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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Beaches chamber hosts U.S. House Distrct 13 candidates forum

The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce is scheduled to host a candidate forum for the U.S. House District 13 race at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the Tradewinds Island Resort, 5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. Reservations required. For information and reservations, call (727) 360-6957 or email Doug@tampabaybeaches.com.

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Dunedin commissioners tentatively okay razing of Fenway Hotel

Dunedin commissioners this month preliminarily approved an ordinance that would let historic structures such as the Fenway Hotel be razed and rebuilt because of their poor condition, because they aren't in compliance with current building and fire codes, or due to their location in the floodplain.

Under the proposal, the developer would be required to replicate the demolished structures' historic look.

City planning director Greg Rice said being able to start from scratch is a more attractive, cost-effective option for developers. He said it's also much safer for the Fenway, an all-wood structure that is caving from water damage, lacks hurricane and fire protection devices and sits in a velocity zone.

Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said she's sad the original structure can't be restored. But she echoed Commissioner Ron Barnette's comments that the city needs to find a "clear balance" between history, visual appeal and building safety. She said the city has no choice but to approve the ordinance. …

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Engineer: Parts of Belleview Biltmore salvageable, but costly

An engineering firm working for the historic Belleview Biltmore's owners estimates that 25 percent of the former hotel would have to be demolished and a "significant portion" reinforced or repaired even if a financier stepped up at this late hour to renovate it.

Mike McCarthy of Clearwater-based McCarthy and Associates Inc. inspected the Biltmore in 2011 and 2012 at the behest of the town of Belleair. This year, his firm was hired by the hotel's current owners, the Ades brothers of Miami.

While taking reporters plus Mayor Gary Katica and Ades attorney Ed Armstrong through the hotel this month, McCarthy pointed to black mold that so pervasively covers the ceilings and walls that he said several of McCarthy's engineers have fallen ill.

The engineer ran his feet over sloped floors that he said would endanger hotel guests who are disabled or use wheelchairs. Empty beer containers, mattresses, televisions, dead rodents and other debris fill the halls and rooms - evidence of decay and occasional squatters. Some rooms have holes that provide a glimpse of the floor above or below.

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Burgess picks up Nocco endorsement

ZEPHYRHILLS – Mayor Danny Burgess this week picked up an endorsement from Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco in his run for Florida House District 38 in east Pasco County.

Nocco said in a release that Burgess will be a “strong advocate for law enforcement in the Legislature because he will fight to make sure our laws will protect our citizens and will send criminals to prison.”

Burgess is seeking to replace House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who is prevented from running again next year because of term limits.

Burgess, 27, faces Trinity Republican Minerva “Minnie” Diaz, 51, a former Air Force officer and real estate agent. Dade City Democrat Beverly Anne Ledbetter, 60, who teaches at Saint Leo University, is also running.

Burgess is the youngest mayor in Zephyrhills’ history. He is an attorney and an Army officer.

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New City Hall, dredging on Dunedin meeting agenda

The Dunedin City Commission will receive status updates this week on reports about a new government annex, and the possible dredging of Cedar Creek and Lake Sperry.

Commissioners meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 542 Main St.

The annex and dredging items are for information only and no votes will be taken.

Commissioners will also hold the first of two public hearings and votes on an ordinance that would let a developer demolish the Fenway Hotel as long as he or she retains its historic look when its rebuilt.

Get a copy of the full agenda here.

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Report: Delay in setting referendum to move Yankees' minor league team from Tampa to Ocala

From the Ocala-Star Banner: The Marion County Commission will wait until Jan. 7 before considering whether to schedule a referendum to raise that county's sales tax and use the proceeds to build a $60 million stadium complex for the New York Yankees' Class A Advanced minor league team.

In October, the Yankees and Ocala officials outlined a plan to move the minor league team — but not the Yankees' much more lucrative spring training operation — from Tampa to Marion County.

Ocala and Marion County officials have talked about asking voters to raise the sales tax by half a cent for three years, but the Star-Banner reported Tuesday that Marion County officials first want to look at other potential sources of funding that would not require a tax increase.

This year, the Tampa Yankees drew 118,770 fans to George M. Steinbrenner Field — the fourth-highest attendance in the 12-team Florida State League — averaging 1,827 fans per game, the crowds could vary.

But at the facility on N Dale Mabry Highway, the Tampa Yankees compete with the Tampa Bay Rays, Buccaneers and Lightning, as well as the University of South Florida football, Busch Gardens and the gulf beaches. …

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City of Tampa's controversial plan for pumping water from sinkhole gets state permit

A water measurement device at Blue Sink shows the water level last month. The Tampa Water Department plans to pump 2 million gallons a day out of Blue Sink to boost the flow of the Hillsborough River. Neighbors are leery. The Southwest Florida Water Management District? Not so much.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times photo

A water measurement device at Blue Sink shows the water level last month. The Tampa Water Department plans to pump 2 million gallons a day out of Blue Sink to boost the flow of the Hillsborough River. Neighbors are leery. The Southwest Florida Water Management District? Not so much.

A controversial plan to pump water from a Tampa sinkhole to boost the flow of the Hillsborough River won unanimous support Tuesday from the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The city of Tampa’s plan calls for pumping up to 2 million gallons a day from Blue Sink, a complex of sinkholes in Sulphur Springs, then piping that water to the base of the dam on the Hillsborough River and pouring it out.

The water from Blue Sink would help replace the river flow lost when the city built the dam in 1897, creating a reservoir that provides Tampa’s drinking water. The restored freshwater flow will help hold the salinity of Tampa Bay in check, which is important for the health of the snook and other fish living there.

While neighbors of the Blue Sink fear pumping water from the sinkholes will create even more sinkholes, drain their lakes and suck private wells dry, Tampa Water Department director Brad Baird said there's nothing to worry about.

Full story here.

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New Hillsborough Commission candidate hauling in cash

It has taken a little more than two months for Janet Lee Dougherty to catch up on the fundraising front with two fellow Republicans competing to be the next District 4 Hillsborough County commissioner.

Meanwhile, the board's two sitting commissioners, Ken Hagan and Al Higginbotham, continue to raise the sort of money aimed at warding off serious competition.

Dougherty, an environmental consultant, has raised $41,600 in a little more than two months of campaigning, a figure that includes a $5,000 loan she made to her campaign. She now has a narrowly lead over retiring Tampa police detective Rick Cochran and current Hillsborough County school board member Stacy White. She has spent less than $3,000 of that.

"Basically, I'm a business person and I appeal to people in business," Dougherty said. "I know a lot of people."

The candidates are raising money under new rules that went into effect two months ago allowing contributions in county races of up to $1,000, from a $500 max for each election before. The new rules now require monthly reporting. …

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Capitol Theatre cushion caper draws to close

Ruth Eckerd Hall’s version of Cannonball Run appeared to be turning in the venerable arts organization’s favor as a big truck bearing much-needed seat cushions for the remodeled Capitol Theatre was closing in on Clearwater Tuesday afternoon.

The truck was due to arrive within the hour, said Katie Pedretty, a Ruth Eckerd spokeswoman, around 2 p.m. Tuesday.

A crew of 14 was on hand to begin installing the cushions in the 737-seat downtown theater, due to reopen Wednesday after an extensive renovation and expansion.

A port strike in Mumbai, India, delayed the cushions, which didn’t arrive in Newark, N.J., until late Friday, just in time for that port to close for the weekend.

A frantic round of calls to congressional friends of REH president and CEO Zev Buffman may have helped speed the cargo’s way through customs Monday morning.

A $1,000 bonus was offered to the trucking company to get its essential freight to Clearwater in time for ex-Doobie Brother Michael McDonald’s concert at the opening.

The Capitol, an anchor in downtown Clearwater since 1921, has been closed since March. Hopes are high that its new look will help pump dollars and nightlife into the moribund downtown. …

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St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman slow to release salaries for new deputies

After announcing four new hires, Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman still hasn't released salary ranges for his new team members.

Kriseman's closest aides have not responded to multiple requests from the Tampa Bay Times abouy the salaries or pay ranges for the high-ranking administrators.

Buzz finds it hard to believe that four individuals would agree to take jobs without knowing how much they will earn each year. Kriseman and the new deputies take office on Jan. 2.

Last week, Kriseman selected Sally Everett to be his director of legislative, education and intergovernmental affairs. He also appointed Robert Danielson, a 27-year city employee, to be the interim marketing director. Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, 40, will also serve as his director of urban affairs and oversee economic development in Midtown.

The highest salary of the new appointees will likely go to Kanika Tomalin, a regional vice president for Health Management Associates, the owner of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

Late Monday, Kriseman vowed to finalize the salaries by the end of the week. "I didn't give anybody a specific amount." He stressed he has only talked salary ranges with the new hires.

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Murphy takes oath in moving ceremony

NEW PORT RICHEY – Newly elected state Rep. Amanda Murphy took the oath of office Friday in a ceremony in front of family and friends that had her fighting back tears.

“I still tear up when I think about it. It’s a huge responsibly,” the Democrat said after the 20-minute swearing-in at the Pasco County Commission chambers.

Tax Collector and former state Rep. Mike Fasano opened  with a prayer. Murphy’s daughter, Savannah Stacy, 20, led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. About 50 to 75 attended, Democrats and Republicans.

Circuit Court Judge Frank Grey held a Bible that belonged to Murphy’s now-deceased brother as Grey administered the oath.

“A few people in the audience were crying,” recounted Murphy, who won a special election in October to succeed Fasano for the District 36 seat.

Fasano stepped down in August to become tax collector, leading to the special election. Murphy defeated Republican pastor Bill Gunter.

“Usually, I try to keep it fun and light, but it was so special,” she said. “I asked my friends and supporters to stand by my side and ensure that I do what I said I was going to do.”

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Land-use change for Dunedin's former Nielsen site gets first okay

A new marketing strategy aimed at drawing a buyer for the long-vacant Nielsen Media Research property crossed the first hurdle last week as city commissioners preliminarily approved a land-use designation change.

The unanimous vote paves the way for property owner Wells Fargo to finally sell the 23-acre site at 375 Patricia Ave., which has been vacant since 2005.

The property's current land use designation is "industrial limited" and "commercial general." But after eight years without a buyer, the bank is pushing for a change to "planned redevelopment mixed-use." Under the proposed land use, a developer would be able to build anything from mostly residential to a mixed-use "village" community featuring condos above offices, boutiques, restaurants and other retail shops.

Although Dunedin commissioners are eager to get the former Nielsen site back on city tax rolls, the bank and city staffers acknowledge that getting approval for the land-use and zoning changes required to do so may be difficult.

Pinellas officials have said they oppose losing industrial and office space, which is scarce in Florida's most densely populated county.

Full report here.

 

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Mike Moore out-raises opponent in Pasco race

A change in fundraising rules seems to have helped Pasco County Commission candidate Mike Moore who pulled in more than $11,000 in November, including eight $1,000 contributions tied to a Trinity developer.

Fundraising rules approved the last legislative session permitted state and county candidates to accept $1,000 donations instead of the previous $500 maximum.

The change has certainly aided Moore’s campaign. The business broker and president of Wesley Chapel’s Republican club pulled in $8,000 in $1,000 contributions from companies tied to developer Lew Friedland of Palm Harbor. One of those, Adam Smith Enterprises, was a major developer of Trinity.

Among Moore’s other contributions were $100 from Lacoochee activist Richard Riley, $500 from Galaxy Fireworks and $500 from Don Porter, a rancher. Altogether, Moore raised $11,550 in November and $29,375 since July when he filed to run for county commission.

His GOP opponent, Bob Robertson, a financial planner from Lake Bernadette, has raised just shy of $10,000 since his July filing. In November, he pulled in $2,120, according to campaign finance reports. …

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Cretekos pens note to Church of Scientology leader

Clearwater- Mayor George Cretekos wrote a short note to Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige before Thanksgiving, congratulating him on the church’s “successful opening” of the Flag Building on Nov. 17.

For three months prior to the celebration, city officials had butted heads with church leaders over permits, illegally cutting trees and other violations. The church paid fines and was cited by the city’s Code Enforcement Board for a massive tent wrap that the city deemed a sign.

Cretekos had said he wanted a fresh start. 

“I hope that we will now enter a new era of cooperation and understanding between the church and the city,” Cretekos wrote on Nov. 21.

Miscavige was traveling and didn’t respond personally, but church spokeswoman Pat Harney called Cretekos last week.

 Harney called  to “advise me that they had received it and they would touch base with me later," Cretekos said.

On Thursday, the same night of Harney's call to Cretekos,  Mark Bunker, a Clearwater resident and longtime church critic, told the City Council that it shouldn’t seek to thaw relations with the church.  …

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Cretekos writes note to Scientologist leader

CLEARWATER--Mayor George Cretekos wrote a short note to Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige before Thanksgiving, congratulating him on the church’s “successful opening” of the Flag Building on Nov. 17.

For three months prior to the celebration, city officials had butted heads with church leaders over permits, illegally cutting trees and other violations. The church paid fines and was cited by the city’s Code Enforcement Board for a massive tent wrap that the city deemed a sign.

Cretekos had said he wanted a fresh start. 

“I hope that we will now enter a new era of cooperation and understanding between the church and the city,” Cretekos wrote on Nov. 21.

Miscavige was traveling and didn’t respond personally, but church spokeswoman Pat Harney called Cretekos last week.

 Harney called  to “advise me that they had received it and they would touch base with me later," Cretekos said.

On Thursday, the same night of Harney's call to Cretekos,  Mark Bunker, a Clearwater resident and longtime church critic, told the City Council that it shouldn’t seek to thaw relations with the church.  …

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