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Baseball Santa has been benched in St. Pete

For almost two decades, the holiday light fest at Straub Park celebrated baseball as well as the season with a display showing Santa Claus playing baseball.

But last year, baseball Santa was sent to the dugout. And he’s not back this year. It appears that, at least for the future, Santa has been benched.

City officials say baseball Santa’s disappearance has no hidden message about the future of the Rays in St. Pete.

“Oh, no, no, for heaven’s sake, it’s Christmas,” St. Petersburg recreation supervisor Polly Brannon said. “I’m a huge baseball fan myself. There was no hidden message.”

Baseball Santa’s absence, she said, has everything to do with novelty. And a bit to do with his price tag.

Baseball Santa had first been put on display around the time the Rays moved to St. Pete. That was 1998. Over the years, Brannon said, the novelty wore off.  Eventgoers got tired of the same old displays.

That meant baseball Santa and other displays, such as bells and a bear in a box, were also mothballed to make way for new displays like a filigree tree, toy soldiers and a new Santa sleigh. Baseball Santa was also a large display, she said, and carried a price tag to match. City officials thought they could get more displays for the same price and, in that way, expand the light show.

And the city was right, Brannon said. No one complained that baseball Santa had disappeared. Instead, festival goers were happy to see new displays. That doomed baseball Santa to permanent benching.

“He didn’t come back because we got compliments on changing (the displays),” Brannon said.

James Museum to be one of few in south devoted to Western art

When the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art opens in about a year, it will help cement St. Petersburg’s place as a destination for art lovers from around the world.

The prospect has caused a buzz in the art world and Thursday morning, Emily Kapes, art collection curator at Raymond James Financial, gave a short preview of what’s coming to local art lovers. The event was sponsored by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

Tom and Mary James, the donors whom the museum will be named after, began collecting art while they were dating in the 1960s, Kapes said. The collection at first concentrated on modern art but as the Jameses traveled out west to go skiing, they became more and more familiar with and enamored of modern Western art.

Now they have about 3,000 works of art that’s housed in office space at Raymond James Financial in the Carillon area of Pinellas County. The bulk of that — about 1,800 pieces — is Western art. The “gallery,” which comprises all walls of the office space, is open to the public for tours.

“They’ve never sold a piece in over 50 years of collecting,” Kapes said. “We have it all.”

It’s that collection that will be the basis of the James Museum, which will be located on two floors at 100 Central Ave. in downtown St. Petersburg. Between 400 and 500 pieces of art are expected to be transferred from Carillon to St. Pete. Also coming will be a collection of Native American jewelry.

The new museum will be about 130,000 square feet and will not only have gallery space but also a sculpture court, classroom space, a theater, café, museum store and rental space for weddings and other events.

When complete, Kapes said, the James Museum will be one of only a few art museums in the south that’s devoted to Western Art. The nearest is in Georgia.

“We’re excited to bring Western art to Florida,” Kapes said.

The new museum was not the only good news for art lovers at Thursday’s get together. The other good news — the art that will be left at the Raymond James Financial Center will remain on display to the public, even after the museum opens.

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St. Pete takes first steps to comprehensive plan to handle climate change, rising seas

About a year ago, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman signed an executive order establishing an office of sustainability.

Now, a group of experts from New Orleans, Miami, Boston and Tampa Bay have come together in partnership with St. Petersburg officials to set strategies that can be used in developing a comprehensive plan to answer the problems presented by climate change and rising seas.

The two-day conference, spearheaded by the Urban Land Institute of Tampa Bay, did not limit itself to the effect of storms, droughts and other emergencies on real property. Members of the group also considered the impact of climate emergencies on people and businesses. They also considered the disparate impact on some members of society who are older, poorer or who, for other reasons, are less able to cope with problems caused by the climate.

The real challenge, they said, is to raise climate change to an issue that’s in the front of peoples’ minds.

Among the strategies they recommend St. Pete consider in coming up with a plan:

Communicate with and educate residents about the need for such a plan. This should include people from all areas of the city.

Communicate with and educate businesses about the need for a plan and the wisdom of preparing to survive climate emergencies and to recover afterwards.

Think regionally and create partnerships with all stakeholders. This could include other governments, businesses, schools, homeowners’ associations, among other groups.

Demonstrate what’s possible with city projects: Consider, for example, including resiliency as a part of the redesign of Tropicana Field.

Be sure to budget for resiliency.

“There have been some really good takeaways,” St. Petersburg Council member Darden Rice said.

She added that resiliency in the face of sea rise and climate change is “not just an esoteric greenie subject about how to build neat buildings.”

Rice said she was especially struck by the need to include resiliency as a part of the city budget. And, she said, the issue of resiliency for all St. Petersburg residents is extremely important.

“It’s hard to be resilient when you’re broke,” Rice said.

St. Petersburg plans major overhaul to city marina

City officials are looking for residents to provide ideas for updating the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina.

They’re holding a public session from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N.

“We’re taking the first baby step,” project manager Rick Hermann said. “We’re at the very beginning of this.”

The docks at the marina were built in the 1960s and 1970s and are starting to show their age, Hermann said. Also, the demand for docks has changed to meet changes in boat styles. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, he said, people had smaller boats. Nowadays, the boats are larger and wider so larger docks are needed to accommodate them.

The city is creating a new master marina plan to upgrade worn out infrastructure and to meet boatowners’ needs and interests. The actual implementation of that plan will take years and likely be done in phases.

The master plan is expected to include replacement of the Central and South Yacht Basin docks. And other upgrades, such as the inclusion of Wi-Fi, snack bars, public showers and restrooms are also likely to be included in the master plan.

That’s what Tuesday’s meeting is about, to give residents an opportunity to learn about current conditions at the Marina and hear an overview of the regional market. Residents will also be able to offer suggestions and ideas on improvements to boating conditions and efficiency at the Marina, in keeping with the city’s Downtown Waterfront Master Plan.

This will be the first of three meetings on updates to the Marina master plan. Two other community meetings are planned. The dates will be announced.

St Pete Municipal Marina Map

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.”


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.

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.”

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.

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.

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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