree said. “I’d like to shake the city council up a little bit, too.”

More attention needs to be paid to affordable housing and keeping working and middle-class citizens in Clearwater , McCree said.

Jonson and David Allbritton have already announced for the seat.

McCree’s entry “makes things more difficult for me and for him in a three-way race with an incumbent,” said Allbritton, who is the chairman of the Downtown Development Board.

Jonson said he was “just doing my thing. Come December, we’ll see who is in the race.” …

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St. Pete Polls survey: In a Peters vs. Jolly primary, many voters want "someone else"

A poll conducted yesterday evening, hours after Republican State Rep. Kathleen Peters filed to run for Congress, found that she will face an uphill battle to win the District 13 seat, but there’s still room for her numbers to grow.

That's because when St. Pete Polls surveyed nearly 600 registered Republicans, asking them whether they would vote in the Republican primary for David Jolly, Peters, or someone else, nearly a third responded "someone else."

Jolly, a Washington lobbyist who also was a longtime aide and general counsel to the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who previously held the District 13 seat, garnered 39 percent of poll respondents' votes. And Peters, a former mayor of South Pasadena, got 17 percent.

More than anything, Jolly and Peters’ numbers are probably a reflection of their limited name recognition.

Jolly's name has never appeared on a ballot in Pinellas County. And Peters, whose District 69 seat includes many of the county's beach towns, is not as well-known as many of the other elected officials that were initially expected to get in the race. Hence the large number of people in favor of "someone else." …

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Belleview Biltmore rehab plans crumble

BELLEAIR -- Owners of the Belleview Biltmore say hopes of saving it from demolition are dead after an architect who had pledged to renovate the historic landmark missed his Oct. 31 deadline to buy the property.

For more than a year, officials say, Richard Heisenbottle had been trying to raise $200,000 in earnest money to purchase the property from Miami investors Raphael and Daniel Ades. Despite their hesitation, consultant Bob Smithersaid, the Ades brothers had given Heisenbottle a 30-day extension as recently as last month.

"The owners have been exceptionally gracious giving Mr. Heisenbottle multiple extensions to come forward with a viable business deal. He simply hasn't performed," said the Adeses' attorney, Ed Armstrong of Clearwater. "Further, Mr. Heisenbottle agreed in writing that if he did not meet the Oct. 31 deadline that he would cease his interest in the property. It's time to move on."

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Monday is the day she'll decide on congressional race, Rep. Peters says

Republican State Rep. Kathleen Peters said she will announce her decision on whether to run for the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young’s seat sometime on Monday. The deadline to enter the District 13 race is Tuesday.

Peters, the former mayor of South Pasadena, has so far refused to say whether her interest in running is anything more serious than a thought experiment. But some in Pinellas who don’t like the idea of Young’s former aide, David Jolly, being the only Republican choice, have already backed her undeclared candidacy. Safety Harbor Mayor Joe Ayoub told the Times earlier this week that he believed Peters would get into the race.

Asked on Friday if she planned to file, Peters said she’d formally announce her decision on Monday, the same day she's set to hold a press conference debuting a public awareness campaign on the region’s homeless population.

Money and endorsements have begun to pile up behind Jolly, who has raised more than $100,000. On the Democratic side, candidate Alex Sink remains unchallenged. Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby also intends to run.

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Brandes is "ideologically extreme" McLauchlan tells Dems

Recently-announced District 22 State Senate candidate Judithanne McLauchlan addressed a roomful of Democrats last night in Pinellas Park, where she explained why she's signed up for what will likely be one of the most expensive and competitive local races of 2014.

"For me, it's not about Jeff Brandes, but it's about our families, it's about our communities and it's really about the future of Florida," she told the Greater Pinellas Democratic Club.

Except of course it is about Brandes.

In 2012, at the end of his first term as a state representative, he ran for the D22 seat, winning an expensive and nasty Republican primary that decided the race, as no Democrat filed to challenge him. On Election Day, McLauchlan, for lack of a candidate who came close to her own views, wrote in her husband’s name (Ramsay McLauchlan is the former president of the Pinellas County Democratic Party).

"I thought, we just cannot let him go unchallenged," she said, describing her Republican opponent as "ideologically extreme." …

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Mark Sharpe finally picked as Hillsborough County Commission chairman

Mark Sharpe will finally get to serve as chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission in his final year on the board.

Commissioners voted 4-3 to make Sharpe their chairman, a year-long largely ceremonial position he has coveted for the past few years but failed to win. He leaves the board after eight years in 2014 due to term limits.

"I'm honored," Sharpe said. "And I'm very eager to serve this board and the citizens in this capacity."

The annual ritual is often a time of political wrangling and intrigue, with scores settled between commissioners and subtle digs made, even though the title comes with little additional authority but does net a $10,000 pay hike. This year's signals were of the subtler variety.

The meeting generally starts with a gift-giving presentation to the outgoing chairman, and that person has been Ken Hagan for five of the past six years. Last year commissioners got him a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey jersey with his name on it, the year before a baseball bat that his colleagues autographed, recognitions of his advocacy for sports. …

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Candidate Charles Brink puts up $65,000 to run for Hillsborough School Board

Charles Brink didn't just put his name in the race for Hillsborough County School Board. He's also loaned $65,000 to the campaign.

The loan — the only money 61-year-old Brink lists so far in his finance reports — makes him the fundraising leader of all 16 candidates who filed so far for three seats in 2014.

But close behind is Michelle Popp Shimberg with $62,368, much of it from family, friends, business associates of her husband and people she has met in her years as a community volunteer.

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Just back from Afghanistan, reservist announces run in state House District 63

Late last week, Maj. Bret Wedding returned from a six-month deployment as a logistics officer for troops fighting in Afghanistan.

The next day, Wedding, 37, became a candidate for the state House of Representatives in District 63, which covers the northern part of Tampa.

The Air Force reservist is running in the Republican primary, where he would face former state representative and ex-Tampa City Council member Shawn Harrison. Incumbent Rep. Mark Danish is the only Democrat in the race.

Full article here.

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Mayor Bill Foster, mayor-elect Rick Kriseman hold first meeting

Mayor Bill Foster and mayor-elect Rick Kriseman are meeting to discuss the transition for a new leader to take over at City Hall.

Foster and Kriseman are now behind closed doors on the second floor at City Hall.

Eight days after the election, it is still unclear whether Kriseman will be given office space at City Hall so his transition team can set up the new administration.

Besides the transition, Foster and Kriseman are expected to discuss the city's most important issues: The stadium stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays and the controversy over how to replace the inverted pyramid at the Pier.

While Kriseman doesn't take office until Jan. 2, Foster has not said how much information he will share with Kriseman. After conceding the election last week, Foster said he planned to make the transition smooth so citizens don't feel any impact.

Another buzz is still swirling through City Hall.

Even after Kriseman dismissed talk about him turning City Hall into a hiring hall for Democratic allies, many longtime administrators still fear Kriseman will ask many of them to leave. …

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Ex-Hillsborough Head Start acting director: I was forced out because I'm gay

A former supervisor of children's programs for Hillsborough County says an investigation that led to her resignation was a "farce" that overlooked evidence and was shaped by gay stereotypes.

"I resigned because the die was cast against me because I am gay," wrote Erica Moore, the former interim Head Start director and Children Services director for the county, in a statement issued Monday.

Moore, who earned $104,978 annually, resigned Nov. 1 after an investigation found she gave unsolicited sexual advice to co-workers. The investigation determined that in multiple instances and in the presence of five women, Moore counseled them to be sexually attentive to their husbands to keep them from straying.

Moore did not respond to a request for comment last week for a Tampa Bay Times report on her resignation. For more on the statement she issued this week, click here.

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