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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Feasibility Study for Clearwater downtown aquarium to be released next week

CLEARWATER--The Clearwater Marine Aquarium has notified the city that a feasibility study on a proposed downtown aquarium will be ready next week.

A  letter Thursday to the city from CMA chief operating officer Frank Dame said a delay “beyond our control” was responsible for missing the aquarium’s previously stated goal of delivering the study to the city by the end of February.

Dame told City Manager Bill Horne that an executive summary of the report would be available by March 10. But David Yates, the aquarium’s CEO, said the executive summary would be publicly vetted toward the end of next week. Yates said he didn’t have an exact date for the presentation.

The study, conducted by AECOM, a Los Angeles-based management and technical services firm, was originally slated to be completed by the end of 2013.

In a November referendum, Clearwater voters approved changes to the city charter that allows the aquarium project to move forward. 

Opponents of the project have asked why the study wasn’t available before the vote and have questioned its delay.


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Belleview Biltmore zoning tweaks, citizen honor on Tuesday agenda

The Belleair Town Commission on Tuesday will discuss possible changes staff should make to Belleview Biltmore rezoning proposal ahead of a March 25 commission vote.

Current zoning on the Biltmore site allows only for a hotel or single-family homes. But last month, commissioners decided they would consider new zoning categories a developer could apply for if he or she wanted to tear down the historic structure to build either condos or a mixed-use project that might include a portion of the 117-year-old hotel.

City leaders on Tuesday will discuss possible tweaks to the density, unit sizes and height bonuses proposed as part of RM-10, a zoning category that would allow 10 residential units per acre on the hotel site. Town staff expects to separately present the mixed-use proposal for discussion purposes only in April.

Two public hearings and votes would be required before either is approved. …

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Brickfield bows out of Pinellas Commission race

Whatever appeal the Pinellas County Commission District 4 race held for Neil Brickfield, it's long gone.

The former commissioner, who lost his bid for re-election in 2012 and had filed to run again this Nov., announced on his Facebook page on Wednesday that he's withdrawn his candidacy. Brickfield was one of seven Republicans in the race and was one of the most well known to voters, but his 2012 defeat is only recent history, as is his vote to halt fluoridation of the county's drinking water, which he later said he regretted.

As of today, Brickfield is the fifth candidate to withdraw from the race. After initially announcing that she would seek re-election, Pinellas Commissioner Susan Latvala decided to retire at the end of her term. Former candidates Peter Nehr, Michael Milhoan, and Dusty Showers have also declared their campaigns "inactive."

That leaves nine candidates remaining, a roster that includes six Republicans, two Democrats, and one candidate with no party affiliation.

Brickfield wrote on this Facebook page: …

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Dunedin mayor's run for county office could spark busy city election

DUNEDIN - Mayor Dave Eggers announced Monday that he will run for the District 4 Pinellas County Commission seat being vacated by Susan Latvala.

Within hours, two current city commissioners said they were considering running to replace him, leading to the possibility that four of the five City Commission seats could turn over in the November city election.

Eggers, a Republican, is the 10th candidate to announce for the District 4 seat, which has been held by Latvala since 2000.

Win or lose, Eggers' run for the county seat means he will resign from the Dunedin City Commission come November.

For more information on the county race or candidates lining up to succeed Eggers, click here.

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With Obamacare deadline looming, Tampa to host more enrollment sessions

University of South Florida public health student Chris Dawson talks with marketplace navigator Xonjenese Jacobs as he signs up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act last October. Dawson, who was 20 when he signed up, was raised as a ward of the state by his grandparents and had not had health insurance since he aged out of the state's program at age 18.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times (2013)

University of South Florida public health student Chris Dawson talks with marketplace navigator Xonjenese Jacobs as he signs up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act last October. Dawson, who was 20 when he signed up, was raised as a ward of the state by his grandparents and had not had health insurance since he aged out of the state's program at age 18.

Tampa already lets Obamacare navigators hold regular office hours at its busiest rec centers. Its firefighters carry information on insurance options when they roll on 911 calls. And Tuesday City Hall announced plans to host seven "super" enrollment sessions ahead of the March 31 deadline to sign up for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In a statement announcing the events, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said more than 90,000 of the city's 348,000 residents lack health care and "we all benefit when our community is healthier."

"This is an economic and a quality of life issue for our friends, neighbors and family members," he said. "All of us pay when an uninsured person walks into an emergency room with a chronic illness that could have been treated earlier and cheaper."

No appointments are necessary. Officials said each event will have more than 10 health care coverage navigators on hand to help with sign-ups. Residents should bring Social Security numbers, birth dates, pay stubs, W-2 forms, policy numbers for any current insurance and information about any coverage their families could get from an employer.

Here's the schedule: …

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St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman plans beauty tour with former mayor

In his continued quest to learn more about the Sunshine City, Mayor Kriseman plans to roll with a former leader.

The new mayor is scheduled to take a 90-minute car ride Wednesday with former St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer, who served from 1991 to 2000.

The topic: Beauty.

"Mayor Fischer was a staunch proponent of beautification," said Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman. "He is going to show Mayor Kriseman opportunities for enhanced beautification."

Kriseman's calendar this week also shows meetings with Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long, Norm Roche and Susan Latvala. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos is slotted for Thursday.

 

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Blue Jays GM: Proposed spring training facility upgrades could keep team in Dunedin

DUNEDIN - A top Toronto Blue Jays official confirmed Friday that the club is exploring potential changes to Dunedin's spring training facilities that might persuade the team not to move.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said the team's "No. 1 desire" was to consolidate its stadium and practice space, which are 3.5 miles apart. That was the reason the team gave for exploring a partnership with the Houston Astros on a joint-use stadium on Florida's east coast.

However, he said the Jays are also weighing their lengthy relationship with Dunedin, where the team has trained since 1977. The team, he said, is "committed" to exploring whether it can "make things work" in Dunedin.

The Jays' lease expires in 2017, and the team has two five-year renewal options.

"To be completely candid," Anthopoulos said, "we're still going to be open-minded if someone does approach us about an unbelievable opportunity where we can merge both facilities. ... With that said, it's not going to be done at all costs. It's important to have a good location, it's important to have a good partner."

He added, "We realize it may not be possible in Dunedin to merge both the minor-league complex and the big league complex. But ... we may be able to expand some things, change some things, meet in the middle ...If they can do some of those things, why move?"

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Democratic Party’s donation to Clearwater council candidate raises eyebrows

CLEARWATER — The Democratic Party’s sizeable donation to a candidate in the nonpartisan Clearwater City Council race is raising eyebrows, but officials say it is legal.
The Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee recently contributed $6,000 to political newcomer Jon-Paul Rosa’s campaign. That’s a strikingly large amount for a local municipal campaign, and it got noticed in Clearwater campaign circles.
The cap for donations from an individual or a company is $1,000 in a Florida municipal race.
City Clerk Rosemarie Call said Friday that a number of callers to her office have inquired about the donation’s legality. The clerk has a role in running the March 11 city election.
She consulted state election law and found the answer in Florida Statute 106.08. It says that a political party can contribute up to $50,000 to the campaign of any candidate for local office.
Florida election officials verified this on Friday.
“It is a large amount. At this level, we have never seen such a contribution,” Call said of the $6,000 political donation. “I think that’s what has raised the eyebrows.”
Rosa is running against former council member Hoyt Hamilton for Seat 5, an at-large citywide seat that’s being vacated by term-limited council member Paul Gibson. Since the election is nonpartisan, candidates don’t officially represent political parties.
Mark Hanisee, chairman of the Democrats’ local executive committee, was surprised that the party’s contribution was being questioned. He noted that the party has financially supported candidates in elections in St. Petersburg, Gulfport and Belleair Bluffs.
“I don’t understand what all the hoopla is about. I’m just baffled,” Hanisee said. “We gave money to Rick Kriseman and Darden Rice in St. Petersburg. We’ve been giving to candidates at all levels — state, county, municipal, school board.”
Pinellas County Democrats have become more active in municipal elections as part of a strategy to “deepen the bench,” Hanisee said. He added that the Democrats’ Feb. 3 donation to Rosa is likely the largest given to any city council candidate in the county.
Rosa, a 30-year-old Army combat veteran who is Puerto Rican, is a promising candidate, Hanisee said. “He’s a college student, he’s a veteran and he’s a Latino.”
Rosa said he didn’t think voters would be swayed one way or another by news of Democratic support of his campaign.
Rosa was a registered Republican until August, when he switched his registration to Democrat, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. The GOP’s stance on immigration — or lack of one — was the reason he switched, he said.
Hamilton, Rosa’s opponent, said he can’t remember party money being contributed to past Clearwater City Council elections. He said the $6,000 contribution sets a troubling precedent, but he doesn’t plan to ask for any Republican help.
Hamilton is a registered Republican.
“In my years on council I never for one millisecond thought, 'Is this going to help Republicans or Democrats?’ but (instead), 'Is this going to help Clearwater?’” Hamilton said.
Rosa said he used the money to buy yard signs and pay for mailers.
“I see it as helpful,” Rosa said. “The biggest issue in my campaign is outreach.”
The latest campaign finance filings show Hamilton still outpacing Rosa, with $22,595 in campaign cash to Rosa’s $15,393.

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November election could bring shake-up on Dunedin commission

A potential shake-up looms for the Dunedin City Commission.

One commissioner has announced he won't seek re-election, a former commissioner says he is contemplating throwing his hat back in the ring and Mayor Dave Eggers confirmed Tuesday that he is "definitely very seriously" considering running for the Pinellas County Commission.

Details here.

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Belleair reverses course on Belleview Biltmore zoning

BELLEAIR -- Town commissioners on Tuesday evening unanimously voted to reverse an earlier decision to wait six months before discussing new zoning options for the Belleview Biltmore property.

Town staffers will bring back more information by April on new zoning categories a developer could apply for if he or she wanted to tear down the historic structure to build either condos or a mixed-use project that could incorporate a range of uses such as residential, restaurant, retail or hotel.

Current zoning on the Biltmore site allows only for a hotel or single-family homes.

Many of the nearly 200 audience members applauded the commission's decision as well as a tentative proposal by St. Petersburg developer Mike Cheezem, who has a contract to buy the deteriorating hotel from Miami investors Raphael and Daniel Ades.

Cheezem told the audience that he currently envisions a mixed-use plan in which he would transform a portion of the 117-year-old Biltmore into a small boutique hotel that would operate alongside condos and townhomes.

Read more here.

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Clearwater City Council candidate gets Democratic cash boost

CLEARWATER---The Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee has given a $6,000 donation to newcomer Jon-Paul Rosa’s campaign for Clearwater City Council. 

The Feb. 3 donation is likely the largest given to any City Council candidate in the county, said Mark Hanisee, the chairman of the party's Executive Committee.

Pinellas County Democrats have become more active in municipal elections as part of a strategy to “deepen the bench,” Hanisee said, citing recent support for Democratic candidates in the St. Petersburg and Gulfport mayoral elections.

Rosa, a 30-year-old Army combat veteran who is Puerto Rican, was a promising candidate, Hanisee said.

“He’s a college student, he’s a veteran and he’s a Latino,” Hanisee said.

Rosa was a registered Republican until August, when he switched his registration to Democrat, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections. 

The GOP’s stance on immigration, or lack of one, Rosa said, was the reason for the switch.

City Council races are non-partisan, but Rosa said he didn’t think voters would be swayed one way or another by news of Democratic support of his campaign. 

Hoyt Hamilton, Rosa’s opponent for Seat 5, has a different take. …

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Dunedin mayor plans to seek commission seat

It appears the only thing standing between Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers and announcing his plans to run for a Pinellas Commission seat is time. A few days, at most.

In a brief interview on Tuesday, Eggers said he's "very definitely, seriously considering running" and "I really plan to announce that in the next couple of days."

Eggers, 56, a Republican, would make the eleventh candidate to run for the District 4 seat, which has been held since 2000 by Commissioner Susan Latvala. Her decision to retire from the board, creating a rare open commission seat, has already attracted a boatload of candidates, some of whom have never run for office before while others, like Neil Brickfield, a former Republican Pinellas commissioner who lost a re-election bid in 2012, have experience in politics.

Eggers would fit in the second category. He's been Dunedin's mayor since 2009 and was re-elected to a four year term in 2012. Asked why he's running for the position, Eggers deferred questions until later this week, when he makes a formal announcement.

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As Air Force considers cuts at MacDill, base's future has not played a big role in race to replace Bill Young

Nearly 900 personnel at MacDill Air Force Base have received notices that their positions could be "vulnerable" as the Air Force contracts, though it's too early to say whether that will happen. The notices affect personnel in MacDill’s host unit, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, whose air crews participated in a 2012 training mission pictured here.

SKIP O'ROURKE | Times (2012)

Nearly 900 personnel at MacDill Air Force Base have received notices that their positions could be "vulnerable" as the Air Force contracts, though it's too early to say whether that will happen. The notices affect personnel in MacDill’s host unit, the 6th Air Mobility Wing, whose air crews participated in a 2012 training mission pictured here.

Nearly 900 of the 3,800 military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base have been told they could lose their positions as the Air Force shrinks its ranks, according to a base spokesman.

The notice informed  personnel that they were “vulnerable,” though base officials say it’s too early to know with certainty if the positions will be eliminated. The Air Force is cutting more than 22,000 positions this year as the war in Afghanistan winds down. The notice affects personnel in MacDill’s host unit, the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported this week, this is the kind of cut MacDill could face in the future as the Pentagon downsizes — though few local leaders believe base faces a serious threat of closure, as it did in the 1990s.

One reason for that: MacDill is home to U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, which played critical roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both are expected to continue to have full workloads in coming years.

Another reason: the base has seen more than $1 billion in new construction since the 2001 terrorist attacks, much of it thanks to the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died in October. …

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Tarpon candidates face off for City Commission seat

TARPON SPRINGS — One candidate wants Tarpon Springs to take on Duke Energy and possibly start its own power company. Another candidate thinks the city needs to extend an olive branch to real estate developers. A third candidate, seen by some as the front-runner, has a laundry list of city issues she wants to tackle.

The three candidates for a Tarpon Springs City Commission seat are taking to the campaign trail with dramatically different ideas about the role of city government.

That became clear Monday night at a forum held by the Greater Tarpon Springs Democratic Club. There, the contenders in the March 11 election took questions from a crowd of about 40 people at the Tarpon Springs Community Center.

The candidates — Chris Hrabovsky, Joe Muzio and Rea Sieber — are running for Seat 2, held by term-limited Commissioner Susan Slattery. …

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'Bollywood Oscars' team recruits bay area leaders to build buzz locally and abroad

Bollywood movie star Priyanka Chopra, second from right, shakes hands with Dr. Pallavi Patel, second from left, and her husband, Dr. Kiran Patel, left, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, center, and film star Anil Kapoor, right, during an IIFA news conference last month at the Tampa Theater.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Bollywood movie star Priyanka Chopra, second from right, shakes hands with Dr. Pallavi Patel, second from left, and her husband, Dr. Kiran Patel, left, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, center, and film star Anil Kapoor, right, during an IIFA news conference last month at the Tampa Theater.

Buzz is something the organizers of the Indian film industry's version of the Academy Awards talk about a lot, and this week brings two initiatives to jump-start conversations both locally and abroad.

"We trying to get the community here to understand the impact of what is coming," organizer Janak Vora recently told a group in Tampa about the International Indian Film Academy's 15th annual Weekend & Awards, scheduled for April 24-26 in the Tampa Bay area.

For IIFA, building cultural bridges between its host cities and crowds of Bollywood film fans is part of the job. The awards show goes to a different city every year — this will be its first appearance in the United States — and organizers make a habit of reaching out to local leaders and celebrities for support. On Wednesday, IIFA named its honorary host committee, with Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham as chairman. …

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