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St. Pete to provide free grocery shuttle from Midtown to nearby Wal-Mart starting May 13

To address food insecurity in South St. Petersburg, the city will start offering free transportation from Midtown’s Tangerine Plaza to the nearest Wal-Mart supercenter at Central Plaza.

In February, Wal-Mart closed its Tangerine Plaza Neighborhood Market, one of the few major grocery stores servicing Midtown. The city will offer the free 13-week Midtown Grocery Pilot Program beginning Saturday, May 13 and continue Saturdays in May, June, July and August.

A mini-shuttle bus will transport up to 25 passengers from Tangerine Plaza, 1794 22nd St. S. to the Wal-Mart Supercenter, at 201 34th St. N., about 2.5 miles.

In a statement Tuesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the shuttle will be for those residents “facing transportation challenges,” and who relied on the former Tangerine Plaza Wal-Mart. The project is part of an effort to focus on food insecurity as the city measures the demand for a future grocery store in the Plaza.

The shuttle schedule will be between the hours of 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. every Saturday starting May 13. There will be four pickups at Tangerine Plaza, unless there is a traffic delay: departing the Plaza on the hour at 10 a.m.; 11 a.m.; Noon; and 1 p.m. The mini-shuttle will leave from the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the half-hour: at 10:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.; with the last departure at 1:30 p.m.

A driver will arrive at Tangerine Plaza at 9:45 a.m. and wait for passengers in the parking lot area near the overhang of the former Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store.

Kriseman said the city will distribute “Healthy St. Pete” cloth shopping bags four shuttle passengers along with a voluntary rider survey, to gauge need and usage of the service.

Rick Kriseman needs to respond forcefully to Rick Baker’s Trumpian ‘St. Petersburg carnage’

It’s been seven years since Rick Baker exited City Hall as its most powerful, successful mayor. Hardly a day has gone by that someone — perhaps this site more so than anywhere else — has wondered whether he’d have to, like Cincinnatus, come in from the fields to save the city he loves.

Today, St. Petersburg received Baker’s response, as he forcefully declared that he would challenge Rick Kriseman in what wrestling promoters would call a loser-leaves-town match.

Before I analyze what I thought was a semi-dystopian speech by Baker, I need to make it clear that SaintPetersBlog, both the site and the publisher behind it, are neutral in this race.

That may be hard to believe given my extensive history with Baker, but I owe it to the readers of SPB — which basically launched in 2009 to improve upon the lackluster coverage by the local media of that year’s mayoral race — to provide the best, most even-handed analysis of this race.

So, for now, my heart may be with Rick Baker, but my mind and keyboard have no allegiance.

It’s with that declaration that I can say today’s launch by Baker was good but not great.

Baker and his fledgling campaign — still building a campaign website, repurposing old logos and slogans, making sure the phone lines don’t go to other candidate’s voicemails — did a solid job building a crowd for the speech. (It deserves extra points for making sure the launch took place early enough in the day so as to avoid the warm Florida sun.)

It was reassuring to see local campaign veterans Nick Hansen and Brigitta Shouppe circulating behind the scenes. Jim Rimes‘ presence means Baker has one of the best in the consulting business to offer strategic guidance.

It’s hard not to chuckle at media consultant Adam Goodman‘s inexhaustible repertoire of making sure everyone knows he is attached to a candidate. But he’s also a pro who knows how to cut a sharp commercial.

Functioning as one part crowd-builder and one part carnival barker, Amscot executive and former mayoral candidate Deveron Gibbons never stopped moving as he glad-handed almost everyone at the event. He even tried to be kind to me.

Gibbons: “I hear we’re getting together soon.”

Me: “No, I don’t think so.”

Gibbons: “But <name redacted> mentioned we’d be getting together.”

Me: “No. That won’t be happening.”

Gibbons: “Um … OK.”

Me: “Exactly.”

Standing behind Baker was a coalition as diverse as a big-city parade.

“Look, there’s Wengay Newton!”

“That’s Minister So-and-so!”

“Why is the guy who sells OxyClean standing behind Rick?”

As for Baker’s speech … I really don’t know where to begin other than to say it’s exactly not what I would have wanted Baker to say.

First of all, it was mercilessly too long. By minute thirty, people were done looking at their watches. By minute forty-five, people started worrying about being late to work.

Second, the former mayor employed too many sentences that only served to remind people of his former mayorishness.

Mind you, no one in the crowd was unfamiliar with the encyclopedia of Baker’s many, many accomplishments.

Baker could have had everything done in 20 minutes, just saying: “I got sh-t done.” Not even the most loyal supporter of Rick Kriseman would disagree.

But it was Baker’s view of the present St. Pete that was more alarming than his insistence on focusing on the past.

Like Donald Trump, who stood on the National Mall and bemoaned the “American carnage,” Baker did everything but describe the St. Petersburg carnage.

“They have no successes,” Baker said, before blasting Kriseman for failing to build a new Pier.

City Hall is bleeding money, Baker added. The baseball team is leaving, Baker warned. The black community is ignored, Baker opined.

And running the Sunshine City into the ground, Baker contends, is Kriseman and a coterie of overpaid political appointees accountable to no one.

Oh, and by the way, the entire town is covered in sh-t because Kriseman broke the sewer system.

Not that this isn’t a compelling argument. Undoubtedly, it’s the kind of thing I know Baker has heard, including from me, every day since Kriseman entered City Hall.

But the truth is, St. Pete is doing fine. It has big ticket issues it must solve. And Rick Baker is probably the better executive to solve those issues.

But little about St. Pete is, as Baker said today, “disastrous.”

That’s why, if he wants to win, Kriseman needs to double-down on his criticism of Baker.

Don’t, as John Romano seems to want, keep the race a low-key affair.

Blast, and blast away. Nonstop.

The message is simple. Just as it was simple for Joe Biden when articulating the rationale for Barack Obama‘s re-election in 2012.

“Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive,” the Vice President said throughout the 2012 campaign.

“The Rays are still here and a new Pier and sewer system are on the way,” is what Kriseman surrogates should say every day between now and the election.

Meantime, they should knock it off about Baker being against black people because he didn’t support Obama. Didn’t Baker endorse Herman Cain for president? Yes he did, proving that Baker has no issues with a black man in the White House.

As for my advice for Baker, it’s the same as it ever was. Don’t let your candidacy be about you “saving” the city. Again, the city is fine. It can be better, but to return to my Roman Republic reference above, the barbarians are not at the gate.

Voters want a vision of St. Petersburg in 2021, not a nostalgia tour of the city from 2001.

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.

 

Charlie Crist to be ‘carved up’ at Suncoast Tiger Bay After Hours April 20

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club often likes to “carve up” politicians for lunch. Next week, they will have one for dinner, too.

Congressman Charlie Crist is the special guest for the Club’s “Tiger Bay After Hours” event Thursday, April 20. The St. Petersburg Democrat will appear at a special evening meeting, which begins 6:30 p.m. at The Hangar Restaurant at the city’s waterfront Albert Whitted Airport downtown.

There will be appetizers and a cash bar. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

As seating will be limited, organizers have announced a firm RSVP deadline of Monday, April 17 – walk-ins will not be accommodated. Tickets are free for Tiger Bay Club members, and $10 for guests.

Reservations are available online. The Hangar is at 540 First St. SE in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Bay Rowdies MLS chances improve as St. Louis rejects soccer stadium plan

Chances St. Petersburg will get a Major League Soccer expansion franchise improved Tuesday after voters in St. Louis rejected a proposal to use public money for a new soccer stadium.

For a city that just lost the NFL Rams, St. Louis residents could just not justify spending $60 million for a new stadium. The stadium plan lost by 3,000 votes, 47 to 53 percent.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MLS commissioner Don Garber said he was “’confident’ St. Louis would get an expansion team in the league if the stadium got public financing.”

The league is looking to grow from 24 to 28 teams; two new clubs will be announced this year, teams will begin playing by 2020.

St. Louis was one of about dozen cities, including St. Petersburg, vying for an expansion team.

MLS representative Dan Courtemanche told the Post-Dispatch that the defeat was “clearly a significant setback for the city’s expansion opportunity and a loss for the community.”

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards promised the City of St. Pete that no taxpayer money would be used to expand Al Lang Stadium in his bid for an expansion slot.

Edwards also said he would pay the $150 million expansion fee.

St. Pete is holding a referendum May 2 to ask voters to allow the city to negotiate with Edwards for up to a 25-year lease for Al Lang Stadium. It is an essential part of the Rowdies receiving the MLS bid.

 

Deadline to register for St. Pete referendum on Rowdies, Al Lang lease approaches

St. Petersburg voters wanting a say on extending the Tampa Bay Rowdies lease on Al Lang field should be aware that time is running short to register for the citywide referendum May 2.

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark is reminding St. Petersburg residents of a deadline Monday, April 3, to register to vote in the St. Petersburg Special Election Referendum set for May 2.

New voters will need to register by the deadline to take part in Referendum. Now-registered Florida voters need not re-register, but it is a good idea to update voter registration information such as address.

St. Petersburg residents will decide on allowing the city to approve extending the Al Lang Field lease with the Tampa Bay Rowdies for up to 25 years, part of a plan by the Rowdies to attract a Major League Soccer expansion team. The team will pay stadium upgrades, and not use tax money.

According to VotePinellas.com, the referendum will ask:

“May City Council approve an agreement regarding the disposition of Al Lang Field under conditions set forth in ordinance 262-H? These conditions include but are not limited to: term not exceeding 25 years; primary but not sole purpose is a home field for a Major League Soccer expansion team; and City funding shall not be used for stadium upgrades or expansion proposed in bid for expansion team or required for award of expansion team.”

The Supervisor of Elections office has so far mailed 68,444 ballots to domestic voters living in St. Petersburg; registered voters can still request a mail ballot for the referendum. Officials will fill additional mail ballot requests upon receipt.

Elections Offices must receive voted mail ballots must by 7 p.m. Election Day. Clark wants voters to take note of any changes in delivery service, and allow a minimum of one week ballot to be returned by mail to the Elections Office.

Voters can pick up registration applications at any Supervisor of Elections office, public library, tax collector office, government office offering social services. To ask for a mail ballot, residents can also go to VotePinellas.com, call (727) 464-VOTE (8683) or email MailBallot@VotePinellas.com. The deadline for mail ballot requests is 5 p.m. April 26.

 

Public gets another shot at suggesting fixes to St. Pete’s ‘Sewer-gate’

It’s a crisis that’s become something of a boondoggle — and, moreover, a public health issue.

Now St. Petersburg’s overwhelmed and dilapidated sewer system is again at the forefront as officials held another round of public discussions in the costly and complex issue of best to go about fixing the problem.

The topic of the evening, as reported by The Tampa Bay Times, a 12-page consent order written by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – faulting city officials when the system became overwhelmed in the wake of Hurricane Hermine September, spilling somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million gallons of partially treated sewage.

DEP slapped the city with an $810,000 fine for the unauthorized move, but in fairness, city officials say, it was unavoidable.

“When we’re put into a situation where we have to choose between public health and the environment, either way, we lose,” Claude Tankersley, the public works chief for the city, told The New York Times days after the spill happened. “The fact that our system was constructed over decades makes it more complicated.”

The event became a controversy when city officials, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, claimed most of the sewage was filtered rain water and dramatically underestimated the amount spilled, which dumped into Tampa Bay, adding to tens of millions of gallons also spilled by area municipalities like Tampa, Largo and Clearwater.

On Wednesday Kriseman listened, Tampa Bay Times reporter Claire McNeill noted in her story.

“You all let my 8-year-old daughter go sailing right in the immediate area where the discharges were occurring,” Martha Collins, 44, told officials, according to The Tampa Bay Times. “And that’s absolutely unacceptable.”

It was a chance for several people to let city officials know how they felt about being misled — about the loss of trust.

One young candidate for City Council, Eritha Cainion, 20, discussed the termination of a black employee with the City of St. Petersburg, who had been terminated in the unfolding aftermath of the spill, intoning the man had been made a scapegoat while also noting spirits were not high in that department.

“We’re talking about a Department that has severe racial tension,” Cainion said, McNeill’s article said.

Tankersley, who was present at the meeting Wednesday, which was held at Azalea Recreation Center, mediated the meeting. He thanked the young man and explained the course of events in September, when Hurricane Hermine swept through, dumping inches of rain in a brief period.

As the meeting moved forward, opinions ranged from conservationism to anger, with one individual calling for the arrests of those responsible, McNeill’s piece said.

“Somebody needs to go to jail for what happened,” the person said, wrote the Times. “That was a crime.”

Sabastien Bourdais wins St. Pete Grand Prix by going worst-to-first

Sebastien Bourdais started the day in last place. He finished in first.

Any questions?

Bourdais took the St. Petersburg Grand Prix Sunday, beating reigning Series champion Simon Pagenaud by more than 10 seconds. Bourdais, who is from France but lives in St. Petersburg, started the day in 21st place – last – after a problem in qualifying.

“It’s probably the hardest race to recover. The (passing) windows are super narrow, and it’s difficult to pass,” Bourdais said. “We had a pretty good car, and I just threw it away. I really didn’t know what to do myself. To turn the result from yesterday to today, I just thank the guys.”

Bourdais earned his 36th career victory, which broke a tie with Bobby Unser for sixth on IndyCar’s all-time win list. It was the fifth career win for the Coyne team.

“From last to first, that’s about all you can do,” Coyne said, adding of his new hires, “we knew we’d be much better than we were before.”

Bourdais led 69 of the 110 laps to give Honda a much-needed victory over Chevrolet.

Scott Dixon finished third for Chip Ganassi Racing, in its first race back with Honda. Ryan Hunter-Reay was fourth for Andretti Autosport, and Honda appeared much improved with four drivers in the top five. Takuma Sato was fifth in his first race with Andretti.

St. Pete to spend $16M on Northwest sewage plant upgrades by summer

Sewage continues to be a nagging problem for St. Petersburg, after two summers with huge wastewater discharges into Tampa Bay and surrounding waters.

At the center of the debate, reports Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, is whether to reopen the shuttered Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Facility, as well as expanding the Southwest sewage plant.

Getting not nearly as much press is the city’s Northwest plant, which also suffered a massive spill after Hurricane Hermine, dumping sewage in neighborhoods along 22nd Avenue N and into Boca Ciega Bay.

Although the city posted some warning signs, residents weren’t notified of the spillage.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman explained warnings were not necessary since the 58 million gallons of sewage was “reclaimed water,” a statement he later admitted was wrong and reclassified the wastewater as “partially-treated sewage.”

After a series of missteps over the spills, which Frago describes as “enraging residents and eroding trust” in Kriseman, the city is now looking at spending $16 million to upgrade the Northwest plant ahead of the upcoming summer rainy season.

Previously, the plant had no problem with overflow. But after Hermine, which Frago says “caused a bottleneck to develop at the plant’s filters preventing the water able to be treated.”

“The city plans to drill two new injection wells to dispose of treated sewage deep underground and add more filters to increase the plant’s capacity to treat sewage from 40 million gallons a day to 55 million gallons a day,” Frago writes. Work is scheduled for completion by the summer.

Among the work needed at the Northwest plant is a repair of one of the clarifying tanks, which allow solid waste to settle. During Hermine, one of the tanks was out of commission. Frago notes that the city will dig to new injection wells, which will require drilling rigs to operate around the plant 24/7 for about a year, with noise that could be heard by residents nearby.

Residents did complain about some work recently, but chief plant operator Sylvia Rosario tells the Times that it is a necessary trade-off for improved performance.

“They have to make a choice: do they want to put up with the noise for a year or risk another overflow?” she said.

Frago reports that Kriseman is committing $304 million through 2021 to fix the city sewage system, with almost $59 million for the Northwest plant. But rebuilding trust may be another challenge.

Jameis Winston: Comments about girls were ‘poor word choice’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who was accused of raping another student when he was in college, said he made a “poor word choice” in comments about women in a 40-minute talk to students at a Florida elementary school earlier this week.

When the students – third- through fifth-graders at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg – started getting fidgety, Winston told the boys to stand up, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down,” Winston told the children. “But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to. Now a lot of boys aren’t supposed to be soft-spoken.”

The quarterback went on to say, “But the ladies, they’re supposed to be silent, polite, gentle. My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong.”

Several hours later, Winston was asked by reporters about the speech and reflected about what he’d said. He said he was making an effort to interact with a young boy in the audience who didn’t appear to be paying attention. He said he didn’t want to single him out so he asked all the boys to stand.

“During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some,” he said.

The newspaper reported that some adults in the room were troubled by Winston’s comments, but didn’t want to comment publicly.

Bonnie Volland, a speech language pathologist at Melrose, said Winston’s message about children being able to accomplish anything was positive. But when he told the boys to stand up and that they are strong, some of the girls took note.

“One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, “I’m strong, too,” Vollnad told the Times.

Winston was accused of raping a student in 2012 when they were both Florida State University students. Winston has said they had consensual sex. He was not arrested. Winston and the accuser settled a civil lawsuit in December.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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