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Mike Deeson: If I were king — I would end The Pier project immediately

Although there has been some kind of Pier project in downtown St. Pete since the late 1800s, the city has changed, and the Pier is not needed.

When I first moved to Tampa Bay 35 years ago, downtown was anything but vibrant. The Vinoy, now a crown jewel, was closed, full of broken windows and in search of a developer.

Young people didn’t seek downtown as a destination. The only things the drew people was Spring Training and the inverted pyramid Pier — I could never figure out why.

Back then, St. Petersburg was known for its green benches and (jokingly) was called the home of the newlywed and nearly dead.

But that was then, and this is now; things have changed.

Downtown is alive with outdoor cafes that draw people even during weekday nights … the Vinoy is a world-class hotel … the new Dali and Chihuly museums bring thousands to the city. but there is this little problem called sewage running in the streets and being dumped into Tampa Bay.

The city sewer system is a mess and needs a fix that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars … while the city administration says it can take care of the problem through issuing bonds.

Remember, bonds are like a loan that has to be paid back … and spending money on the Pier is like running out and buying a Rolls-Royce when your roof is leaking.

Now, there is an expense to stopping the Pier project; the city claims it will cost $35 million because of bond obligations it took out for the project … but others, including [St. Pete City] Councilman Karl Nurse, believes it will be much less … But still, even if the administration has wasted $35 million … that is less than half the $80 million it wants to spend on the Pier.

And continuing, in my mind, is throwing good money after bad.

I know Mayor [RickKriseman is hellbent on completing this project, but I believe it is a waste of money, particularly at this time.

It is unnecessary and foolish … and if I were king, it would end today.


Uber tips for safe New Year’s Eve

Planning on being a responsible little partyer this New Year’s Eve? Uber has some tips for making sure your safe ride home goes as smoothly as possible.

First of all, New Year’s Eve is probably the busiest night of the year for taxi companies and Uber. The busiest times, Uber estimates, are earlier in the evening as people are catching rides to their destination between about 8 and 10 p.m.

Traffic really picks up between 12:30 and about 3 a.m. as partiers who thought ahead and Ubered to their destinations make a move to head home as well as those who decide to ditch their car until the morning.

Uber recommends doing a fare estimate in its app before requesting an Uber. That gives riders a chance to check how much their ride is going to cost if surge pricing is in effect. Catching a ride immediately after midnight also helps ensure a cheap ride.

Uber users can also set an alert in their app to be notified when surge pricing goes down.

Uber also has a fare-splitting option in its app that allows riders sharing a car to all split the fare.

One rather hilarious problem Uber has noticed throughout the past year is customers hopping into strangers’ cars thinking it’s their ride. Don’t do that.

The Uber app displays the make and model of the car that will be picking riders up as well as the license plate number and a photo of the driver. The ride share company urges users to check the license plate before hopping into the car. That will ensure safety and go a long way to avoid a very awkward situation.

This year, Uber is offering incentives to people hosting New Year’s Eve parties. Uber customers can arrange rides in advance for their guests to get to the party. It protects against drunken driving and, for every ride purchased, Uber will donate $10 to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Customers must book under “Uberevents + MADD.”

Direct mail round-up: Flyer says Augie Ribeiro not a true Democrat, has no Florida law license

Listen to Augie Ribeiro talk, hear his ads or read his campaign literature and two themes stand out: Ribeiro is an attorney who fights for the little guy and he’s the only “true Democrat” in the race for state Senate District 19.

But a flyer that landed in Democratic mailboxes Monday — the first day of early voting in Pinellas — tells voters just to hold on. Ribeiro, it says, is not only not a true Democrat, he wasn’t even a Democrat until 29 months ago. And, worse, he has no Florida law license. And, although it does not use the term “carpetbagger,” the flyer says multimillionaire Ribeiro is a “New York lawyer” who “thinks he can buy an election.”

Augie Ribiero with Hillary Clinton“Like [Gov.] Rick Scott, now he’s spending hundreds of thousands of dollars and wants to be your voice in Tallahassee,” the flyer says.

The mailing is a product of the Ed Narain-connected political action committee “Floridians for Principled Leadership.” Narain, Ribeiro, Darryl Rouson and Betty Reed are facing off for SD 19 in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary. The winner will face Republican John “Mr. Manners” Houman in the Nov. 8 general election.

“If someone’s going to make an allegation that I’m not a true Democrat, that’s a little surprising to me,” Ribeiro said Tuesday.

That’s because, Ribeiro said, he has impeccable Democratic credentials. Not only did he support President Barack Obama, but he’s also been on Hillary Clinton’s Florida finance team since before she became an official candidate.

And, Ribeiro said, state Democrats heavily recruited him to run for the state Senate seat held by Republican Jeff Brandes. He didn’t run because redistricting excluded him from the district.

So, instead, he decided to run for the District 19 seat held by Arthenia Joyner, who is terming out. That, he said, upset some party leaders.

“You can’t tell me I’m not a Democrat,” he said.

Ribeiro concedes he has no license to practice law in Florida although he’s admitted to the bar in Connecticut and New York. He is also admitted to the federal bar.

But, Ribeiro said that, in the lawsuit over the BP oil spill, he represented local cities — St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island — and Tampa municipal subdivisions — Raymond James Stadium, the Florida Aquarium, golf courses and others — as well as local nonprofits. He did that because he had local attorneys on the case, which was tried in a federal court in Louisiana. He filed a special appearance in that court, he said.

That’s similar to a lawsuit filed against General Motors, which made use of local attorneys. The federal trial was in New York.

Augie Ribeiro with Obama“I never claimed to have a local practice or be soliciting local clients,” Ribeiro said.

Ribeiro conceded his success at suing big companies has made him wealthy. The flyer and his financial declaration indicate he’s worth about $29 million.

And he’s spent about $300,000 on his campaign, according to the flyer.

It’s true, Ribeiro said, that he has been able to finance his campaign because of his own wealth and the generosity of relatives and friends. That was the goal — to avoid taking money from special interests.

“I think it’s hard to be in the state Legislature and bite the hand that feeds you. I won’t be bought,” Ribeiro said. “I don’t want to be beholden to the special interests that have taken control of the Legislature.”

Anti-Ribeiro Flyer Anti-Ribeiro flyer 1

Activists take crusade for electric buses to Pinellas County commissioners

Members of the board that oversees public transportation in Pinellas agreed last week to buy two electric buses for a pilot program, if the county commission decides to purchase a charging station for the vehicles.

Now activists who once targeted the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority have set their sights on Pinellas County commissioners. The immediate goal: Convince commissioners to agree to spend about $590,000 of the $7.1 million it received from the BP oil spill settlement for the charging station. The ultimate goal: an all-electric PSTA fleet.

“We believe there is no more appropriate use of the funds than to help the county’s transit system move to an era of no more oil,” said Phil Compton, a senior organizing representative for the Sierra Club Florida’s Healthy Air Campaign.

The Sierra Club Florida has sent out an email asking members and others to go to the BP survey on Pinellas County’s website and ask for funding for electric bus charging infrastructure.

It’s not just the Sierra Club that’s pushing for electric buses and a charging station. The club is one of 40 members of the Tampa Bay Zero Emission Coalition. All 40 members are pushing the issue. Among the members are eco-groups like the Sierra Club, individuals, businesses, business and neighborhood districts, churches, the University of South Florida, restaurants and a youth sports group.

Compton said it’s not surprising that so many would join the cause.

“The only question,” he said, “is, ‘Why wouldn’t you do this?’ … We’re protecting our future.”

The advantages, coalition members said, of electric buses are many: no gasoline, no dirty oil changes, no noisy internal combustion engine, no dirty exhaust. And, the electric buses are cheaper in the long run.

Environmental activists have long campaigned for the PSTA to give electric buses a try. Last week, they were victorious when PSTA board members voted 12-2 to buy five hybrid buses in the coming fiscal year. If the county will pay the one-time fee for the charging station, the board agreed to buy three hybrids and two electrics. The two electrics would be used for a pilot program in St. Petersburg. If successful, the pilot could be expanded to include the entire 200-bus PSTA fleet eventually.

The proposal will likely have some support on the County Commission. Ken Welch, who serves on the PSTA board, has said he would advocate for the expenditure. Janet Long and Pat Gerard, who also serve on PSTA, voted for the hybrid-electric proposal. Dave Eggers voted against it. And it’s unclear what other projects might come before the commissioners during a July 12 workshop set aside to discuss how to spend BP funds.

St. Pete drinking water is safe, tests confirm

Results of the city’s latest water quality testing reaffirm that St. Pete’s water is safe, and lead levels are well within federal regulatory requirements.

In accordance with Environmental Protection Agency requirements, the city’s Water Resources department conducts water quality testing every three years. Five or more samples of the 50 samples tested (90th percentile) cannot exceed the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

The last tests, done in 2014, showed only one sample exceeded the action level.

Water Resources performed additional water quality assurance testing in early 2016, which included additional homes built from pre-1950s to the 1980s. The department sent out more than 850 requests for participation in the testing, though only 86 accepted the request. Of the 86 participants, one home (at 18 parts per billion) was over the action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).  Retesting the home at a later date showed the level was reduced to 5.0 ppb.  Two other homes (one at 1.6 ppb and 1.7 ppb) were just above the detection limit of 1.5 ppb.

In addition to the early 2016 tests, Water Resources has added lead analysis to their monthly water quality monitoring at 20 sites around St. Petersburg.

Residents can read more about lead education and tips for lead safety as well as the latest water quality report at

Liv233 Townhomes coming to downtown St. Pete

Another new townhome development will soon pop up on Fourth Avenue North. Liv233 is a three-unit luxury living complex boasting four stories including private garages and a rooftop terrace.

There’s no word on when the building is expected to break ground or open, but floor plans are now available on the builder’s website. It shows three identical units advertised as three bedrooms and 4.5 baths.

The first floor consists of a den and laundry room as well as a full bathroom. The entryway has a full-sized porch. Homeowners and visitors can walk the stairs or take a private elevator to other floors.

The second floor will be home to a living room, dining room, kitchen and family room and a half bathroom. Graphic renderings of the space show a modern looking area with a narrow kitchen in the middle. A long counter top with space for bar stools centers the floor.

The master bedroom and second bedroom are on the third floor. Renderings show a 12.5-foot by nearly 18-foot master bedroom with a walk-in closet and large bathroom with his and hers sinks. The only access to the bathroom is through the walk-in closet. The master bedroom also has a private balcony. The second bedroom also has its own bathroom.

The top floor consists of a loft, full bathroom and a rooftop terrace. It’s assumed that this is considered the third bedroom, though there is not a closet shown on floor plans.

Each unit has one parking space in a garage area with storage space. A second parking space is available in an outdoor lot. There’s also one handicapped space and a guest space.

According to the website St. Pete Rising, units are set to cost a little under $1 million each.

SunSure Living is designing the development in collaboration with Mesh Architecture. Smith & Associates Real Estate is a partner, presumably listing the units.

The development near Second Street North in downtown joins several others going up in the area including the Brownstones, Towns on Fifth, Center City and Regent Lane.

The building represents a new trend in downtown development and living. As property values become increasingly costly, builders are making the most of the space by building up.

Not going to the Grand Prix? Here’s some other stuff to do in St. Pete

Tens of thousands of St Pete residents and out of towners will flock to downtown St. Pete this week for the St Petersburg Firestone Grand Prix. But for those who aren’t up for paying big bucks to watch fast cars and hear loud noises, there’s plenty else happening around town this weekend.

The SunLit Festival continues this weekend with several events. The 35th Annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair is happening Friday through Sunday at the Coliseum in downtown. The event runs from 5 p.m. until 9 on Friday night, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $6 for one day or $10 for a three-day pass.

Geared toward the true literary enthusiast, the event includes lectures and author book signings and features 115 national and international dealers selling rare and out of print books.

For those who are looking to be a part of the racing action, but aren’t going to the race, the city is hosting movies in the park each night during the Grand Prix on the Museum of Fine Arts North lawn in North Straub Park.

Friday night features the Disney movie “Cars.” It’s a family friendly animated film about the fall of a winning race car – not the driver – with feel-good messages and humor to make the whole family laugh.

Saturday night is the 1981 film “Cannonball Run” featuring Burt Reynolds. Reynolds plays a daredevil driver who embarks on a cross country race.

Sunday’s feature is “Days of Thunder.” The 1990 film stars a young Tom Cruise who plays a young hot-shot stock car driver who gets his chance to compete at the top level.

The movies begin at dark. Other events are available at movies in the park including food trucks and live music.

The Tampa Bay Boat show also runs all weekend at Tropicana Field. The boat show starts at 10 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It closes at 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve is hosting another SunLit Festival event Friday night. The Poetry Night Hike will begin at 6:30 p.m. and last until about 8:00. It features a combination of poetry readings and hiking through the park.

On Saturday the Area 6 Special Olympics are being played at Lakewood High School in South St. Pete on 54th Avenue South. The games feature soccer, bocce ball, volleyball, cycling and tennis.

For those all-natural health nuts out there the Holistic Health Symposium and Seminar is at the Awakening Wellness Center at 6161 Ninth Street North featuring holistic speakers, demonstrations, vendors, food, music and raffle prizes. \

A brief demonstration at Sunken Gardens on Saturday starts at 10:30 a.m. Compost Magic shows simple ways to turn kitchen waste into “garden gold.” Allen Bednar from the company Simply Hydroponics will share his tricks to effective composting. Special compost bins will be available for purchase following the demonstration.

Also on Saturday, an event celebrating literary icon Jack Kerouac’s birthday is at the Flamingo Sports Bar at 1230 Ninth Street North from 7-11:30 p.m. It’s the same bar where the famed writer enjoyed his last drink. There will be live music from local artists like Ronny Elliott, Geri X and the Florida Boys. The event will also feature beat poetry and Special Guest Tim Dorsey with a reading from his latest book, Coconut Cowboy.

On Sunday residents can enjoy Alligator Walk at Boyd Hill where experts will teach about Florida’s state reptile, the American Alligator. Admission to that event is $1.50 for Friends of Boyd Hill and $3.00 for all others.

More information about this weekend’s events and others are on the city’s website.

Here’s everything you need to know heading into this year’s Grand Prix

It’s race week in St. Pete. The St. Petersburg Firestone Grand Prix kicks off this Friday and runs through Sunday in downtown. Whether residents are going to the race or just trying to navigate downtown for other activities, here’s everything you need to know about St. Pete’s busiest weekend.

Parking will be a challenge. Loads of extra bike racks will be set up at Grand Prix entry points to encourage fans to bike rather than drive to the event. For those who do drive, all-day parking rates in City garages will be in effect. Those rates are $5 on Friday and $15 on Saturday and Sunday. Parking for the race is available at the South Core garage on First Avenue South between First and Second Streets and the Sundial garage on Second Street North between First and Second Avenue North.

A park and ride shuttle is available to and rom Tropicana Field from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. on race days. Parking in lots one and two is available for $10. The shuttle will pick passengers up on 16th Street in front of Tropicana Field and drop them off at the race.

Fans are also encouraged to take public transportation. The Central Avenue Trolley and downtown looper will be just $0.50 over the weekend. Those routes are available from 10 a.m. until midnight on Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Street parking will also be available on a first-come, first-served basis for person’s with disabilities at no charge. Some parking is timed, but most will be available all day.

Motorcycles riders can utilize special “motorcycle corrals” for parking on the west side of First Street between First Avenue South and Central Avenue on Saturday and Sunday, but not Friday. Spaces are first come, first served for $5.

There are two entry gates fans can enter and exit the race through. Those are located at the intersection of First Avenue South and First Street South, gate one, and Fifth Avenue South and Second Street South, gate 5. Both gates have wheelchair access. Gate one offers just a ticket booth while Gate five contains a Will Call center.

Traffic closures include Beach Drive from Central Avenue to First Avenue South, First Street from First Avenue South to Fifth Avenue South and Albert Whitted Park. Areas of limited access include Second Avenue South from First to Second Street and First Street South from Fifth Avenue South to Eight Avenue South and Sixth Avenue South from Second Street to First Street.

The Dali Museum will also be closed on all three race days. It will re-open on March 14th.

There’s a long list of items to leave at home this year. That includes obvious items such as firearms, weapons and illegal drugs. It also includes things like coolers, pets, folding chairs, gas grills, fireworks, pepper spray, noisemakers, banners and aerosol cans. A Complete list of items not to bring to the race is on the Grand Prix website.

Permissible items include binoculars, seat cushions, small cameras, purses, backpacks, small bags, strollers, umbrellas, mobility aids and cell phones.

There is also a list of prohibited actions intended to keep fans, drivers and crews safe. Those include carrying open food or beverage containers over bridges and track crossings, abuse of intoxicants,, disorderly conduct including profanity, placing cups on walls, running, standing on grandstand seats, smoking in prohibited areas, spitting tobacco and standing or sitting in walkways, aisles or ramps.

Adult tickets for all three days of racing start at $55 and go up to $135. Junior passes for fans up to 12 years old are available at a discounted rate. Single day tickets are also available.

St. Petersburg SunLit Festival starts Friday

St. Petersburg’s second annual SunLit Festival officially kicks off this Saturday with an award ceremony honoring the city’s Poet Laureate Helen Pruitt Wallace. The 2 p.m. event at the Main Library located at 3745 Ninth Ave. N. launches 10 days of celebration of literacy, literature and writers.

The festival runs through March 13.

The sixth annual James Weldon Johnson Literacy Festival is also Saturday. It runs from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the community library in his name located at 1059 18th Ave. S. Johnson was a famous writer, lawyer and civil rights activist from Jacksonville.

The festival features several exciting events designed to make reading and writing fun. Lucha Libra runs  7 until 10 Friday night at Bloom Art Center. The free event features eight writers. Each is given a prompt and then five minutes to create an original story around it. The authors then present their creation. Theatrics and costumes are encouraged. Writers are eliminated each round until only one remains.

Professional actors from the community, as well as those from USF St. Petersburg, will perform Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the William’s House Courtyard at USFSP. The play is a tragic romantic comedy.

Other events include talks with writers, live poetry, talks about protest literature and many others drawing attention to literary arts.

The city is hosting a Read-and-Write-In Sunday at 2 p.m. at South Straub Park in downtown St. Petersburg. Residents are encouraged to bring a blanket and enjoy a favorite book or an afternoon of creative writing in the park. That event is being held in conjunction with Keep Saint Petersburg Local and Keep St. Petersburg Lit.

The festival also features several activities geared toward children and families. The Main Library is hosting a puppet show Monday at 10:30 as well as “Roll Over & Read” featuring service dogs. That event is also located at the South Community Library at 2300 Roy Hanna Drive S. Exact dates and show times are on the St. Petersburg Library system website.

The Florida Writer’s Association will hold its monthly meeting 5:30 p.m. Thursday while the LGBT Book Club will meet next 11 a.m. March 12. Both are at the city’s Main Library.

The festival concludes 3 p.m. March 13 with an adult crafting program also at the Main Library.

New early childhood education tool available in St. Petersburg

Early childhood education has been at the center of much debate over how to improve educational outcomes for students. That conversation has become prevalent in St. Pete where five elementary schools are chronically failing.

Officials and elected leaders in the city have suggested finding money in the city’s budget to increase availability of pre-k programs above and beyond the VPK already available to 4-year-olds.

While that goal may be long-term and potentially costly, the city is launching another option. Miss Humblebee’s Academy is an online program for kids as young as 3 to prepare them for Kindergarten.

The program is now available at St. Petersburg libraries.

The program includes guided lessons and interactive activities designed to teach youngsters how to recognize letters by both sound and sight and to differentiate between upper and lower case letters. The program includes activities on rhyming, explanations on the parts of a book and reading comprehension, which are all integral components of entering kindergarten ready to learn.

Library members don’t have to own a computer to access the program. The activities can be used at a local library. They are also available for home use on a personal computer or a mobile device.

Seven community libraries have the program including the Main Library at 3745 Ninth Ave. N.

Subjects covered include math, science, social studies, social sciences, language and literacy, and art and music. The lessons use a step approach with a curriculum that gets more rigorous the further a student gets in the program.

The program does not require a child to already know how to read. It includes periodic evaluation of a student’s progress that send a parent or teacher progress reports.

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