Nov. 5 Clearwater referendum on new aquarium
A true love story from an outsider
I moved to St. Petersburg from Savannah, Ga., three years ago. You may be thinking, why should we care what a non-Clearwater resident thinks, but please hear me out.
Within three weeks of living in Florida, I heard about Winter and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and came over to Clearwater to spend the day visiting CMA, the beach and eating at Island Way Grill. My husband and I fell in love. Sometimes I feel like the St. Pete/Clearwater fan club, because I love bragging to my friends and family about the phenomenal place we now call home.
Every time we have company in town, we spend a day at Clearwater, and every time, we go to CMA. I have been too many times to count now, but I have the same feeling of pride when I go.
CMA is different from most aquariums in that the animals are not sought out; CMA is not keeping them from the wild for any reason other than necessity. These animals need the CMA because they are unable to live in the wild for various reasons.
It pains me to know that there are so many other animals out there that need help, but due to space restrictions cannot be taken in. These beautiful individuals deserve more than a former waste-water treatment facility, and CMA wants to give them more and can! With the sequel to Dolphin Tale coming out next year, now is the time to fund raise and build a new home for Winter, Hope, Nicholas and the rest of the CMA family.
I understand the citizens' hesitation, as the new building is not a guarantee — lots of funds have to be raised, and many stars need to align.
All I ask is that you give CMA a chance to do this — to improve, to help more animals and to provide all of us with even more to brag about in Clearwater.
Change is always hard, but please trust me when I say that the risks here will not be absorbed by you as taxpayers. CMA is not purchasing the land at less than market value, as I've heard — in fact, it is quite the opposite. CMA is leasing the land, so that it will remain owned by Clearwater, and the amount is well above fair market value.
I love Clearwater and everything it stands for — the charm, the history, the beauty, the community — so much so that I regularly drive over an hour from my office in Tampa and my home in downtown St. Petersburg. My hope is that you will stand together on this and give CMA an opportunity to become more and meet the needs of the animals we protect and the people who love them.
Meredith Gaunce, St. Petersburg
A win-win for city, aquarium
As a longtime volunteer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium and a business owner in Clearwater, I have to respond to many incorrect statements and misconceptions about the Nov. 5 referendum on the negotiation of a lease for the new CMA location in downtown Clearwater.
My family has been here since 1921. I have great respect and love for the city of Clearwater. I would never have any association with any facility that was disingenuous.
This new aquarium would be a win-win situation for CMA and the citizens Clearwater — not only for tourism, but for hundreds of new jobs and finally, a destination, together with the Capitol Theatre, for residents and tourists to come and enjoy our downtown and our beaches.
The referendum is merely to permit the City Council to negotiate a lease with CMA. If CMA doesn't come up with the money (to build the aquarium) by August 2016, then it doesn't happen. The citizens of Clearwater are not on the "hook" for anything. If CMA doesn't get the funding, it won't happen. The city will not be guaranteeing any of CMA's obligations.
The city is not giving or even selling this land to CMA. CMA is paying far more than fair market value just to lease the land. On top of that, CMA is paying to build a brand new City Hall, something that the taxpayers will have to pay for if the referendum does not pass.
This referendum is just to say yes to negotiations between CMA and the city and the opportunity to make Clearwater the city the citizens want it to be.
Linda Griffin, Clearwater
Aquarium plan is indeed a gamble
The Times recommends a yes vote on the Clearwater Marine Aquarium deal for Clearwater. In the second paragraph it states, "Now the aquarium's leaders are asking city voters to gamble they can do even more remarkable things for the local economy..."
I thought this was presented as a no-brainer. The taxpayers of Clearwater are sure winners.
So everyone understands, a "yes" vote only gives the city permission to negotiate a deal with the aquarium. If they receive that permission, the City Council can do whatever it wants. All the ticket revenue and future rent are just plans. There is no signed contract.
Next, the aquarium will be asking the federal, state and local governments for up to $60 million for this project. In other words, more taxpayer dollars.
One thing that I have not read about is ticket prices for the new aquarium. General admission for the present aquarium ranges from $12.95 to $15.95 to $17.95 and, I assume, plus sales tax. What are the projected prices for the new facility? What kind of attendance can be expected if prices double? And just what are the exact attendance numbers for the past five years?
I think the Times has it correct. It is a big gamble.
John Blechschmidt, Clearwater
Inflation factor a reason to vote no
Clearwater voters should be alert to a very serious flaw in the proposed long-term lease of our valuable City Hall property before our Nov. 5th referendum vote: the $250,000 annual lease to be paid by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium has no inflation clause.
Many of us are old enough to remember 60 years ago when a new sedan cost about $3,000 rather than $25,000, when gasoline was 29 cents a gallon rather than $3.25, and when a postage stamp was 3 cents rather than 45 cents. Like it or not, inflation is a way of life, and we can only imagine how much the purchasing power of $250,000 will shrivel over the next 60 years.
So, to avoid leaving an unfair legacy to future Clearwater citizens, I urge you to vote no on our referendum ballot.
Bill Schwob, Clearwater
Shutoff reaction a disappointment
On Oct. 9, Duke Energy erroneously cut off my tenant's electric service. I had paid the bill at a pay station and payment was put on another rental's account.
I immediately called customer service, as my tenant is on oxygen. I called and spoke to three different employees throughout the day who advised there was nothing that could be done to expedite turning service back on. The turn-on order was in the hands of dispatch. Maybe your tenant should drive himself to the mall, one Duke Energy employee suggested.
Ten hours later, electric was on. Three employees did not have the common sense to recognize that someone without oxygen is an emergency situation.
If this is an example of what to expect from Duke Energy, we should be on alert. A representative called the next day to apologize, but this was not a complicated situation to remedy.
My expectations of Duke Energy have diminished. Can you blame me?
Peggy Page, Clearwater