Drew Wilson - SaintPetersBlog

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

Pinellas County staff to answer questions on Penny for Pinellas program Monday

Pinellas County staff will be on hand at Monday’s meeting of the Council of North County Neighborhoods to talk about the Penny for Pinellas program.

Staff will discuss the one-cent sales tax, give a presentation on past projects funded by the program, and answer questions about projects being proposed for funding.

Ideas for capital improvement in North Pinellas County are also welcome.

The one-cent sales tax has been around since 1990 and is split between the county and the 24 cities to fund long-term projects such as roads, parks and fire stations.

The tax must be reapproved by voters every 10 years and will be on the ballot in November. If it passes, the program will run through 2030.

The Council of North County Neighborhoods will be held at the East Lake Woodlands Clubhouse at 1055 East Lake Woodlands Parkway in Oldsmar starting at 7 p.m.

More information on the Penny for Pinellas program can be found on the Pinellas County website, while more information on meetings for the Council of North County Neighborhoods can be found at cncpc.org.

Retailers expect record-setting Easter spending

A survey conducted by the National Retail Federation is predicting record-setting Easter spending this year with a projected total of $18.4 billion in spending for the Christian holiday.

“With Easter falling almost an entire month later than last year, that means warmer weather and more people in the mood to spend money to celebrate,” said Florida Retail Federation President/CEO R. Scott Shalley.

“This is great news for Sunshine State retailers, and with more consumers spending more money, we expect stores to be busy in the days leading up to Easter.”

The prime date for Easter this year, roughly determined by the first full moon after the vernal equinox, will cause a 6 percent hop in spending over last year when shoppers spent $17.3 billion. The per-person average will also jump 4 percent from the previous year to $152.

Customers aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket, either. Nearly nine out of 10 shoppers will pick up food or candy, while 61 percent plan to pick up gifts, and half say they will buy clothing, up from 45 percent last year.

About two out of five shoppers plan to buy flowers, decorations or greeting cards.

Big retailers, like Target and Wal-Mart, can expect a big influx of Easter shoppers during the holiday weekend, with 58 percent of Easter shoppers planning to make a stop. A little under half of those customers will visit department stores, while about a quarter plan to shop small at a local business.

Online shopping is also expected to get a 6 percent bump over last year, when 21 percent of consumers made their purchases from the comfort of their home, presumably while in bunny slippers.

Overall, food will make up the biggest piece of the pie with a projected $5.8 billion in spending — and that’s not including the expected $2.6 billion spent on candy. Clothes follow at $3.3 billion, gifts at $2.9 billion, then $1.2 billion in flowers and $1.1 billion on decorations.

Of course, the holiday isn’t all about shopping. For some, it’s about family; for others, it’s about egg hunts; for many more, it’s a significant religious experience.

More than 60 percent of respondents say they will spend the holiday with family, while 52 percent stated that they would head to church. A third said they would have an Easter Egg Hunt, while a sixth of respondents say they would go to a restaurant or open gifts.

USFSP librarian arrested on child pornography charges

James Anthony Schnur

A University of South Florida St. Petersburg librarian was arrested Wednesday on child pornography charges, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

James Anthony Schnur, 51, is facing 10 charges of possession of child pornography and two charges for the prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscene materials.

According to PCSO records, his bond is set at more than $1 million.

Deputies said they started investigating Schnur in January after getting a tip about him having the obscene material, and when they arrested him Wednesday morning they were able to recover images from his computer depicting bestiality and child pornography.

Possession of child pornography is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 per charge.

Schnur is a three-time graduate of USFSP who works at the Poynter Library on campus as a Special Collections librarian.

His faculty bio sketch on the USFSP website describes as a “prolific author” and “coveted lecturer.”

“Archivist, author, faculty, public speaker — Jim Schnur rarely takes a break from his sundry creative labors,” the bio reads.

Schnur was the inaugural recipient of Lester Tuttle Award from the USF Pinellas County Alumni Chapter and was inducted into the Rays Wall of Fame in 2010. He’s also been recognized for his work as a librarian by the Society of Florida Archivists.

USFSP declined to comment on the arrest, though spokeswoman Jessica Blais said Schnur has been placed on leave while the university reviews the case.

Scientology leader details downtown plans in closed-door meeting

Downtown Clearwater stakeholders got a preview of Scientology leader David Miscavige’s retail and entertainment plan for the area during an invitation-only presentation at the Fort Harrison Hotel Tuesday.

Scientology spokesperson Ben Shaw denied media requests to attend the meeting, reports Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times.

The two-hour presentation included the church’s plan to pay for new facades for stores on the stretch of Cleveland Street between Osceola and Myrtle avenues, as well as the organization’s use of consultants to bring business owners on board for the plan.

Well-known Scientologist celebrities John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley and pianist Chick Corea were also at the event.

“Sitting there and watching this just stunned everybody,” Signworx owner Leif Oskarsoon said of the video and renderings. “It was so gorgeous.”

Miscavige said the plan would cost $8 million on top of the $30 million the church has already put into the plan through hiring consultants and buying up tracts of land in the area.

Former Mayor Frank Hibbard said the Scientology leader implied the crux of the plan was the church’s ability to buy a 1.4-acre lot owned by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The aquarium turned down a $15 million offer from the church and offered to sell it to the city for $4.25 million, with a vote from the City Council expected on April 20.

“It comes down to execution and commitment and the way the city and the church are right now, I think some things have to change,” Hibbard said. “There’s trust issues with all parties involved. And I think to make something like that work, I don’t know if you can overcome them. I think the church needs to show the public the plan and let the court of public opinion really drive whether this is viable or not.”

Dana Young raises $150K in March for Senate re-election

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young was among the handful of Florida senators to only win a 2-year term during the 2016 election cycle.

She hasn’t wasted any time gearing up for her 2018 re-election.

Young, who bested Democrat Bob Buesing in the SD 18 race last November, brought in more than $150,000 last month between her campaign and political committee accounts.

The bulk of the money was raised through her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young,” including $10,000 checks from Altria Clients Services and Innovate Florida, the political committee run by future Senate President and Bradenton Republican Sen. Bill Galvano.

A slew of other donors, including Disney, Wal-Mart and the Florida Retail Federation, chipped in at the $5,000 level, leaving the committee with $120,500 raised in the week leading up to the 2017 Legislative Session.

Lawmakers are barred from raising money during Session, which this year began on March 7.

Young also brought in $30,392 for her campaign account, including 26 checks for the maximum campaign donation of $1,000.

Maxed-out donors in March include three Disney subsidiaries, Airbnb, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Anheuser-Busch. Innovate Florida also came in with a $1,000 check for Young’s campaign account.

After $2,200 in expenditures, Young had just under $78,000 on hand in her campaign account and another $357,000 in her campaign account.

Young is currently the only candidate filed for the SD 18 seat in 2018.

Florida Democratic Party chair chips in $100K during Q1 of 2017

The Florida Democratic Party got a $100,000 boost from their new chair last month according to new finance documents filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

Stephen Bittel has been in place as the Democratic Party chair since January, when the Miami-Dade Democrat won a five-way race for the position with 55 percent of the vote.

Bittel’s $100,000 infusion was the largest single contribution the party took in for the month, which saw it bring in a little over $840,000.

The Florida Education Association also chipped in a combined $100,000 between its main organization and its FEA Solidarity Fund, and $90,000 came in from political committee New Direction Florida, which is headed by Democrat Edward James who lost out on the state House race to replace former Republican Rep. Ray Pilon.

Other major donors included Charter Communications at $68,000, and $25,000 and from a political committee headed up by Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens.

The party spent about $430,000 during the reporting period, which covered Jan. 1 through the end of March, leaving it with about $4.7 million on hand.

The Republican Party of Florida brought in about $2.5 million in the same time frame, leaving them with nearly $16 million in the bank after expenditures.

Home rule advocacy group adds two national organizations to its roster

Home-rule advocates Campaign to Defend Local Solutions announced Monday that it is adding Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the National Black Justice Coalition as official partners.

“The spectrum of voices speaking out for home rule and against heavy-handed state pre-emption continues to grow,” said CDLS campaign manager Michael Alfano. “From protecting equality laws to preventing gun violence, our partner organizations and elected officials know that the government closest to the people governs best, and we’re grateful for their efforts.”

Mayors Against Illegal Guns is a bipartisan group of more than 1,000 current and former mayors that advocates for common-sense gun laws, while the National Black Justice Coalition is the country’s leading black LGBTQ civil rights organization.

CDLS said the new members came on board after CDLS got exposure through a People Magazine web series, and articles in The Nation and The Atlantic’s CityLab. Also last week, 15 local elected officials and CDLS members authored an op-ed on the threat of state pre-emption that was published on FloridaPolitics.com and other outlets.

The Campaign to Defend Local Solutions was launched by Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum in January and include in its membership elected officials from 15 states as well as local and national organizations.

CDLS was formed to fight against local government pre-emption laws passed by state legislatures, which it claims are often pushed through by “shadowy special interests and unaccountable lobbyists.”

“They don’t like when we as a community pass laws to ban smoking, protect our environment, raise wages, ensure local hiring, and prevent gun violence. But we stand with you, the people — not corporate bottom lines,” the group says on its website.

Three area high school students to visit St. Pete’s sister city in Japan

Three St. Petersburg high school juniors will head to Japan this summer as part of cultural exchange program put on by the city of St. Petersburg’s International Relations Committee.

Zachary Blair-Andrews of Lakewood High School, and Chloe Johnson and Deaja Jenae Henry, both attending St. Pete Collegiate High School, were chosen by the committee last week as the 2017 Student Ambassadors.

The three students will head to Takamatsu, Japan, for one week on July 5, and share St. Petersburg experiences with their host families and city officials while learning about Japanese culture.

Later in the month, three students from Takamatsu will come to St. Petersburg to share their culture and learn about St. Petersburg’s during several community programs planned during their stay.

Takamatsu is located on Shikoku island in southern Japan and has a population of about 400,000. The Kagawa Prefecture city has been St. Petersburg’s sister city for more than 50 years.

The St. Petersburg International Relations Committee selects high school juniors to participate in the Student Ambassador Program. Applicants must submit their high school transcripts, two letters of reference and write an essay to be considered for the program.

Upon return, each of the students will be expected to share his or her experiences with students, civic groups, other interested citizens and provide a presentation of their trip to the mayor and city council.

Cross-Bay Ferry ridership set another record in March

The Cross-Bay Ferry set another record in March with nearly 8,000 passengers paying for a ride across the bay.

The 7,990 tickets sold during the month was a 31-percent increase over February numbers, which also set a record, and nine out of 10 passengers were residents, not tourists.

“We are now in the final month of this pilot project, and the ferry is finishing strong,” said project advisor Ed Turanchik. “We are especially proud to have such strong support from organizations such as Frontier, the Rays, HART, PSTA, the Tampa Bay Lightning and others that want to partner with new transit options.”

A lot of the ridership gains came during weekdays, which saw a 57 percent increase over February. Weekend riders also jumped up 17 percent.

All those riders also contributed to the local economy, with 60 percent of passengers spending between $15 and $40 once they set foot on land.

During the final month of the pilot project, the ferry will partner up with the Tampa Bay Rays and extend hours to make sure fans can use the ferry to get to home games.

Free rides from the ferry dock to the ballpark will be provided by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

The ferry service will also be able to pay back another chunk of the $350,000 city and county governments spent to get it started, though those numbers will not be available until later in April.

February ticket sales paid back about $54,000 of that sum.

Rays get “Baseball Forever” pitch from Rick Kriseman

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and local Chamber of Commerce President Chris Steinocher pitched a deal to the Tampa Bay Rays Wednesday that would have a new stadium built at the existing Tropicana Field site.

The 43-page “Baseball Forever” pitch includes letters of support from 15 major employers in Pinellas County, all of which said they were devoted to keeping the pro baseball team in St. Petersburg.

Among the corporate supporters were BayCare Medical Group, Bayfront Health, Ceridian, Duke Energy, HSN, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, Nielsen and Raymond James.

The plan would completely redesign the 86-acre site to include a kids zone, neighborhood market, hotel, conference center and, of course, “a new contemporary sustainable ballpark,” which the Rays organization would take the lead role in designing.

“The ballpark site would be approximately 20 acres and intricately integrated into the surrounding urban fabric, including the redevelopment of the existing Tropicana Field site and the surrounding area,” the report said.

More than 3.2 million people live within a 60 minute drive of the site, and the plan says that radius captures the bulk of the cities wealth, with the average annual disposable income in the area coming out to about $55,000.

The plan also includes an “innovation district” that would feature a research and tech campus to bring high-skilled workers to the city.

The report said the proposed build out is “a model of mixed-use urban development and the business of Major League Baseball” and includes a walkthrough of how the development will be integral to attracting high-skill workers, enriching the lives of residents and bringing tourism to downtown.

Kriseman will pitch the plan to the St. Petersburg City Council when it meets at 8:30 am Thursday at City Hall.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons