After Monday night's candidate forum in East Lake, it's clear that Greenlight Pinellas supporters need to get more aggressive in delivering their message in north Pinellas County. No Tax for Tracks, an anti-Greenlight group, dominated the visuals with sign waving and greeters. And just three of the eight Republican County Commission candidates who showed up said publicly that they support the plan, which would greatly expand bus service and create a 24-mile light rail line. ...
I'm amazed when I mention Clearwater to individuals who don't live anywhere near here how often they will respond with, "Oh, I've been to Clearwater. Great beach." Or even if they've never been here, they will know something about Clearwater: "Winter the dolphin!" they'll say, or "The Hulkster!"
Clearwater is internationally known for its wide sugar-sand beach, one of the top destinations on the gulf coast even before the construction of the iconic BeachWalk and new resorts. But there is a lot more than the beach that draws people and attention to Clearwater and establishes its reputation....
In Palm Harbor, which as recently as the 1960s was mostly orange groves and farms but now bustles with some 65,000 people, there aren't a lot of historic landmarks left.
A 1921 hurricane damaged the landscape and some of the few buildings there at the time. The community's most noteworthy building, the multistory brick Southern College administration building, burned in 1921. A few historic structures survive, mostly clustered in downtown Palm Harbor, but many fell to the persistent march of new subdivisions and office buildings....
Almost 10 years ago, five Clearwater City Council members had a vision of a modernized, successful Clearwater Beach, and they were willing to take a bold step they felt would make that vision a reality.
The council members at that time — Mayor Frank Hibbard, Hoyt Hamilton, John Doran, Bill Jonson and Carlen Petersen — committed to building Beach Walk, a $30 million meandering public walkway and gathering place they believed would be a game changer on a beach that was looking dated and attracting fewer tourists....
When a consulting group begins its report with an apology to those it is about to offend, what's coming is bound to be controversial. Brad Rogers of the Urban Land Institute didn't flinch last week when delivering his report about downtown Clearwater to officials and residents.
"It is entirely apparent that you are a very divided community . . . and that division hits all the hot buttons of our day — race, class, language, ethnicity, religion . . . Everyone is feeling frustrated, ignored, under-appreciated, stymied. This is the most important reason Clearwater has not reached its potential....
On a spring night 16 years ago, Clearwater city leaders made a decision they said was based on common sense: They voted to replace the aging, overcrowded East Branch library on Drew Street with a new joint-use library on the St. Petersburg College campus a half-mile down the street.
They had specifics: The new college library would be expanded by 30,000 square feet to accommodate the public library use; the college would provide a 125-space public parking lot; the city, to cover costs, would tap Penny for Pinellas dollars and grants and proceeds from selling the East Branch property....
A few years ago I spent a couple of hours walking around the former Stauffer Chemical site outside Tarpon Springs. Even if I hadn't known anything about the property, one look at the 130-acre swath of mostly bare land would have convinced me it was a dangerous place: Men dressed head to toe in white protective suits were standing guard over rusty barrels in an open, round concrete basin about the size of a city swimming pool....
That's how the public typically reacts when a city government is developing next year's budget. During more than 25 years of covering local governments, mostly in northern Pinellas County, I've sat time after time in a sea of empty chairs while officials discussed how to spend taxpayers' money.
So I was astonished when I walked into a recent St. Petersburg budget meeting and found the room packed. Three hours and some 50 speakers later, I had witnessed an unexpected difference between the northern and southern halves of Pinellas. When St. Petersburg residents were invited to help set city spending priorities, they showed up. They brought their passions, personal stories and visions of a better community. They even brought poetry....
East Lake Fire Chief Tom Jamison has been in the fire and rescue service for 22 years. The details of most of the calls he's been on have faded. But not the drownings or near-drownings of children. Jamison, 55, says he remembers every detail of those.
"I can remember what the kids' faces looked like, where it happened," he said. "The details get burned into your memory."
His first was while he was still in paramedic training, around 1991. The crew arrived to find a 2-year-old girl who had been pulled from the water and was clinically dead, he said. The crew worked feverishly, desperate to bring her back. She was revived, Jamison said, and recovered without the brain damage that sometimes is the lasting effect of nearly drowning....
It's 11 p.m. Saturday and I am walking down Clearwater Beach's Mandalay Avenue, prepared to be assaulted by a barrage of unbearable noise.
That's how some residents of the Mandalay Beach Club describe the sound on the island's main street. At this hour they are presumably tucked into bed in their gulf-front condos on the west side of Mandalay Avenue. The twin towers rise into the night sky like white apparitions, many of their windows dark....
The excitement some Dunedin officials and residents are expressing over a proposed project on the west end of Main Street almost feels out of proportion to its size.
The long-vacant lot at 200 Main St. is only 1.27 acres, yet people can scarcely contain themselves when talking about St. Petersburg developer Mike Cheezem's plan for 30 condos and a retail strip there one block off St. Joseph Sound....
Driving on U.S. 19 through Clearwater these days reminds me of those old movies that show covered wagons laboring across the West. The wagons tilt, bounce and swerve over the uneven terrain on trips that seem primed for disaster.
It's similarly jarring and challenging to drive U.S. 19 between Whitney Road and Countryside Boulevard. That stretch is being converted to a limited access highway in a massive project that started in 2009 and was projected to finish in 2013 … then 2014 … now late 2015....
When my son enrolled at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus but didn't yet own a car, I didn't expect him to have any trouble getting to class. There was a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus stop on Belcher Road a half-mile from our front door. He could walk to the bus stop and take the bus 2 more miles to the campus.
Or that's what I thought. But a little research on PSTA's website showed us that the bus on Belcher Road didn't go to the campus. It turned and went to downtown Clearwater....
Pinellas Democratic Party leaders offer all sorts of reasons for the Republican sweep of county races in an election where voters delivered a tsunami of support for the Democratic presidential candidate.
Here's a reason they aren't likely to mention: With few exceptions, the Democrats fielded a pitiful slate of county candidates — people who were inexperienced, unknown, underfunded and unable to compete. No wonder so many voters colored in the oval beside Barack Obama's name and then jumped ship to vote for Republicans for county offices....
Who would want to be a county administrator in this struggling economy, in a state beset by problems? Bob LaSala, that's who.
So what if the economy is in the toilet? Who cares if being a county administrator here these days is less about "visioning" for the future and more about retrenchment? For LaSala, being Pinellas County administrator would be the job of a lifetime. ...