Thursday, January 18, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: A better plan for new aquarium

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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Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18