Charlie Frago, Times Staff Writer

Charlie Frago

Charlie Frago covers Clearwater for the Tampa Bay Times. Before joining the Times, he covered Medicaid expansion, state government and prisons for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock. Frago has also worked for the Greensboro News & Record in North Carolina and the City News Bureau of Chicago. In 2011-12, Frago was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. He joined the Times in May 2013.

Phone: (727) 445-4159


Twitter: @CharlieFrago

  1. Prospect Lake apartment project slowed by muck


    CLEARWATER — A long-awaited renewal project on a faded edge of downtown has been unexpectedly delayed yet again, this time by muck.

    Lots of the oozy, decomposing organic material created decades ago by stormwater runoff has been found underground all over the six-acre site around Prospect Lake, where more than 250 high-end apartments are planned.

    The spongy ground has pushed back action on a development agreement until early June. Now, the developer says construction isn't likely to start before the fall. When the City Council approved the project in June, ground was to be broken this month. ...

    A decomposing, spongy, organic material created decades ago by stormwater runoff has been found underground throughout the six-acre Prospect Lake redevelopment area.
  2. Church of Scientology wins approval for building to store parishioner records


    The Community Development Board Tuesday unanimously approved a Church of Scientology warehouse to be built in the city’s industrial corridor.

    The nearly 90,000-square-foot warehouse will be used to house parishioner records, according to an application submitted by the church.

    Church officials declined further comment Tuesday.

    Board members wanted to know more about why the church would only provide 10 parking spaces for a building zoned for 133 spaces on the southeast corner of N Hercules Avenue and Calumet Street....

  3. Private beach spat hot topic for Clearwater City Council

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER — A long-running fight that erupted after some north Clearwater Beach residents roped off sections of the sand and declared them private has gained the attention of a wary City Hall.

    Until now, city officials had treated the dispute as a private spat among residents. But tonight, the council will decide if the city should hire a retired judge or a lawyer to try to resolve the issue....

    Some property owners in north Clearwater Beach say they have a legal right to block off stretches of sand for private use.
  4. Largo hospital's Clearwater facility will be latest in trend of standalone ERs


    CLEARWATER — When Largo Medical Center executives wielded golden shovels this week to break ground for a standalone emergency room on one of Clearwater's busiest thoroughfares, they were mirroring a national trend: hospitals carving out highly profitable ER niches in each other's territory.

    Clearwater's Morton Plant Hospital did the same thing six years ago, opening one of the state's first standalone ERs in Bardmoor in Largo Med's back yard. ...

    A groundbreaking ceremony was held this week for a standalone ER operated by Largo Medical Center.
  5. Clearwater City Manager is sticking around


    CLEARWATER—City Manager Bill Horne said Wednesday that he has no plans to retire this year and hopes to squelch a rumor to that effect spreading through the city.

    Horne, the chief administrator of Tampa Bay’s third-largest city since 2000, said several people had approached him in recent days to ask him if he intended to retire at the end of this year....

  6. New U.S. 19 overpass at Gulf-to-Bay scheduled to open this week



    After more than four years of disgruntled business owners, frustrated motorists and seemingly countless orange barrels, this week motorists will get their first glimpse of a less fury-inducing future on a 2.7-mile stretch of U.S. 19 between Whitney Road and Drew Street.

    A new four-lane overpass decorated with a seashell motif will open over Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard on Thursday (barring weather delays) — initially for southbound traffic only. It will eliminate what is sure to be a little-missed traffic signal at Seville Boulevard....

    A worker prepares an area of the Belleair Road/Allen’s Creek bridge for the installation of girders, part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s $114 million project.
  7. Will Clearwater hop on bike-sharing trend?


    CLEARWATER — The satellite signal to the computer in the modest blue bike — a box nestled between the seat and rear tire — wasn't working inside the thick walls of the Salvation Army's Joy Center.

    But Eric Trull was undeterred.

    Quickly punching in a four-digit code, Trull unlocked the bike and, possibly, a vision for Clearwater's future.

    "We have the momentum here. Everybody is talking about it. … We're working as a region, finally," Trull, a marketing and outreach employee for Coast Bike Share, told the gathering of neighborhood activists at the Joy Center last week....

    Coast Bike Share employs blue cruisers that can be rented through a smartphone app.
  8. Vice Mayor of Clearwater proves to be tempting prize


    CLEARWATER-- After wishing farewell to outgoing Vice Mayor Paul Gibson on Thursday, the City Council got busy selecting his successor to the ceremonial position.

    The job, which mainly involves filling in for the mayor when he is absent or on a bathroom break during meetings, proved to be an appealing prize for three council members. Bill Jonson, Jay Polglaze and Doreen Hock-DiPolito all threw their political hats into the ring.  ...

  9. Clearwater City Council mulls beach parking options



    City traffic engineers recommended Monday that the city not convert Poinsettia Avenue and Eastshore Drive into one-way streets to accommodate a new parking garage on Clearwater Beach --- at least not right away.

    “Our recommendation is that we build the garage and then look at making a change in the traffic pattern if it looks like there’s a problem with the garage in operation,” said Paul Bertels, the city’s traffic operations manager at a City Council work session. ...

  10. A bike trail from Tampa to Clearwater Beach draws closer to reality

    Human Interest


    For ambitious cyclists who dream of saddling up on Ben T. Davis Beach in Tampa and a few hours later easing sore muscles into the Gulf of Mexico, more than 7 miles of trails slated to be completed in the city by late 2016 would make the bay-to-gulf ride a reality.

    A biker who started pedaling on the Tampa end of the Courtney Campbell Causeway would take a patchwork of trails through Clearwater that are either already open, under construction or planned: ...

    A wide sidewalk lines Druid Road on the south edge of Glen Oak Park in Clearwater. The city is working on expanding connectors to existing bike trails.
  11. Daughter of pilot killed in Safety Harbor plane crash has died


    SAFETY HARBOR — The daughter of the pilot who died in a small plane crash early Saturday on McMullen-Booth Road also has died from her injuries, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.

    Katherine Bronken, 15, died Wednesday afternoon.

    Jeffrey Bronken, 53, his daughter and her friend Keyana Linbo, 15, were headed to Clearwater from Chicago when the small plane Bronken was piloting crashed Saturday about 4 a.m....

    About 40 residents attend a vigil Wednesday at the John Wilson Park Gazebo in Safety Harbor for the families of the plane crash victims. Tea light candles border a large heart filled with colorful scarves as soft music plays in the background.
  12. Scientology's leader reaches out to mend fences with Clearwater

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER — After months of discord between his church and the city, Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige reached out this week to Clearwater leaders, arranging a sit-down in the church's Fort Harrison Hotel to iron out their differences.

    The hour-long meeting between City Manager Bill Horne and Miscavige on Thursday included discussion of long-simmering issues between Clearwater and the church, which makes its spiritual home in Tampa Bay's third-largest city....

    Bill Horne, the city manager, said a site for a city parking garage was discussed.
  13. City, developer agree to partner on new Clearwater Beach parking garage


    CLEARWATER — Drivers competing in the Hunger Games-like spring break ritual of finding parking on Clearwater Beach can take heart: A nearly 700-car parking garage near bustling Mandalay Avenue could open by next year.

    The City Council unanimously approved a letter of intent Thursday with Paradise Group LLC, a Safety Harbor developer, to cooperate on a new garage behind Pelican Walk Plaza at Mandalay Avenue and Baymont Street....

  14. Fiscal hawk Gibson prepares to leave Clearwater City Council


    CLEARWATER — Paul Gibson was elected to City Council in 2007, just in time for an extended economic downturn that strained city finances, resulting in waves of program cuts, layoffs and early retirements.

    Most of those cuts were necessary to bring municipal spending in line with revenues, Gibson said Monday.

    "If you were to ask the average taxpayer if they've noticed a difference? They would say no," said Gibson, 65, who moved to Clearwater in 1997. ...

    Paul Gibson: The council is largely cured of “spendicitis.”
  15. No 'hospitality" offered: Red-light camera vendor tells Clearwater


    CLEARWATER—An Arizona company embroiled in legal wrangling over alleged bribery of public officials told city officials last week that no “hospitality” was offered in any of its dealings with Clearwater.

    The city had asked for the accounting after a  former executive filed a lawsuit against RedFlex Traffic Systems alleging  that bribing municipal official in 13 states, including Florida, was a common company practice....