DISNEY GETS BULLET TRAIN; DOWNTOWN TAMPA DOESN'T: If it is ever built, Florida's bullet train would stop at Walt Disney World and bypass Orange County's sprawling convention center and Disney's competitors.
And when the train reached Hillsborough County, it would stop at a station near Interstates 4 and 275 instead of continuing to Union Station in downtown Tampa.
In what could be an exercise in futility, the state's High Speed Rail Authority voted 7-1 this past week to run the train along a route favored by Disney. It hopes to build a station on Disney property and ferry nearly 2.2-million tourists who travel annually between Disney theme parks and Orlando International Airport.
The trains would travel between Walt Disney World and Orlando International Airport along a route that bypasses such entertainment draws as Universal Studios.
The authority studied two possibilities for Tampa. One would divert the bullet train from the high-speed rail tracks along Interstate 4 onto existing CSX tracks and into Tampa's Union Station. The other, chosen by the authority, keeps the train on the I-4 route with a new station at the junction of I-4 and I-275.
"Union Station is a beautiful building, but there's no way to get a train from there on to St. Petersburg," said state Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. "The West Shore area is right in the way."
Still, the future of high-speed rail in Florida is very much in doubt. Gov. Jeb Bush, who has opposed the bullet train that voters approved as a constitutional amendment in 2000, stripped nearly all the money for planning from this year's budget.
DESAL BUILDER FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY: The builder of the Tampa Bay area's huge desalination plant filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, preventing Tampa Bay Water from firing the company and hiring someone else to finish the $110-million job.
Construction of the Apollo Beach plant was completed last spring, but sporadic water production has required further work.
Tampa Bay Water is counting on the plant to produce a sixth of the utility's needs _ or about 25-million gallons out of 150-million gallons a day. But recently the plant has not cranked out a single drop, utility officials say.
Covanta Tampa Construction filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy even as the company was negotiating with Tampa Bay Water to avoid being fired in two weeks.
"To us, this amounts to a betrayal of the public trust," Tampa Bay Water general counsel Don Conn said.
But Covanta officials say that by filing for bankruptcy, they have guaranteed they will finish the plant with no increase in cost, rather than some other contractor stepping in and doing the job for more money.
REPORT BACKS REROUTING OF EGYPT LAKE POWER POLES: Tampa Electric Co. has maintained that putting new transmission lines on Waters Avenue is problematic. The right of way is already crowded. Costs would climb.
And that's why the company decided to erect 125-foot poles to carry the lines through a couple of neighborhoods in the Egypt Lake area of northwest Hillsborough County.
But consultants hired by the lawyer representing more than three dozen Egypt Lake residents said Tuesday that Waters Avenue is actually a better route for the power poles, both for the public and for the utility.
A TECO spokesman said the utility is in fact examining Waters as an option for relocating the transmission route, but that it's not as simple as the consultants say it is.
OLD MEETING HOUSE CLOSES: In many ways, the legendary South Tampa diner called the Old Meeting House died on a September day back in 1997. After 50 years, Jim Strickland had sold it to new owners.
They put in new tables, tweaked the menu and hired younger faces. But the ice cream was still homemade, and that old lanternlike sign still turned out in front of 901 S Howard Ave. Regulars who had come for generations for breakfast, burgers and ice cream stuck it out.
But today, the Old Meeting House will close its doors again. This time for good.
"It's really just not economically feasible to continue," said owner Matthew Hoffman, who himself began going to the restaurant as a kid in Tampa.