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Rick Kriseman will seek to deregulate the city’s taxi cabs

The announcement came toward the end of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s state of the city address Saturday: The next ordinance Kriseman plans to introduce is one deregulating the vehicle-for-hire industry.

Kriseman did not provide many details except to say it would include incentives for taxi companies and ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to comply with St. Petersburg’s system.

Let the market decide what’s best, Kriseman said, adding that, if his plan succeeds then St. Petersburg would be a leader in finding a way to resolve the contentious relationship between traditional cabs and ride-sharing companies.

“If it doesn’t work, that’s OK, too,” Kriseman said.

In the past year, St. Petersburg has sought to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft. The city wants the companies to pay the $65 per vehicle tax that cab companies pay. But Uber has resisted, saying that’s unfair because its drivers are not employees and are merely part-timers making a bit of extra money. Uber has suggested paying $5,000 per year.

For the most part, Kriseman’s state of the city address, his third since taking office, was upbeat and gave him a chance to highlight the accomplishments of his administration. Among those, he said, were having the city on a better financial footing, progress on rebuilding the Pier, a 105 percent increase in new business registrations and an unemployment rate that’s lower than the state or national level.

Kriseman also looked to the future, saying the city’s infrastructure needed repair — especially the sewer system. He noted that the city has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars to revamp the system. Kriseman added that he is also revamping the city’s stormwater plan, which was last done 22 years ago.

“How a coastal city can have a 22-year storm plan is beyond me,” Kriseman said. “We have much work ahead, but we are up to the task.”

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Charlie Crist pleads case of Michael Morgan, unjustly jailed for 23 years, to Barack Obama

Michael Morgan

Charlie Crist is calling on President Barack Obama to intervene on behalf of one of his constituents, a St. Petersburg man imprisoned for 23 years for a crime a growing number of people believe he did not commit.

On Friday, the freshman St. Petersburg Democrat sent a letter to the White House telling the story of Michael Morgan, who has been unjustly serving three life sentences for crimes that many — including reporters, a former Pinellas County Commissioner and even a juror who voted to convict — now say he is innocent.

More than two decades ago, Morgan, 18 years old at the time, was in St. Petersburg riding his bicycle home from school. After encountering a man with a large dog, who began yelling and chasing him, Morgan went to a neighbor’s house and called his mother, Vel Thompson, to help.

When Thompson arrived a few minutes later, police had Morgan in handcuffs.

That day, officers were looking for a black male suspected of the assault and attempted rape of Felicia Fuller 12 days earlier. Fuller’s father, Earnest Fuller, was an officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Felicia Fuller had been shot in the buttocks during what was described as a “drug deal gone wrong.” Cocaine was found at the scene. Fuller claimed that two African-American men assaulted her: one with a gold tooth and another who was clean-shaven.

Morgan had an alibi for Fuller’s attack — he was at a school dance with friends, something corroborated by multiple witnesses. He also did not fit the description of either man, having a full mustache and no gold tooth. Nevertheless, Morgan was arrested.

After going to trial three times, Morgan was ultimately convicted and sentenced to three life sentences and has been in prison for the past 23 years. Three years ago, supporters created a Change.org petition to request the Florida Clemency Board to consider his clemency request. The petition, which now has 337 signers, asks the Governor to waive the rule preventing the board from hearing Morgan’s request because of his life sentences.

In January 2015, WTSP’s Mike Deeson highlighted Morgan’s case in a nine-minute video summarizing the problems with both the case and his conviction, which came about without DNA or other physical evidence. The video, which is available on YouTube, also shows Morgan meeting with former Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche in the effort to gain clemency.

In Crist’s letter, he invoked Obama’s campaign for criminal justice reform, where the president granted clemency to more than 1,300 people over his two terms in office.

“I applaud your valiant efforts to reform our nation’s criminal justice system; ending juvenile solitary confinement, banning the box for federal employees, and reducing the use of federal private prisons,” Crist writes. “In that same vein, your support for people serving unjust or excessive sentences has brought justice and hope to thousands of nonviolent offenders and their families.”

Crist then related his time as Florida Governor, during which he worked to streamline the state’s clemency process.

However, Obama cannot just grant Morgan a pardon, since presidential commutation powers are restricted only to federal crimes. Any change in Morgan’s sentencing lies in the hands of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who would need the agreement from two cabinet members who are also statewide elected officials.

“I only wish Michael Morgan’s case fell within federal jurisdiction,” Crist writes. “Our Chief Executive in Florida has the power to grant clemency, but to date has not chosen to take action on this case.”

Now, Crist is asking for Obama to help — in his few days left as president — to right this injustice.

“Mr. President, your kind attention and willingness to lend your voice to this grave injustice would be incredibly helpful,” Crist writes. “Thank you again for all that you have done to improve our criminal justice system and restore the lives of the unjustly accused. It is my hope that your efforts lead to freedom for Americans, like Michael Morgan, who sit in prison today for crimes they clearly did not commit.”

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St. Pete schedules second session to discuss sewer plant improvements

St. Petersburg has scheduled a second informational meeting to discuss proposed improvements to the Southwest Water Reclamation Facility and the 31st Street Sports Complex.

The meetings are designed to inform residents about a proposal to drill wells at both facilities to increase the storage capacity for reclaimed water. An increased storage capacity will help handle the increase in water during storms and help prevent overflows. Last year, the city dumped thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay because the system was unable to handle the amount of water that two tropical storms dropped on the county.

Since then, the city has created a multimillion plan to repair its aging sewer infrastructure to prevent rain- and groundwaters from getting into the system. The plan also calls for other improvements such as the construction of injection wells at Southwest and 31st Street. Each site is slated to have two 1,100-foot-deep injection wells, for a total of four new wells. The four wells ill be in addition to injection wells already in place at the Southwest plan, which pumps treated reclaimed water deep into confined salt aquifers.

The city held one informational meeting last year. Like the last, this second meeting, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Lake Vista Center, 1401 62nd Ave. S, is meant to explain the projects to residents, particularly those who will be affected by the construction. But St. Petersburg officials say they also want to hear residents’ ideas and suggestions concerning the proposal.

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Improvements to St. Pete sewage system begin

Work to line aging sanitary sewer collection mains and city sewer laterals began Monday in the Bahama Shores and Coquina Key neighborhoods.

Part of Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s infrastructure plan, the $3.2 million lining project will help extend the life of sanitary sewer mains and prevent groundwater infiltration from entering the city’s sewage collection system. Depending on the weather, the project is expected to be completed by September.

St. Petersburg’s sewer system became the focus of controversy last year after the city dumped thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay during two storms. City officials said the quantity of rain overburdened the system. Officials blamed an aging infrastructure that allowed rain- and groundwater to get into the sewer pipes. The cleaning and lining process is designed to cure the leaks and prevent rain- and groundwater from seeping into the system in the future.

Insituform Technologies, LLC, will reline 8-inch-12-inch sanitary sewer collection mains and city sewer laterals to homes in the affected neighborhoods using a cured-in-place pipe lining process, which involves little to no digging compared to the traditional “dig and replace” pipe repair. CIPP instead utilizes pump around pumping, cleaning the existing pipe, closed-circuit TV inspection, pipe-lining, and restoration of the right-of-way.

Residents will be informed by door hangers before the start of each phase of the project and are encouraged to keep water usage at a minimum during active construction. Work is expected to begin around 8 a.m. each day. Local access will be maintained during the project.

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Upon second thought, City of St. Pete defers vote to regulate Uber and Lyft

Just as how the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day, officials at St. Petersburg’s City Hall are deferring taking any regulatory action against ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

City Councilmember Darden Rice told Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal that all parties involved “are ever closer to an agreement to present to Council that is fair to the taxi companies and does not encumber rideshare companies with burdensome regulations and fees.”

After Uber objected to a proposal to tax it on a per-vehicle scale, the ridesharing company — in a roundabout way — suggested it might have to make an economic decision about continuing to operate in St. Petersburg.

One member of City Council said this prompted the city to come up with a new proposal that does away with the per-vehicle tax. Unfortunately, this member said, there was enough time before Thursday’s meeting to get the proposal before Council.

“We are continuing to talk with Uber and the taxi companies in advance of any official action being taken,” Mayor Rick Kriseman’s representative Ben Kirby told Irwin. “Mayor Kriseman’s priority is keeping these companies in our market. He wants to see them thrive.”

Uber officials say the company would prefer to come to an agreement with St. Petersburg on a flat fee, such as in other Florida cities like Tallahassee and Gainesville – fees there range between $5,000 and $10,000 to allow ridesharing companies to operate.

Lyft is “optimistic” the company could reach an understanding with the city.

“We’re continuing productive conversations with Council around the vehicle-for-hire ordinance, including discussions about possible fee structures,” Lyft spokeswoman Chelsea Harrison told the Tampa Bay Times in an email.

On Monday, SaintPetersBlog questioned the wisdom of any effort to regulate ridesharing companies: “Really, Mayor Kriseman, this is the issue on which you want to take a stand? Against the extraordinarily popular ridesharing companies which, by the way, just made sure everyone got home safely after the New Year’s Eve festivities?”

And, as Irwin notes, moving forward with local regulations may be shortsighted ahead of this year’s legislative session: “Lawmakers are expected to consider statewide regulations that would most likely pre-empt any local rules.”

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Building a new ballpark in St. Petersburg: Throwing good money after bad

St. Petersburg is a lovely, vibrant city that is getting better by the day. I love its waterfront and its eclectic, revitalized downtown.

So I hope my friends there don’t this personally when I ask: Have your city leaders lost their minds?

I refer to the “Baseball Forever’ push to a build a stadium that will keep the Tampa Bay Rays within St. Pete city limits. This includes a recently released pitch by superfan Dick Vitale, who routinely drives from his home in Bradenton to watch his beloved Rays.

Awesome.

I hope, however, that sooner rather than later it becomes obvious that as awful as Tropicana Field may be, the stadium is not what has kept fans away by the millions. Unless St. Petersburg’s pitch includes a shape-shifting act that can move itself to the center of the sprawling expanse known as Tampa Bay, building a new ballpark would be throwing good money after bad.

It’s important to interject here that at least St. Petersburg is trying. The Rays have been free to talk with planners in Hillsborough County, but no specific plan has emerged.

Here is the essential truth, though: Location is everything.

A new stadium would have the same old problems if it is built where St. Pete leaders say it should be – on what basically now is the same spot as the Trop, which should have been ruled out long ago.

Have they forgotten the 2010 report from a blue-chip group called ABC (A Baseball Community)? It studied five locations throughout the Bay area, including downtown St. Petersburg, and concluded the following:

“Of the five major trade areas studied as possible locations for this new facility, three of them – one in mid-Pinellas/St. Petersburg, and two in the Tampa area (Westshore and downtown) – represent the best options in terms of demographic trends, potential fan attraction and corporate support. In addition, it is likely that as the Tampa Bay region grows over the coming decades, these areas will become more favorable when compared to the alternatives.”

Let’s pause for a brief history lesson, because you know what they say about people who don’t study past mistakes.

The push for baseball here started in St. Petersburg but quickly became a cooperative between both sides of the Bay. The original idea was a stadium located in the so-called Gateway area on the Pinellas side of the Howard Frankland Bridge.

There was the usual trouble finding a site big enough and affordable, but rather than solve the problem St. Petersburg city leaders ramrodded a plan to build what first was known as the Florida Suncoast Dome. We know it now as the catwalk-covered catastrophe called the Trop.

They did this despite explicit warnings from baseball leaders, including Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, that they were embarking on a fool’s errand.

I remember asking a member of the Pinellas Sports Authority why in the world they wanted to build in downtown St. Pete. His argument, oft repeated, was “It’s just a few more miles from the end of the bridge.”

Those “few more miles” made all the difference.

The Rays consistently rank at or near the bottom in Major League Baseball attendance.

From where I live in Hillsborough County, it is 37 miles to the Trop parking lot through horrendous traffic. Corporate season ticket sales for the Rays are scarce because companies found they couldn’t give them away to employees or clients. That won’t change if a new stadium is built in the same spot as the Trop.

There also is this: I would be greatly surprised if the Rays would even entertain the notion of signing another long-term lease for a stadium in the same spot as the one now – unless the fish in the Gulf of Mexico just to the west of the Trop suddenly start buying tickets.

When you’re trying to fill a stadium for 81 nights, you need to build it where the fans are. There aren’t enough of them in St. Petersburg to make this work.

 

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Orlando, Miami ranked among top places for New Year’s Eve celebrations

If you can’t make it to Times Square to ring in 2017, have no fear: The nation’s best place to party might be closer than you think.

A new WalletHub report ranked Orlando as the best place to celebrate New Year’s Eve. And the Central Florida city wasn’t the only Sunshine State city on the best list. Miami ranked No. 7, while Tampa landed in the No. 13 spot on the WalletHub list.

The company compared the 100 biggest cities “based on 20 key indicators of an epic New Year’s Eve.” Analysts compared the cities across three areas — entertainment and food, costs, and safety and accessibility — and complied 20 metrics, including luxury shopping, average cost of a New Year’s Eve party ticket, and walkability.

Orlando ranked No. 1 overall, with a total score of 76.96 points. It ranked eighth in costs and 82nd in the safety and accountability category. The town the Mouse built came in second in the entertainment and food category.

The City Beautiful fared well in several other categories, including where to find the lowest average price of a New Year’s Eve party ticket and one of the communities with the most nightlife options per capita. When it comes to nightlife options, Orlando was tied for first with San Francisco, Portland, Las Vegas, Atlanta and New Orleans.

Orlando also ranked high in the number of restaurants per capita, sharing the top spot with Miami.

Miami ranked No. 7 in WalletHub’s overall list of the best place to for New Year’s Eve, with a total score of 66.96. It landed in the No. 7 spot in the entertainment and food category, and was ranked 48th in the safety and accessibility category. The South Florida city was ranked 65th when it comes to costs.

Tampa was in the No. 13 spot, with a score of 62.71. It was ranked 20th when it comes to entertainment and food, and earned the No. 14 spot in the safety and accessibility category. It landed in the No. 37 spot in the costs category.

Jacksonville (No. 53), St. Petersburg (No. 63), and Hialeah (No. 90) also earned a spot on WalletHub’s list.

And in case you were wondering, North Las Vegas was ranked No. 100 on WalletHub’s list of the “Best Places for New Year’s Eve Celebrations.”

Source: WalletHub
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Dick Vitale joins St. Pete’s ‘Baseball Forever’ campaign

Dick Vitale has signed on to St. Pete’s “Baseball Forever” campaign.

The campaign is designed to convince the Tampa Bay Rays that their current site, reimagined and redeveloped, remains the best location for Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.

To that end, Vitale is featured in a YouTube promotional video. In the video, Vitale, a longtime Manatee County resident, discusses the benefits of having Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg as well as the benefits of having a new Tampa Bay Rays ballpark centrally located in St. Petersburg.

He also shares his thoughts on the City of St. Petersburg’s master plan vision for the Tropicana Field site.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic,” Vitale says in the video. “I would say it’s awesome, baby.”

Vitale is an ESPN college basketball analyst who joined the network during the 1979-80 season after a successful college and pro coaching career. In 2008, Vitale received the sport’s ultimate honor when he was selected as an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (after being named a finalist in 2004, 2006 and 2007) as a contributor.

The “Baseball Forever” campaign is an initiative of the city of St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, residents, and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays.

While the desired goal is to have the Rays remain at their current site in a re-imagined Tropicana Field, the group is open to supporting the Rays, county officials, the private sector, and other stakeholders should the team identify a future stadium site adjacent to or impacting St. Petersburg.

The Baseball Forever group explains that it’s looking for people to sign a pledge:

“It’s time to take a stand to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg. The city of St. Petersburg is developing a new ballpark proposal for the existing Tropicana Field site, and will soon be submitting this proposal to the Rays. The community’s support for this is essential.

“We now need to show our love and enthusiasm for the Rays, and ask that you pledge your support to encourage the Rays to build a new ballpark in St. Petersburg.”

The Baseball Forever pledge form contains five categories of support. It asks those signing to check all categories that apply to their commitment: “Continue commitment to the Rays as an existing supporter; purchase a suite; commit to becoming a Rays sponsor; commit to purchasing a Rays local business partner package; commit to purchasing (number here) season tickets.”

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City of St. Petersburg chooses Capitol Alliance Group as new lobbyist

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has chosen the Capitol Alliance Group of Tallahassee to be the city’s lobbyist in the state capitol.

Although Kriseman has made the choice, details of the contract have not been ironed out, spokesman Ben Kirby said.

Capitol Alliance will replace the city’s current lobbyist, Peebles and Smith, also based in Tallahassee, in the upcoming Legislative Session. St. Petersburg’s contract will Peebles expired Sept. 30. The contract was worth $50,000 last year.

Capitol Alliance has a wide range of clients across the state, including the city of Key West and Leon County. Other clients include the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, the PGA Tour, and Tesla Motors. The Capitol Alliance Group’s team includes Dr. Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Patrick Biehl.

Capitol Alliance was one of six firms that submitted proposals for the contract. The others were Peebles; Ballard Partners; Ron Boo, P.A.; Dean, Mead, Egerton, Bloodwork, Capouano & Bozarth of Tallahassee; and Southern Strategy Group of Tampa Bay.

It is unclear when the contract will be final. The 2017 Legislative Session convenes March 7.

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Station House announces major renovation, rooftop terrace for St. Pete location

A popular St. Petersburg restaurant and meeting space is planning ambitious changes to its downtown location in the new year.

Station House announced Tuesday a series of extensive revitalizations to its mixed-use structure for 2017. Among the upgrades include the addition of a rooftop garden terrace, and what is being described as a “multi-experience restaurant concept.”

Station House, a five-story, mixed-use building of nearly 32,000 square feet, is located at 260 1st Ave. S in St. Petersburg,

Although exact details have not yet been made public, the design includes a new garden terrace with a shaded pergola trellis system, incorporating green space, foliage, and vines to invoke a New York City-style rooftop for intimate parties and dining.

Entry to the restaurant will move to the front of the building off 1st Ave. South, which will improve traffic flow and allow a greater street-level presence. Plans also include a mural, as well as other features to the entry, streetscape, and landscaping.

“It’s again time for Station House to recruit talented designers and partners from the best cities all over the world and introduce them to St Pete,” says Station House proprietor Steve Gianfilippo. “That’s my purpose, to continue to raise the bar in the way so many of us are doing in St. Pete at all levels, but as always with a few tricks up our sleeves.”

Gianfilippo promises the redesign will elevate Station House as both an entertainment and culinary venue, and is expected to attract new talent for improved diversity in downtown St. Petersburg.

As a meeting and business place, Station House will also offer mentoring and a series of workshops in 2017, as well as a Virtual Reality Gaming facility in the co-work space — a concept which Gianfilippo says is “much like those of Silicon Valley.”

Also, there will be a new men’s locker room installed with shower, and a complete makeover of the Green Richman Arcade, currently branded as the Station House Arcade.

Restaurant renovations are slated to start the first week in January, and Station House will continue to provide catering and event hosting during construction.

Completion of the project is planned for Spring or Summer 2017.

Updates on the remodel, workspace, memberships and office suites are at www.stationhousestpete.com.

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