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On House floor, Gus Bilirakis honors Tuskegee Airman from Pinellas

Congressman Gus Bilirakis took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday to honor the life and service of Tuskegee Airman Willie Rogers from Pinellas County.

Rogers, the oldest remaining Tuskegee Airman from the original 100th Fighter Squadron, died in November.

Bilirakis, a Tarpon Springs Republican, represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes parts of northern Pinellas County.

Bilirakis’s full remarks:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor the life and service of an American hero from St. Petersburg, Florida: Tuskegee Airman Willie Rogers. Willie was the oldest remaining Tuskegee Airman from the original legendary 100th Fighter Squadron, the first African-American military aviators in the history of the U.S. Armed Forces.

“He was a part of history, and I’m deeply saddened to hear he died recently at the incredible age of 101.

“Willie truly represented the Greatest Generation: humble, hardworking, and dedicated to his country and his family. He fought the Axis powers, and protected our freedom and way of life, despite the disgraceful way the Tuskegee Airmen were treated.

“We would not be the nation we are today without those who served. I would like to sincerely thank Willie for his honorable service and his unwavering love of country.”

 

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Cross-Bay Ferry, St. Pete bike share off to strong start

If the first month is any indication, both of St. Pete’s experiments in novel ways to get around will be a success.

According to figures provided to the St. Petersburg Council on Thursday, a total of 7,491 passengers rode the Cross-Bay Ferry during November. And riders have taken 1,378 trips using St. Pete’s bike share program.

Both programs are a way to relieve traffic congestion for residents while also providing another attractor for tourists.

The bike-share program, run by Coast Bikes, provides 100 rental bikes at 10 hubs around the city. The bikes can be rented by the hour or regulars can buy monthly memberships.

City figures indicate that, in November, the bikes were used for an average of 46 trips a day with the average trip being 2.5 miles long. The bikes traveled a total of about 3,500 miles last month.

The most popular hub is proving to be at the Vinoy – 18 percent of the trips originated there and 21 percent ended there.

The Cross-Bay ferry, which takes passengers from St. Petersburg to Tampa, is a six-month pilot project designed to meet several goals. One is to provide commuters with an easy alternative to driving across congested bridges on the way to work in downtown Tampa. It’s also seen as a way to entice tourists from Tampa to spend the day in St. Pete and vice versa.

St. Petersburg Council member Jim Kennedy said he was pleased to see the Cross-Bay ferry was off to a good start. Now the city must figure out a way to continue and build on that momentum after the pilot portion of the project has concluded. Kennedy said he does not see the ferry ever becoming independent and self-sustaining without outside help.

“We have real challenges, even with the great numbers,” Kennedy said. The challenge is “to take it from the pilot project and make it transportation.”

Kenendy said that he thinks one key to have people see the ferry as a true form of transportation is to have a minimum of four of them so they can make more frequent trips.

The city, he said, needs to figure out how to get more boats and to come up with a reasonable expectation of how successful the ferry can be in the future.

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St. Pete hires communications manager for public works

bill-logan-background-2St. Petersburg has taken some hard hits recently over two sewage spills, the condition of the city’s sewer system and investigations into the public works department.

To get more positive stories out, the city has hired a communications director for the public works department. He will earn $90,000 a year.

Bill Logan joined the Public Works Administration staff this week and was introduced to city council members Thursday.

“He will be a great addition to our staff,” public works administrator Claude Tankersley said. “Bill will help us streamline and focus our communications – both internally and externally.”

Logan is no stranger to the Tampa Bay community, coming to the newly-created role after more than a dozen years of weather forecasting and reporting at WFTS-TV in Tampa.  He has also worked as a reporter and anchor at local television stations WTSP, WTOG and WTVT as well as WFLA Radio during three decades in broadcasting. Bill also worked in Media Relations at Walt Disney World.

He and his wife, Lesley, a charter school Principal in Tampa – moved to the Bay area after getting married in 1987. Together, they’ve raised two daughters and have two grandchildren.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to highlight the important work being done to keep this community moving forward,” said Logan. “I enjoy taking complex issues and making them more understandable.”

Logan added, “I love being able to tell positive stories. We have some great stories here to tell.”

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St. Pete, county, Innovation Center partner to create business incubator

The Tampa Bay Innovation Center, an innovation and entrepreneurship center for technology businesses, will partner with Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg to conceive and operate a major new business incubator.

“We have enjoyed a close and productive relationship with Tampa Bay Innovation Center, and this collaboration with the TBIC team and the city of St. Petersburg is an opportunity to bring a new energy and significant resources to the Pinellas startup community,” said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development.

Meidel added, “Entrepreneurs are a crucial part of our economy. We’re ready to begin working with our business community to design this space, recruit tenants and to discuss sponsorship and fund raising.”

Tonya Elmore, president and CEO of STAR-TEC Enterprises, dba Tampa Bay Innovation Center, said the incubator helps the center achieve one of its goals.

“From the time we commissioned a feasibility study about a downtown incubator in October 2013, it has been our goal to pursue this project to allow us to serve the growing needs of the region’s thriving entrepreneurial community,” Elmore said. “As the community’s oldest incubator and accelerator, we believe we have demonstrated the track record that allows us to perform successfully. We are so grateful to our board of directors and our many partners who have supported our growth and success throughout the years, and look forward to their continued partnership and support.”

The Tampa Bay Innovation Center was selected after responding to Pinellas County’s recent request for Letters of Interest from potential operators of the proposed incubator. A Memorandum of Understanding between Pinellas County and TBIC will facilitate the next phase of the project, including tenant recruitment and fund raising.

As outlined in the request for Letter of Interest, the project includes a 40,000-50,000 square-foot mixed-use business incubator facility in the City of St. Petersburg that could potentially support research, innovation and entrepreneurial activity in the technology, life sciences, marine sciences and/or advanced manufacturing sectors. The location is the southwest corner of 11th Avenue and Fourth Street S in St. Petersburg.

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Plan for St. Pete’s Deuces is to unite and develop

One of the most historical areas of St. Petersburg is the 22nd Street S corridor – the “Deuces” – once one of the most vibrant streets in the city’s black community.

The street lost its vibrancy and became almost deserted. But recently, there’s a kind of rejuvenation going on. But with that rejuvenation has come a certain tension between the people who live in the area and those who are moving in.

Now the city is trying to create a bond between the old and the new to allow redevelopment to satisfy both sides. At least that’s part of the idea behind the Warehouse Arts District/Deuces Live joint action plan.

The plan will have its official kickoff Wednesday evening. On Thursday, there will be a trolley and a walking tour of the area.

“Some people call it gentrification. Some people call it development. Some people call it job development,” said Alan DeLisle, a city development administrator. “Some people question who the jobs are for.”

DeLisle agreed that there is a certain tension between members of the Deuces Live, which seeks to develop the area while preserving its heritage, and the Warehouse Arts District, which spans more than the 22nd Street corridor. The district represents many of the businesses that have moved into the area in recent years.

“It is very important for us get those different views on the table,” DeLisle said.

The idea of developing the Deuces, which is in the center of the south St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, has talked about for awhile. But now it’s becoming a reality and a firm plan needs to be mindful of all stakeholders, but must especially benefit those who live in the area and want to work there.

Wednesday’s kickoff, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Morean Center for Clay, 420 22nd St. S, is designed to formally announce the plan. But it’s also a chance to get those ideas and voices from all sides about what the community needs as it develops into a vibrant commercial corridor.

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Duke Energy to begin multi-million dollar St. Pete power infrastructure upgrade

Downtown St. Petersburg’s power infrastructure is getting a multi-million-dollar safety and reliability upgrade.

Over the next two weeks, crews from Duke Energy will be adding advanced safety features to electrical manholes throughout downtown St. Pete. The project aims to improve the city’s infrastructure as part of a $140 million Duke Energy reliability program.

Starting Nov. 21-23 and Nov. 28-30, weather permitting, Duke will be installing upgrades to manholes between 1st Avenue North and Central and 4th Street North and 5th Street North and on 8th Street North between Central Avenue and 1st Street North.

During the process, drivers may experience temporary lane closures and traffic delays.

The project is part of Duke’s long-term strategy to provide effective power utility customers in the St. Petersburg area.

Duke asks for any customers with questions regarding the project to call 800-700-8744.

In a statement, the company said the planned manhole upgrades are not related to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman‘s Wastewater Improvement Plan, and are not expected to have any impact on operations, including sanitary sewers, potable, or reclaimed water.

Earlier this month, Kriseman unveiled a $304-million, five-year plan to help alleviate recent problems with the city’s wastewater. Short-term projects will take approximately two years, and the plan should be completed in five years.

Duke Energy Florida serves nearly 1.7 million customers in a 13,000-square mile service area that spans from central Florida to the Panhandle. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Duke is one of the nation’s largest electric power holding companies, with 7.4 million customers throughout the Southeast and Midwest United States.

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Cross-Bay Ferry offers discount pass to commuters

Fresh off two weekends of nearly sold-out trips, the Cross-Bay Ferry is offering a Commuter Value Pass option, providing weekday commuters with a 50-percent discount off ticket prices.

Here’s how the Value Pass program works: Starting Nov. 28, customers can log on to CrossBayFerry.com to become a Value Pass holder, and purchase a pack of 20 tickets for $100, or $5 per ticket, compared to the regular $10 one-way ticket price. To plan their commutes, customers then log on anytime and reserve a specific sailing for themselves for any voyage. The Commuter Value Pass can only be used once per sailing, but anytime during the six-month pilot project.

Commuter Value Pass holders will have a backup plan if they have an emergency and need to get home and cannot use the scheduled ferry service. The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and the Florida Department of Transportation, District 7, have extended the “Emergency Ride Home” program to Value Pass passengers.

This program provides up to $100 in taxi fare, up to four times per year for those who use an alternative to driving alone while commuting to work two times or more each week. Options include transit, carpool, vanpool, and bicycle. The service is available 24/7, and individuals must register online for the TBARTA myCOMMUTE program to qualify and receive their first voucher.

In addition, seven-day a week service will begin next week. The first three days of Thanksgiving week are free as part of Frontier Communication’s “Ride Free” promotional, with tickets available at the dock on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Regularly scheduled, weekday service begins Nov. 28 with ferries leaving St. Petersburg at 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and from Tampa at 9:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m.

Wine, beer and drink sales will start his weekend, fulfilling a top request of customers and prospective commuters surveyed by the Tampa Downtown Partnership.

Other organizations are joining the ferry project in a variety of ways. Frontier Communications is sponsoring “Ride Free Day, Powered by Frontier,” offering free walk-up tickets for every third Sunday of the month, plus free rides on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The Tampa Bay Times is producing a special onboard publication called “Destinations” that highlights the fantastic shops, restaurants and hotels in Tampa and St. Petersburg. And last weekend, the Tampa Bay Lightning bought out the vessel for a special run to carry fans in St. Petersburg to a game at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.

Strategic Property Partners also will start providing discounted parking at the surface parking lot immediately north of the Marriott Waterside on dates when there is not an event at Amalie Arena. Ferry passengers will be able to park one block from the ferry terminal and receive a $5 discount on the day they use the ferry. Passengers can pick up a discount voucher when they board the ferry.

Passengers can purchase tickets at the docks near the St. Petersburg Museum of History and the Convention Center in Tampa, or at CrossBayFerry.com. The launch of the Cross-Bay Ferry became possible through a unique collaboration between the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, and of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

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Jack Latvala open to state aid for homeowners needing sewer fixes

State lawmakers had harsh words for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman during a meeting Wednesday to discuss sewage overflows.

“I caution you on anymore overflows,” state Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Republican who represents House District 69 in the Florida Legislature. “Please be Superman and make sure there is not another overflow.”

Kriseman had just given members of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation an update on the progress St. Petersburg has made to solving sewage woes. During two tropical storms this past summer, the city dumped thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay because the system did not have enough capacity to handle the massive amount of rain.

Kriseman outlined a five-year, $304 million plan to increase capacity and totally revamp the city’s system. Kriseman told the delegation that he has set a target date of August 2017 to have the first improvements in place.

But delegation members were skeptical that Kriseman could make that deadline. Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala asked if the city is offering a bonus to contractors who could bring the projects in on time.

“I’d probably bet against” the city’s being able to complete the short-term improvements by next August, said Latvala.

Claude Tankersley, St. Petersburg’s public works administrator, said the city is planning to offer early completion bonuses.

Both he and Peters wanted to know how Kriseman planned to handle storm and rain events if the city doesn’t make the August completion date. Both asked about the possibility of renting “bladders,” or tanks, or a barge to hold overflow until the system could handle it.

Kriseman and Tankersley said they had considered those, and other solutions, but believed they were not the best use of money. Tankersley added that type of storage is limited because, once the bladders or tanks are filled, they stay filled until they can be emptied after the system recovers. It’s more efficient, Tankersley said, to go ahead with improvements that will enable the system to continue treating wastewater during the entire storm.

Latvala was not convinced.

“I don’t want to explain to the people of Tampa Bay,” he said, why there’s another overflow. “I don’t think that you have adequately explored other options.”

Kriseman said there is no way to guarantee that there would never be an overflow, but “the last thing we want is to have another discharge.”

All agreed that, although St. Petersburg has become the poster child for sewage infrastructure issues, the problem is widespread throughout Pinellas County, Florida and the U.S. One part of the problem is the poor condition of many of the pipes on private property that are carrying wastewater from homes and businesses into municipal systems. The cost for fixing those will fall on homeowners.

Kriseman said the Legislature should put some sort of grant or other program in place to help homeowners afford to have their systems inspected and replaced if necessary. The estimated price for doing so runs between $2,000 to $6,000.

“That’s something we want to put on the table,” Latvala said.

Latvala seemed open to the idea. One possibility, he said, is to tie relief for property owners’ costs to a proposal by Gov. Rick Scott for a matching grant program to encourage the owners of septic tanks to move to a sewer system.

The Pinellas delegation took no action at Wednesday’s meeting. The delegation is scheduled to meet again Dec. 2. Members could take action then.

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Six firms vie for City of St. Pete’s lobbying contract

Six firms are in the running to be St. Petersburg’s lobbyist in Tallahassee.

The contract, worth $50,000 last year, belonged to Peebles and Smith from Tallahassee. Its contract with the city expired Sept. 30 and the group has submitted a proposal to continue representing St. Pete.

The five other firms who have responded to the city’s request for proposal are:

Ballard Partners of Tallahassee — Amazon.com, American Traffic Solutions, and the cities of Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, and Jacksonville are among the firm’s many clients. According to LobbyTools, the firm earned more than $2.19 million in the second quarter, making it one of the top-earning firms in the state. In Tampa Bay, the firm is represented by Ana Cruz and Todd Josko.

Ron Book of Aventura — Book’s extensive client list includes the cities of Tallahassee, Pinellas Park, North Miami, and North Miami Beach; Miami-Dade, Brevard, and Broward counties; the Broward County Clerk of Court; and the Miami-Dade Public School System. According to LobbyTools, Book earned more than $1.55 million in the second quarter of 2016.

Capitol Alliance Group of Tallahassee — The firm boasts 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.

Dean, Mead, Egerton, Bloodwork, Capouano & Bozarth of Tallahassee — Lobbyist Pete Dunbar’s clients include the Pinellas and Manatee county commissions, Charlotte County, and the City of Clearwater. The client list also includes the Florida Ambulance Association, The Florida Bar, the Pinellas Education Foundation, and Tampa Bay Water.

Southern Strategy Group of Tampa Bay — Its clients include the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. In Tampa Bay, the firm is represented by Laura Boehmer, Seth McKeel, and David Shepp. According to LobbyTools, Southern Strategy Group earned more than $2.13 million in the second quarter of 2016, making it one of the Top 3 earners in the state.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has not seen the proposals yet nor has a timeline for choosing a candidate.

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Arts and crafts museum in St. Pete signs $70 million construction contract

Art collector Rudy Ciccarello has signed a contract with Gilbane Construction to begin construction on the $70-million Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.

The MAACM, designed by Alfonso Architects, will serve as a repository for founder Ciccarello’s world-class art collection. The signing of the contract between the MAACM and Gilbane Construction marks the culmination of more than three years of intensive design collaboration between Ciccarello, of the Two Red Roses Foundation, and award-winning architect Alberto Alfonso.

“The engagement of Gilbane Construction is a very important development. But in many ways it is just the beginning of a two-year process,” Ciccarello said.

“There is much work yet to be done and challenges to overcome. But I am confident in the team that I have assembled and that, at the end of the day, the City of St. Petersburg will be proud of what has been accomplished.”

Alfonso said, “As an architect, opportunities like the MAACM are rare and truly come along once in a lifetime. So, it was with great pride and excitement that my firm was selected to design this major museum and cultural center to showcase a world-class collection of the decorative arts — the only one of its kind in America.”

Alfonso added, “We were given the challenge and freedom to create something truly unique, without caveats. Rudy supported and encouraged me in every way possible and was truly a leader and working partner in what has been an incredible collaboration.”

The museum, originally planned as a four-story, 90,000-square-foot building with a cost of $35 million, will instead occupy five floors, covering 137,000 square feet. The building is now estimated to cost $70 million, not including the $16 million cost of land acquisition, parking garage construction, and architectural and consulting fees.

The expansion in both square feet and budget was necessary to increase gallery and exhibition spaces, and to include a 100-seat auditorium, a resource library, children’s education center and gallery, and a graphic studio and darkroom facilities for teaching purposes.

Plans also include an upscale destination restaurant, museum café, retail store, and event spaces for weddings, corporate events, and private parties.

“I am excited for the next phase of the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said.

“This museum represents years of effort and investment, and the City of St. Petersburg is ready to do what we can to welcome it to our already thriving arts scene. St. Petersburg is a city of the arts, and this museum is already an important part of that. I look forward to working with Rudy Ciccarello and everyone on the team at the museum, and cannot wait to cut the ribbon.”

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