Aquarium vote isn't the last word, opponents say
Clearwater voters gave the 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 the 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 1-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.
Artists will help kids add to their dolphin adventure at Harborview Center
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce are teaming up with area artists to offer guests an art experience. With some coaching from a pro, guests will decorate a 7-inch-tall resin dolphin, which they can then take home. All supplies will be provided: dolphin, paint and paint brushes. A total of $39.95 includes all supplies and entrance to Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure, located in the Harborview Center at 300 Cleveland St.
Two classes will be held each hour. One class will be for children 5-12 years of age, taught by artist Haley Kukoleck. The other class is for those 13 years or older, taught by artist Vanessa Montenegro.
Go online to SeeWinter.com to see lectures planned for this year. To register, go to seewinter.com/adventure/paint-clearwater-dolphin, or go in person to 300 Cleveland St.
Zoning change proposed for vacant Nielsen property
A citizen group that makes land-use recommendations to the City Commission will hear developers' pitch tonight on proposed new zoning for the former Nielsen Media Research property at 375 Patricia Ave.
The Local Planning Agency meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at Dunedin City Hall, 542 Main St.
Members will hear updated plans from Wells Fargo, which wants to change the Nielsen property's light-industrial land designation to a category that would accommodate anything from mostly residential to a mixed-use "village" community featuring townhomes above offices, boutiques, restaurants and other retail shops.
The proposed development would also designate a portion of the offices for one of Pinellas' high-wage, targeted cluster industries, such as medical technology or research.
The 23-acre site has been vacant since 2005. Bank and city officials hope a zoning change will attract development and return the property to tax-generating status.
The LPA evaluates impacts on things like the environment and traffic, and compatibility with city code. The City Commission, Pinellas Planning Council, County Commission and Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity would also have to weigh in before the land-use designation can be changed.
VIP party kicks off Holiday Lights in the Gardens
The Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation will host a VIP preview of the 2013 Holiday Lights in the Gardens on Nov. 22 from 5:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
Guests will be the first to stroll through this year's display of more than 750,000 twinkling lights and holiday decorations while enjoying live musical entertainment and a tempting array of food and cocktails provided by event sponsors. The rain date is Nov. 23.
"The foundation wants to offer guests a unique way to experience the Holiday Lights event this year while we support our fundraising mission for the gardens," said Terry Ziegler, event coordinator for the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation. "We look forward to seeing our most-devoted patrons and our newest supporters at this elegant and exciting event."
Space is limited. There is a requested $50 donation per person to attend, with proceeds going to support the Florida Botanical Gardens. Interested persons should RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (727) 582-2247 by Friday, Nov. 15.
The Holiday Lights in the Gardens will be open from Nov. 29 to Jan. 1 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. A donation of $2 per person (13 years and older) is recommended. Other events scheduled during the Holiday Lights include a Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation gift and plant sale on Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a dog parade on Dec. 29 starting at 1 p.m.
The Florida Botanical Gardens is located at 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo, with an alternate entrance at 12211 Walsingham Road. The gardens remain open from 7 a.m. until dusk every day, with free admission during daylight hours. For more information, call (727) 582-2100.