Sunday, November 19, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: A better plan for new aquarium

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The rehabilitation mission that has always made the Clearwater Marine Aquarium such a special place, even as it struggled in some years in a renovated sewage treatment plant, is now front and center in plans for a proposed new facility downtown. That's encouraging, and it has the added benefit of being less expensive than the original vision, significantly increasing the chance of success. The goal should be to create a quality destination in Tampa Bay that also makes financial sense.

Aquarium officials, who revealed updated plans Friday, are clearly hoping to capitalize on next month's release of Dolphin Tale 2, the sequel to the film that introduced the world to the amazing story of the aquarium's tailless dolphin, Winter. The hope is that at least $24 million of the proposed $68 million for the facility will come from private donations — with at least $16 million raised by the time the aquarium needs to break ground on the new site to comply with the time frame voters approved in November. Voters approved letting the aquarium, now housed on Island Estates, have a lease on the downtown land where City Hall stands if the project is financed by Aug. 1, 2016.

Still unclear is where the rest of the money will come from. Organizers are hoping to tap county hotel bed tax dollars and other public financing mechanisms, including property tax increment financing, for most of it. The aquarium's odds of winning some taxpayer help are far greater if organizers show significant private donations on hand before asking for public dollars.

What is encouraging is that aquarium advocates have done exactly what they pledged to do after November's vote: Right-size what was clearly a too-ambitious plan for a $160 million facility. The new plan still calls for a 200,000-square-foot facility, but now one-quarter of that footprint is dedicated to outdoor exhibits, reducing costs and taking advantage of Florida's temperate weather most of the year. Gone is the 2,000-seat amphitheater that had anticipated dolphin shows — a prospect that in the long term risked falling under the same scrutiny as SeaWorld has in recent months for its killer whale shows.

The top floor of the facility will feature banquet space large enough to seat 700 for a sit-down meal — the kind of space that North Pinellas has been lacking in recent years with the close of the city's Harborview Center and the Belleview Biltmore Hotel in Belleair. The banquet hall, which will be dividable, is designed to take advantage of both the aquarium's visual assets — such as a two-story coral reef tank — and the extraordinary water views from Clearwater's bluff. The resulting space is a promising revenue generator for the nonprofit aquarium. The new design also moved outdoor public spaces to the south side of the building, providing more buffer for downtown residents in neighboring condominium towers.

This is still a project with much uncertainty. But with more reasonable ambitions it looks far more pragmatic. The next step is to capitalize on next month's movie release and find significant private donations for a vision that could transform downtown Clearwater.

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Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

Editorial: Vets should not have to wait years for benefits

American military members hurt in service to their country should not have to wait a lifetime for the benefits they deserve. But that’s a reality of the disability process at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which hasn’t made payi...
Published: 11/14/17

Editorial: Deputies’ rescue reflects best in law enforcement

The bravery two Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies showed a week ago is a credit to them and reflects the professionalism of the office.Deputies Benjamin Thompson and Trent Migues responded at dusk Nov. 11 after 82-year-old Leona Evans of Webster...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/17/17

Another voice: An untrustworthy deal with Russia

President Donald Trump’s latest defense of Russian leader Vladimir Putin included — along with a bow to his denials of meddling in the U.S. election — an appeal to pragmatism. "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,"...
Published: 11/13/17
Updated: 11/14/17