INDOOR POT FARMS: In separate raids last weekend, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies seized more than 200 pounds of marijuana grown in area homes, authorities said.
Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Rod Reder estimated the street value of the drugs and equipment at more than $125,000. The stashes included plant containers, drip tubes and high-powered lights that create a greenhouse effect.
"To have two back-to-back in the same area was unusual," Reder said.
The biggest find, authorities said, occurred about 9:30 p.m. Sunday in the garage of a home at 18910 Rogers Road in Odessa. Acting on a tip, deputies discovered 34 mature plants and several plastic sandwich bags of marijuana. Michael Isaac, 28, and James Elftmann, 27, were charged with growing cannabis, trafficking in 100 to 2,000 pounds of cannabis and possession of cannabis and drug paraphernalia.
The previous night, deputies raiding a home in the Stonehedge subdivision of Carrollwood found 34 pounds of marijuana growing in four rooms, Reder said. Howard Ross, 29, of 4643 Glenside Circle was charged with growing cannabis, trafficking in 25 to 2,000 pounds of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia. Ross, who Reder said had been under surveillance for a while, was released on $17,500 bail.
MORE RECLAIMED WATER COMING: Some 30,000 people in Hillsborough and Pasco counties could be in line to get reclaimed water in the next decade under a plan endorsed Monday by Tampa Bay Water and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
The plan would also produce an extra 14-million gallons of drinking water for the region by 2012 without tapping the underground aquifer, Tampa Bay Water officials say.
"This is quite a cutting-edge project," said Dave Moore, executive director of the water management agency, commonly called Swiftmud.
Twice in recent years, Tampa Bay Water has sought the help of Swiftmud in paying for water projects involving desalination plants. But the first desal plant is tied up in a court battle, and plans for a second plant have been shelved.
Instead, Tampa Bay Water is pursuing a plan to draw 14-million gallons of drinking water a day from the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers and the Tampa Bypass Canal, all in Hillsborough County. The utility would replace what it takes out of the canal or rivers with treated wastewater from Tampa's sewer plant.
Swiftmud was enthusiastic about Tampa Bay Water's plan, which would extend pipes 20 miles through northern Hillsborough to Pasco to provide reclaimed water to customers there for the first time.
WAL-MART TESTS SLIMMER SUPERCENTER: Alma Jordan has shopped at enough Wal-Mart Supercenters to know that the new one at N Dale Mabry Highway and W Waters Avenue is the smallest one she's ever seen.
But the 54-year-old respiratory therapist who was shopping Monday for groceries said she didn't think it made much difference.
"The only thing missing is the restaurant," she said.
That would probably be music to the ears of Wal-Mart executives. Faced with increasingly restrictive zoning laws in some of its markets, the retail giant has been trying to find a way to shoehorn the vast selection of groceries and general merchandise available at a typical supercenter into a much smaller space.
The result is Wal-Mart's new N Dale Mabry store, which opened Wednesday at the site of a former Sam's Club warehouse store. It is the first of its kind, a model for new locations elsewhere around the country facing tight zoning or urban space limitations.
By the standards of its siblings, the N Dale Mabry store might be considered downright petite, boasting total floor and storage space of just under 100,000 square feet. That's less than half the size of the mammoth 236,000-square-foot location in Pinellas Park and far smaller than the average supercenter size of 190,000 square feet. While Wal-Mart typically needs 20 to 30 acres for a supercenter, the new Tampa store fits in less than 10.
LARGE PORTION OF DEVIL RAYS SOLD: A Wall Street investor has agreed to purchase a large interest in the Devil Rays, but Vince Naimoli will continue to run the team.
Stuart Sternberg has an agreement in principle to buy out five of the six general partners _ Chris Sullivan, Bob Basham, Mark Bostick, Bill Griffin and Dan Doyle _ and will end up with about 77 percent of the general partnership but only about 45 percent of the overall team.
Sternberg, 44, first approached the Rays a few months ago and the deal is heading toward the final stages of completion. The purchase price is not known.
Naimoli, 66, will retain his shares of the team (about 16 percent overall, 23 percent of the general partnership) and continue to serve as managing general partner, running the team on a day-to-day basis. Sternberg, under terms of this deal, does not have an option to buy out Naimoli or replace him.
While Devil Rays officials kept the sale quiet, it is not a surprise. There have been rumors for years about discord among the general partners, including a failed attempt several years ago to oust Naimoli.
KNIGHT PARADE RETURNS TO YBOR STOP: When the end of the route for the Sant'Yago Knight Parade was changed last year in an attempt to curb congestion and ensure a family friendly atmosphere, its organizers, the Krewe of Sant'Yago, vowed to bring it back to its original stop: the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City.
They didn't have to put up much of a fight. Turns out, last year's route didn't make much of a difference; even though the parade ended downtown, people still crowded the streets of Ybor City.
So, on Feb. 21, the popular night parade will once again come to a halt at its traditional spot _ 23rd Street and Seventh Avenue _ where it ended for decades.
The city had feared that families who gathered for the night parade were mixing in with the rowdy crowds of Ybor's night life. And some business owners complained of the mess left behind by partiers and parade participants, who break down their floats and converge along Seventh Avenue.
Key to the decision to end the parade in Ybor City was the Krewe's assurance that the parade would end by 9:30 p.m., giving families time to go home before the night crowd showed up.
KB TOYS CLOSES STORES: KB Toys is eliminating 3,500 jobs and closing 356 stores across the country, including two in the Tampa Bay area, the struggling retailer said Thursday.
Prices have already been marked down at the KB Toy Outlet in Crossroads Mall in Clearwater and at the KB Toys in International Plaza, both of which are expected to close their doors in a matter of weeks when all of the inventory has been sold.
A crane operator from Kimmons Construction moves a wrecking ball around the Walter Industries building in Tampa on Wednesday. The eight-story twin office towers have been a landmark in Tampa for more than four decades. It will be replaced by Walter's Crossing, a multilevel retail site including Target, Rooms to Go and Macaroni Grill.