Aquarium needs downtown locale
After buying a home and moving from the Chicago area to Clearwater over 10 years ago, my wife and I discovered the wonderful work being done by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and immediately began volunteering our time to help the struggling marine animal rescue/hospital.
With new management and staff, a more supportive board, and help from a little dolphin by the name of Winter who lost her tail, CMA began to grow and mature in the ability to carry out its mission of preserving our marine life and environment while inspiring the human spirit through leadership in education, rescue, rehabilitation and release.
During 2012, CMA experienced more growth than any year since it was founded in 1972. Awareness of its work became global in late 2011 with the release of Dolphin Tale, the heartwarming story of Winter who became a star because of her determination and CMA's role in developing the first prosthetic tail for a dolphin.
As a direct result, CMA became recognized as one of the foremost leaders in marine wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. CMA's attendance tripled in 2012 with over 750,000 guests visiting this former wastewater treatment plant and 2013 continued to be extremely busy as well.
And when the new movie sequel now being filmed is released in a few months, the world will learn more about CMA and its work and crowds will continue to come to see the dolphin stars and their home.
Today my wife and I are still CMA volunteers and have watched this organization grow and prosper. But CMA has totally outgrown its aging facility and, with its global exposure brought about by two movies, it appears that the crowds will continue to come.
CMA will not be able to provide the quality educational experience to its guests that a larger facility can provide. Expansion of the aquarium is best downtown, where there is space to accommodate expected future visitors. A downtown location would offer additional parking and the space for a modern, world-class aquarium while providing the economic engine to allow CMA to re-focus its efforts at the Island Estates facility on the rescue and rehabilitation part of the mission.
Opponents say it is a risky endeavor. Proponents say it is visionary and could provide huge economic benefits to downtown and local businesses as well as reduce traffic on the Memorial Causeway and in Island Estates.
CMA has proposed a financing structure to construct a new aquarium that places the financial risk fully on CMA. Neither property tax nor the city's general fund dollars are at risk. CMA will not own the land on which the new aquarium will be built but will lease the land from the city and will build its own aquarium. And the city will not guarantee any of CMA's obligations.
All CMA is asking for is permission from Clearwater's voters to have the opportunity to raise the funds to construct a new home downtown for its resident animals. That is what the referendum is all about.
If the referendum fails, CMA will continue its good work but will also have to try to determine how to deal with crowds, traffic and parking in its current location, where there is just not enough space to accommodate all that. I believe this would be a lost opportunity for both CMA and for our city.
John Draheim, Clearwater
Razing buildings a sign of times?
Once again, local officials want Clearwater voters to approve a plan which, among other things, will result in a new City Hall. The current City Hall dates from 1965 and, of course, is no longer adequate. Just 48 years old and no longer good enough.
The city of Clearwater is hardly alone, though, in wanting to knock down "inadequate" buildings.
The School Board, after knocking down numerous middle schools and replacing them for millions of dollars, wants to raze Largo High School, the oldest portion of which dates from just 1957, and replace it with a $70 million facility.
Several years ago, the folks responsible for Condon Gardens public housing knocked it down. It was, after all, 32 years old. The city, county, state and feds knocked down the Memorial Causeway Bridge, though it still had 20 years of life left, and replaced it with a new $70 million structure. The one-time junior college on Drew Street, the oldest portion of which dates from 1965, now wants to knock down many of its buildings. They are, after all, 48 years old.
I realize that things do change over time and need to be renovated, enlarged or yes, on occasion, replaced. City halls, though, should last longer than 48 years.
Eric Jacobsen, Clearwater
Elderly need love at Christmas, too
I am an employee at Countryside Healthcare, a nursing home in Clearwater. Every year you see all kinds of advertisements for donating Christmas presents to children, but no one thinks about our forgotten elderly residents at Christmas time.
So many elderly people have no family to give them Christmas presents so I am asking your readers to please donate a sweat shirt or some sweat pants to our forgotten elderly in nursing homes. If you would like, contact me at Countryside Healthcare, (727) 784-2848. Thank you in advance for your kindness.
Evelyn Frank, Palm Harbor