Monday, June 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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Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

Editorial: Educate voters on Amendment 4 and restoring felons’ rights

This fall voters will have 13 constitutional amendments to wade through on the ballot, but Amendment 4 should get special focus. It represents a rare opportunity to rectify a grievous provision in the Florida Constitution, which permanently revokes t...
Published: 06/13/18
Updated: 06/14/18
Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

Editorial: How Florida and the Trump administration are tampering with your health care

The Trump administration just can’t stop sabotaging Americans’ access to health care. Instead of giving up after it failed to persuade Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it continues to quietly undermine the law in ways that would reduce acc...
Published: 06/12/18
Updated: 06/15/18