HOMELESS GET HELP: Pinellas Hope was a quick-fix shelter cobbled together in 2007 to get the homeless out of the cold for five months. More than a year later, it has become a national success story. Hundreds of homeless have found jobs and homes because of the shelter operated by Catholic Charities, and Pasco and Hillsborough officials are considering building their own tent cities. Meanwhile, the City Council cracked down on the homeless, passing ordinances that prohibit people from sleeping on public land during the day or leaving personal items along the public right of way.
JOB CORPS CAMPUS BREAKS GROUND: Nearly 10 years after efforts to bring a U.S. Department of Labor Job Corps campus to Pinellas County began, local community leaders finally marked the groundbreaking of the facility in February. The campus, long hailed as a key component in the revitalization of St. Petersburg's Midtown area, is expected to serve about 600 students a year when it opens next year.
AL LANG BIDS BASEBALL FAREWELL: After 94 years together, spring training and the city of St. Petersburg likely parted ways in March when the Tampa Bay Rays played their final spring game at Al Lang Field. The Rays will instead hold spring training in Port Charlotte. Meanwhile, the Saturday Morning Market began hosting its popular farmer's market at the stadium in October.
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS GROWS: With great fanfare, the Museum of Fine Arts opened its new Hazel Hough Wing in March. The addition more than doubled the size of the original building, giving the museum the room to showcase works that had been in storage for years and boosting St. Petersburg's claim as Central Florida's arts center.
GRAND PRIX AGREES TO STAY THROUGH 2013: Race car fans got their Christmas gift early this year. Andretti Green Promotions, which has presented the Honda Grand Prix since its inception in 2005, signed a four-year extension during the 2008 race weekend, ensuring St. Petersburg's street race is here to stay.
HOLD EVERYTHING: The Tampa Bay Rays withdrew their $450-million stadium proposal in June after jockeying for nearly a year to rally support around the unpopular waterfront plan. Mayor Rick Baker subsequently tapped Progress Energy CEO Jeff Lyash to find a location for the new stadium. Those discussions are ongoing.
DAWSON SHOOTING STIRS UP OLD FEARS: Javon Dawson, a 17-year-old Gibbs High School student, was killed outside a chaotic graduation party in June after police said he pointed his revolver at an officer, who then shot him. Dawson's family said he was murdered. For five months, elected officials pleaded for calm as the Police Department investigated the death. Officer Terrence Nemeth was eventually cleared by the State Attorney's Office, the Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. There were no riots, affirming many community leaders' belief that the city has come a long way since the police shooting of TyRon Lewis led to days of racial disturbances in 1996.
BAYWALK IN FORECLOSURE: When the $50-million entertainment complex opened in 2000, city leaders predicted BayWalk would save downtown. Now, it's BayWalk that needs saving. Developer Sembler Co. sold the complex to Fred Bullard, a partner in the complex, in September. Two months later, Wells Fargo Bank filed a suit seeking foreclosure on BayWalk's mortgage. In December, Bullard announced he wanted to avoid drawn-out foreclosure proceedings and would surrender the deed to the downtown entertainment complex and walk away.
CITY SCORED HIGH-TECH JOBS: Nearly two years after state and city leaders wooed SRI International to the area, construction on the high-tech giant's new downtown research facility kicked off in October with a groundbreaking ceremony. City leaders hope the 38,000-square-foot, city-owned facility next to the University of South Florida St. Petersburg will mark a new era in job creation and encourage other high-tech companies to make St. Petersburg their home, which is already happening. In 2008, the city also offered millions in incentives to Boston-area Draper Laboratory and Jabil Circuit of St. Petersburg if the companies create hundreds of new jobs.
Pinellas Trail crawls downtown: The city celebrated the grand opening in October of a 2.1-mile extension of the Pinellas Trail that linked 34th Street to First Avenue S through the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.
RAYS MAKE WORLD SERIES: Children skipped school to watch history. Esteemed leaders donned blue Mohawks. The City Council sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game on television every week. The Tampa Bay Rays lost the World Series, but the road to the championship series was never dull.
FOOTBALL COMES TO TOWN: The inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl drew just over 25,200 fans to Tropicana Field earlier this month, exceeding the expectations of community leaders who feared an empty stadium. Hotels were packed during the usually quiet December weekend and locals were thrilled when the University of South Florida Bulls took home the trophy.
Cristina Silva, Times Staff Writer