Monday, December 18, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Vote of confidence for new Clearwater aquarium

Winter the tailless dolphin soon could have a new home. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium's surprising victory Tuesday in persuading voters to embrace an opportunity to build a state-of-the-art facility on the downtown bluff could be a game changer for Pinellas County's second-largest city. Now the challenge falls to city officials to negotiate a contract with the aquarium that protects taxpayers, and to the aquarium to fine-tune its plan to ensure success, including raising the private money to support it.

Tuesday's vote was only the second time in 13 years that city voters have agreed to alter the protected downtown waterfront. It came amid vigorous objections, particularly from some downtown residents who would be the aquarium's neighbors. But it also suggests voters saw value in expanding a significant tourist and educational asset with better facilities in a downtown dominated by the Church of Scientology. Also sweetening the deal: Tuesday's vote could provide needed financing to replace an outdated City Hall.

The first order of business for the aquarium, now located in a rehabilitated sewage treatment plant in Island Estates on Clearwater Beach, will be to determine whether it needs to downsize its ambitious plan to build a 200,000-square-foot, $160 million facility — even in light of a pending sequel to Dolphin Tale, the movie that made Winter a worldwide sensation. The current plan would require private fundraising that is unprecedented in Tampa Bay, and the facility's projection of 2 million visitors a year is optimistic in a region with another major aquarium.

The Clearwater aquarium already has engaged a consultant to assess the feasibility of its plan, and its board members have committed to adapt ambitions appropriately. That is an absolute necessity, particularly given the aquarium's plan to seek a portion of the county's bed tax that becomes available after Tropicana Field's debt is paid off in 2015. The aquarium will have a far stronger case for bed tax dollars if it shows up with significant private donations in hand and a business plan that isn't financed primarily by public dollars.

Wisely, the ballot language approved Tuesday is conditional. Nothing will go forward unless the aquarium can raise the money it needs for construction by August 2016. Only then are city officials authorized to sign a 60-year lease with the nonprofit in exchange for $7.5 million from ticket sales to build a new City Hall at an undetermined site, and eventually, $250,000 in lease payments annually for the life of the lease.

The chance for Winter to get a new home and build on the aquarium's amazing success increased Tuesday, but it is far from a done deal. Now it's up to aquarium and city leaders to build on voters' trust and fine-tune a plan that has the potential to be a tremendous asset to the city and the entire region.

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Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17