The Bay and the 'Burg Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Sarasota County Commission hears more details about potential spring training facility with Atlanta Braves

More details have emerged in the negotiations between the Atlanta Braves and Sarasota County, which could lead to the creation of a new spring training facility and year round academy by in the county by 2019.

“We’re hopeful that we come to a conclusion that benefits both parties, that is creative and beneficial, that is win-win for both parties,” said John Schuerholz, the vice chairman of the Braves, speaking to the board on Tuesday.

The proposed 9,000 seat stadium (6,500 fixed seats and 2,500 general admission) that would be constructed in North Port would not only act as the next spring training home for the Braves for the next 30 years, but the team says it would utilize it as a baseball academy for the entire year.

“We’ll have major league players here rehabilitating from injuries, we’ll have minor league players trying to improve their skills. We will build an academy that will combine physical sciences that will allow our players to get better in unique and forward thinking ways,” Schuerholz said.

In addition to the stadium, there would also be six full practice fields and 2 half-sized practice fields with 750 paved parking spaces.

The project would be built by the West Villages Improvement District, who would donate the land off of State Road 41 and River Road.

As far as the funding, County Administrator Thomas Harmer said that the plan is to take $22.1 million from Tourist Development tax, and another $20 million from a state government fund aimed at retaining Major League Baseball spring training in Florida.

However, Commissioner Nancy Detert – a former state legislator – expressed concerns if the team would be able to receive that much state money. The Braves are one of only two baseball teams who don’t have a long term lease in place. Detert asked if the team had any state funds that were transferable to Sarasota?

“Not to my knowledge, but we intend to have a long-term, thirty-year commitment in place,” Schuerholz said. Detert responded that she thought the team was already entitled to that cash. “That could be problematic,” she said.

Commissioner Charles Hines, a lifelong south Sarasota County resident, called it one of the most exciting developments in his life. He also expressed concerns, however, about the transportation improvements regarding River Road.

“The community is going to constantly be saying to us, they want to be here by 2019, what can you with River Road to get it done simultaneously? So we can bring Atlanta Braves fans to that facility, and so West Villages can begin the construction for all the things that go around this,” Hines said, adding that it was the one thing that can’t be addressed after the project is constructed.

The Braves have played for the last 20 years at Champion Stadium located at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista. Their current lease is due to expire at the end of next season, and the team has been working to secure another location in Florida.

In November of 2015, reports surfaced that they were interested in a spring training complex on a 260-acre former landfill in Pinellas County, but that proposal never took off. They later discussed plans with Palm Beach County, but those plans didn’t go very far either.

Sarasota County is already the spring training home for the Baltimore Orioles, who play at Ed Smith Stadium.

The Braves say they are now exclusively dealing with Sarasota County and North Port.

The city government of North Port was scheduled to hear from the Braves management at their meeting Tuesday night.

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Trulieve to open medical marijuana dispensary in Tampa

Trulieve is expanding into Tampa.

The medical marijuana dispensing organization announced Tuesday it will open its third dispensary Thursday in Tampa. The company currently has dispensaries in Tallahassee and Clearwater.

“This is an exciting start to the new year for Trulieve and the patients we serve,” said Kim Rivers, the company’s CEO in a statement. “As the first licensee to be authorized to dispense medical cannabis in Florida, we are pleased to serve an expanding Tampa market. We are also excited to be opening our newest dispensary.”

Trulieve is one of seven dispensing organizations currently authorized by the Department of Health to grow and distribute medical marijuana. According to the company, the new dispensary will have both low-THC and high-THC medical cannabis available in a several forms, including oral capsules and vaporizers.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health initiated the process of creating rules and regulations governing Amendment 2.

Under preliminary rules, medical marijuana treatment centers — which under new rules would be the same as a dispensing organization, must go through the same “approval and selection process” outlined in existing law. Those organizations are also “subject to the same limitations and operational requirements” currently outlined in state law.

That could mean the seven nurseries currently authorized to grow and sell medical marijuana would have a corner on the market.

Lawmakers have indicated they’re planning to weigh in on Amendment 2 implementation, and last week Sen. Rob Bradley filed a bill that would, among other things, allow for the growth of medical marijuana treatment centers once the number of registered patients hits a certain number.

A spokeswoman for the health department said in an email to FloridaPolitics.com last week the agency looks forward to “receiving input from all interested stakeholders through the open and transparent rulemaking process.”

In addition to dispensaries, Trulieve also offers a statewide delivery service. The company is scheduled to hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Thursday at the new dispensary.

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Treasure Island residents ask judge to declare development ordinances null

Two Treasure Island residents have filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare two city development ordinances to be void.

If the judge agrees, the effect would be to prevent developments of certain heights and densities from being built in the beach city’s downtown special area. That would include developments that have already been approved under the rules.

At issue are two ordinances that were passed in 2012. Both involved the Treasure Island downtown special area plan, which allows mixed-uses in order to encourage development and redevelopment. The other creates the specific mixed-use category envisioned by the first ordinance.

To pass, both had to be advertised and that, according to the lawsuit, is where the city erred. Rather than advertising the type of rule changes the ordinances were going to make, the city advertised them both merely as “public hearings.” State law, the lawsuit says, requires that the type of change be specifically named in the advertisement.

As a result of the city’s failure to comply with the requirements of Florida statutes …, all of the ordinances … are invalid, unenforceable, and void ab initio,” the suit says.

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Ken Weiss, who has filed other suits against Treasure Island and Madeira Beach alleging that both governments did not stick to the rules in approving certain developments.

A suit Weiss filed against Madeira Beach that was dismissed last year has since been reinstated. And a different suit filed against Treasure Island is also expected to be reinstated.

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Beaches chamber schedules forums on Madeira Beach candidates, Penny for Pinellas

The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce has scheduled two forums for voters.

The first, planned for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 9 is a candidates forum for the March 14 Madeira Beach city election. It will be in the Madeira Beach City Hall, 300 Municipal Drive. Seven are running for three open slots, and all have said they plan to attend the forum.

In the mayor’s race, incumbent Travis Palladeno is facing challenger Margaret Black. In the race for the District 3 seat, incumbent Ingrid Ferro-Spilde is running against Nancy Oakley. In the race for Seat 4, incumbent Housh Ghovaee has two opponents, John Douthirt and David Hitterman.

Madeira Beach has a council-manager form of government in which a five-member council – the mayor and five council members – set policy and pass a budget. A city manager runs the daily operations of the city.

The second chamber forum is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb.16 and will focus on the upcoming renewal of the Penny for Pinellas, which will be on the ballot in November. The forum will be at the Madeira Beach Rec Center, 200 Rex Place. The guest speaker will explain how Penny for Pinellas has been used to complete necessary infrastructure, beautification and capital improvement projects throughout the communities. 

The discussion will include a list of future projects planned for completion if voters approve the renewal of the penny.

Among the projects completed with past Penny money:

— New bridges that span our waterways and neighborhood parks

 — Faster travel with 68 new lane miles, 16 major roads with added lanes 

— Safer communities with more than 20 fire and emergency facilities built or renovated

— More than 150 projects to enhance our stormwater systems and flood control

— Protection of natural resources with hundreds of acres of land preserved, upgrades to 21 parks and more than 50 new miles of multiuse trails.

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Katherine Eagan says it’s a “new universe” regarding servicing riders in Hillsborough County

With ridership levels down locally and nationally, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART)  CEO Katherine Eagan says the time is ripe for adapting the agency to a new transit landscape.

After years and years of continuing growth in terms of passenger rides, HART’s ridership dropped more than 6 percent in 2016, a trend that was becoming apparent last summer.

But while the buses aren’t as full as they have been in the past,  Eagan says that there are other products and services where HART is seeing growth, such as their taxi voucher program, which provides same-day rides for riders with disabilities.

Transit ridership isn’t just a Tampa Bay area phenomenon, but a trend around the country in the past few years, due in part to lower gas prices.

As stretched as they’ve been with their funding sources, HART has been often been unable to meet the demand for service in the past, but Eagan now says the agency is offering different services to aid the riding public.

Last fall, the agency launched HART HyperLINK, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service that began in the University/Lutz and Carrollwood areas, and then expanded to Brandon in December, where there has been a surge in demand.

“We’ve gone from very, very full buses, to just very full businesses,” she says. “So the question becomes, if you haven’t moved enough folks off of one route to another neighborhood to really free up a bus, if you go from a crushed load to a standing load, how do you meet that?

“So that’s driving this process of a comprehensive analysis this year say, ‘we’ve only got so many resources, which should be the definition of excellent service and how to you match that up?'” she says. “Given that we’ve only had more demand than we’ve had the ability to meet. We’re underfunded per capita. How do you make those decisions of where a thin bus should go, where something innovative should go, how do you invest in technology?”

Eagan says that HART staffers will collect input from a number of sources during the first parts of 2017 to come back with a “refreshed model of service delivery” – with those sources including feedback from the Go Hillsborough meetings, as well as their own community meetings and discussions with consultants and inside their various boards.

While some might argue that fewer rides could jeopardize receiving federal or state funds, Eagan says that funding is available for the new products the agency has introduced.

“How many of us get the opportunity to remake our own entire business?” she says, ever the optimist. “It’s a once in lifetime moment, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

 

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Gulfport schedules candidates’ forum Feb. 2

Gulfport voters are invited to “Meet the Candidates” running in the March 14 Municipal Election.

This will be a live broadcast at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Catherine A. Hickman Theater located at 5501 27th Ave. S.  Facilitated by the League of Women Voters, the “Meet the Candidates” forum will allow the public to present questions on topics relevant to Gulfport.

Two seats are up for grabs in the election. The Ward 2 seat is held by Christine Anne Brown, who is running for re-election. She is challenged by Linda Bailey. The Ward 4 seat is held my Michael Fridovich, who is the current vice mayor. Fridovich has three opponents: Bobby L. Reynolds, Richard Fried and Ernest Stone.

The forum will be broadcast “live” on the city of Gulfport television station, Channel 640 or 97-6 on Spectrum Cable and on the City’s website: mygulfport.us/gtv640.

Gulfport has a Council-Manager form of government. A five-person City Council is elected citywide by the voters, each for a two-year term, except for the mayor who is elected to a three-year term. The city is divided into four wards, each of which is represented by one of the council members. The mayor is the fifth member of the council and is elected at-large, not representing any ward.

The City Council sets city policies, including adopting the budget on or before the beginning of each fiscal year, establishing local laws, and approving large expenditures of city funds. The five members of the City Council appoint a city manager to run the day-to-day operations of the city. The city manager is responsible for city finances and personnel management, as well as other administrative duties.

City Council meetings are held the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

 

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HART board members deny that collaboration with PSTA is a backdoor attempt to merge agencies

A Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) committee approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) on Monday for further collaboration between the two Bay area transit agencies, but not before some members had to tamp down the notion that the agreement could ultimately lead to a merger — and perhaps a tax increase for transit.

“This would be adopting an agreement to codify some opportunities to work more closely together,” said HART CEO Katharine Eagan in presenting the proposal to the agency’s ​​Legislative and Strategic Planning Committee.

The emergence of creating a formal agreement enshrining cooperation and collaboration between the two agencies began last fall, when Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long proposed that HART and PSTA form a “Regional Council of Governments.

At a meeting of PSTA’s executive meeting held earlier this month in discussing the MOU, PSTA executive director Brad Miller laid out a timeline of how both agencies could approve the MOU in time for himself and Eagan to travel to Tallahassee to present to Tampa Bay area legislators in early February.

That timeline is a concern to Tea Party activist Sharon Calvert, who told HART committee board members on Monday that “all of this merger and regional orchestration has been done … in quiet discussions, without much transparency or time for the public to weigh in.” She called on officials to clearly state in the MOU that “this was not a merger.”

In that January 6 PSTA executive committee meeting, Long reiterated her opinion that by having the agencies speaking as a regional voice, it would probably make it easier to acquire federal funding. But she said it would be difficult to merge the two agencies because PSTA was created by a local bill and HART by general law.

“I was shocked and amazed at the self admitted subterfuge that was discussed getting around a referendum to merge PSTA and HART,” said Charlotte Greenbarg, referring to viewing that PSTA discussion.

HART officials pushed back strongly, saying that they have no intention of going along with merging the two agencies.

“Anyone who tries to interpret this as a pre-merger or merger, is, I don’t want to say hallucinating, but there’s no basis in fact for that,” said HART attorney David Smith, when asked if it was necessary to include Calvert’s “no merger” request in the MOU itself.

Board member Karen Jaroch also appeared uncomfortable with the language in the MOU, questioning the need for such “a big, binding agreement,” and expressed concerns about the trip to Tallahassee being planned by PSTA’s Miller next month.

“None of these words in this document speak to any type of merger, taxation. Nothing about going to Tallahassee. Nothing,” said an exasperated Sandy Murman, chairman of the committee. “It talks about cooperation, coordination, planning with our sister agency across the way that we may be able to get really good efficiencies.” And she repeated that “no one is talking about a regional tax hike.”

For her part, Eagan said that she would be out of state on February 7, and thus wouldn’t be accompanying Miller to Tallahassee on that day.

The board did agree to change some of the language in the latest draft proposal of the MOU, deleting “partnership opportunities” for “further collaboration.”

Board member Mike Suarez also said he didn’t see anything in the draft agreement that touches on merging. Suarez, the former HART board chair, was as adamant as anyone on the board in rejecting Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala’s call several years ago for the agencies to merge.

Ultimately, two different studies were taken to determine if there were would be savings by consolidating. The agencies have worked on projects since then, but the proposed merger never happened.

Generally officials with PSTA have been more amenable to such a move. HART officials were never that enthusiastic about the idea.

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Aerialist Rick Wallenda to skywalk over Sundial St. Pete Feb. 11

St. Petersburg will get a rare opportunity to experience the Flying Wallendas this week with a death-defying stunt over downtown’s Sundial luxury shopping center.

World renowned aerialist Rick Wallenda will cross over Sundial by tightrope Saturday, Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. The event, which is open to the public, will benefit Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County.

As part of the Wallenda family tradition, the third-generation performer will cross the courtyard on a cable no thicker than an index finger, without either a harness or safety net.

Before Wallenda’s skywalk, a variety of circus-themed performers will entertain attendees starting at 4 p.m. to mark the event, Sundial retailers will donate proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.

Wallenda will also be available for photos in the courtyard with the public.

“We are thrilled to welcome one of the world’s greatest tightrope walkers to Sundial,” said owner Bill Edwards. “Sundial is a gathering place for the community, so it’s only fitting the event take place there.”

Edwards also said he was pleased the event will be helping Habitat for Humanity, noting that the well-regarded charity will be celebrating the completion of its 400th home in the area.

The Wallenda family holds multiple World Records for their stunts including, the highest blindfolded tightrope (between two Chicago skyscrapers) and traversing Niagara Falls.

 “We are grateful to Bill Edwards and the Edwards Group for their partnership to bring Rick Wallenda to the people of Pinellas County,” said Ronice Barlow, chief operating officer of Franklin Templeton and a board member of Habitat Pinellas.

“What a perfect way to countdown to the highly-anticipated Habitat for Humanity Blueprint Vieux Cirque Gala at the Vinoy Saturday, April 8, 2017!” Barlow added. “Local corporate sponsors like the Edwards Group help our community give a ‘hand up, not a handout’ to our local families in need.”

Sundial St. Pete is located at 153 Second Ave. N. in St. Petersburg.

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David Jolly hires Charlie Crist staffer Vito Sheeley as ‘senior adviser’

David Jolly says that he has not made a decision whether to run for his former congressional seat next year, but that’s the impression he has given by announcing on Monday that he has hired Vito Sheeley to serve as his “senior advisor for the 2018 political cycle.”

Sheeley has been working as district director for Charlie Crist, the man who defeated Jolly last November in the Congressional District 13 race. Sheeley also worked on Crist’s congressional campaign as his campaign outreach director.

“While I have made no decision whether to pursue elective office in 2018, I am committed to continuing our important policy work of the last three years,” Jolly said in a statement.  “As Laura and I consider what is best for our family and our community in 2018, I am thrilled to have Vito Sheeley join our political team. Through my years working with Vito in Pinellas, I know him to be an honorable man, dedicated to our community, and a trusted advisor on how best to represent and serve Pinellas County and the State of Florida.”

“I’m extremely excited to begin my new role with Congressman Jolly,” Sheeley said. “Helping the citizens of Pinellas County has been and will remain the most important priority of my life.  As Senior Advisor to Mr. Jolly, I look forward to continuing to listen to the needs and concerns of Pinellas County.  I thank Congressman Jolly for recognizing my value to him and his team.”

Max Goodman, a spokesman for Jolly, says that Sheeley will be working with Jolly  “to continue policy work locally regarding education, veterans, urban affairs and other Pinellas priorities.” He says he’ll be paid through non candidate committee funds.

The announcement caps a bizarre week in the news for Sheeley, who previously worked for Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor.

There were unconfirmed reports that Crist had fired Sheeley last week, and then rehired him back. FloridaPolitics called Sheeley on Friday to ask him about that report, which he flatly denied, saying that he was still working for Crist at the time.

He also said it was unclear whether he would go on to work for Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election campaign, as had been reported by the Tampa Bay Times last week.

“I only wish the best for Vito,” Crist told FloridaPolitics this afternoon. “He did a wonderful job on our campaign, for which I will ever be grateful. I hope for a very bright future for he and his family.”

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Barclay Harless officially files to run for St Pete City Council District 2 seat

Local community banker Barclay Harless officially announced his candidacy for the St. Petersburg City Council District 2 seat on Monday. The seat is currently held by Jim Kennedy, who is term-limited out this fall.

“I believe that real leaders listen more than they speak,” Harless announced in a statement. “I vow to always listen to the families and small business owners of St. Petersburg. I know that together, we will meet the challenges that face our community and bring a fresh perspective to City Hall. “

Harless first revealed his plan to run for the seat last month in an interview with SPB.

In his statement on Monday, the 31-year-old USFSP grad said the ‘Burg had been experiencing a renaissance in recent years, saying that local businesses are thriving and violent crime is down. But, he added, “a number of serious issues linger on.”

“Our sewage system is in dire need of repair, the fate of Tropicana Field remains unclear, and violence still plagues some of our neighborhoods. These challenges may seem daunting, but they are man-made so we have the power to solve them. We will not find solutions in finger-pointing or empty political rhetoric. Rather, our problems require bold, decisive action to get things done,” continued Harless.

Harless works assistant bank officer at Bank of the Ozarks. He previously worked as a legislative aide to then state representative Darryl Rouson, before going on to work on Alex Sink’s unsuccessful bid for Congress in Florida’s 13th District in 2014.

You can learn more about Harless at his website, voteharless.com

 

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