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TGH wants to offer free parking

When the poor in Hillsborough County need a doctor, they often go to Tampa General Hospital.

Once they get there, however, they cannot always afford to park, and hospital administrators want to change that.

Tampa General vice president and chief information officer Dennis DeMasie said hospital administrators hope to begin providing free parking for patients and visitors.

"It's a real big issue with folks," he said. "We're running into situations pretty much on a daily basis where people don't have the money to pay to park and visit their sick relatives." Parking in the garage costs $1 an hour, with a $5-a-day maximum.

City and hospital officials, including Tampa General chief executive officer Fred Karl and Mayor Dick Greco, met June 19 to discuss whether the hospital could take control of the city's 3,000-space Davis Islands parking garage.

As proposed, the hospital would pay the city a single monthly payment for the use of the garage. In theory, the arrangement would allow the city to eliminate its current expenses for staffing, running and collecting money at the facility.

In this year's budget, the city anticipates collecting $1.45-million from people who pay a monthly fee to park at the garage. Revenues from daily parking are expected to total $644,462.

Although Greco told Karl at the meeting that he would be willing to consider changing the arrangements about who controls the garage, city parking manager Gene Bressler said discussions are still "really preliminary."

One big question still to be answered is whether Tampa General, a hospital with well-publicized financial problems, could afford to run the city's garage.

"We're going to see," said DeMasie, who is waiting to hear from the city about its expenses for the garage before discussions go any further. "I'm hoping that the number they come up with is one we can live with. If it's not, then that's not something we can do."


Proposed apartment complex recommended

A proposed apartment complex in Northdale moved closer to reality this week, with a favorable ruling by a county zoning official.

Hearing master John Crislip has recommended that Altman Development Corp. of Boca Raton be allowed to develop a 9-acre property at Northdale Boulevard and Spring Pine Drive for multifamily housing. The area master plan now calls for offices at the site.

Altman hopes to build two- and three-story apartment buildings in a complex that could bring 140 families into the area.

Homeowners in the neighboring Gables I community have protested the project, saying it will spoil the view they now enjoy from their back yards.

Altman has pledged to lessen the impact with features that include a 6-foot wall, a landscape buffer and a layout that concentrates apartments away from homeowners' property lines.

The land use change must still be approved by the Hillsborough County Commission. A hearing is set for 9 a.m. July 18.


Lawyer accused of stealing $400,000 has bail lowered

Tampa lawyer Paul Nelson always thought his next personal injury case would be the big payoff, so he used one client's settlement to pay expenses on the next client's case.

But after a couple of big claims fell flat with juries and judges earlier this year, Nelson's pyramid-scheme of a law practice collapsed. His own staff reported him to the Florida Bar. The Florida Supreme Court issued an emergency suspension against Nelson last week.

Tuesday, the stakes grew higher. Nelson, 50, surrendered to prosecutors, who have charged him with stealing more than $400,000 from 53 clients. He argued that $150,000 bail was too high.

Nelson's attorney, Patrick Doherty of Clearwater, told Acting Hillsborough Circuit Judge Walter Heinrich that Nelson has about $2.5-million in fees coming from cases he referred to other lawyers but needs to be out of jail to work on those cases.

Heinrich was curious how Nelson could do that because he is suspended. Doherty said Nelson would do paralegal work and consult on technical areas of the cases.

"I want to pay these clients," Nelson told the judge. "I did not deliberately try to rip anybody off."

But in a letter to the Florida Bar, Nelson's employees said he sometimes settled some clients' claims for less than they were worth and used the money to buy an expensive car, jewelry, a golf cart and a home in Colorado in addition to payroll and other office expenses.

Doherty conceded Assistant State Attorney Robert Shimberg's claim that the money is missing, but said Nelson is "literally down to his last dime."

Heinrich finally agreed to bail of $30,000, Nelson's estimated equity in his $275,000 Temple Terrace home. Nelson has until today at 6 p.m. to turn himself in for booking at the Hillsborough County Jail.