CLEARWATER - Four industry leaders gave their predictions for 2015 to the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce, based in Largo, during the chamber’s annual breakfast, A Tampa Bay Economic Forecast Jan. 21.
Jenn Holloway, community affairs director of Great 38 TV, moderated the breakfast, at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater.
Beginning the predictions was Susannah Costello, Visit Florida’s vice president of Global Brand, speaking on the tourism outlook for the state.
“I feel like I should have been obligated to bring a crystal ball or at least a Magic 8 Ball, but instead all I have is some numbers,” she began.
The numbers, however, predicted record growth in Florida over the next five years, she said.
“We have a lot of momentum going into 2015 - record visitor numbers for the past three consecutive years leading up to 2014,” Costello said.
Among the positive indicators were nearly 70 percent hotel occupancy statewide and a 2 percent gain in the national share of domestic vacations.
“That is an economic engine, and it’s the secret to a momentum that we’re seeing now,” Costello said.
State economists are predicting that within the next five years, the state will bring in 123 million visitors, amounting to a jump from 1.7 million visitors in the state on any given day to 2.2 million visitors. With the rapid escalation, the key will be “destination management not just destination marketing,” Costello said. The focus had to be in moving tourists around the state, instead of accepting that they would stay in Miami and Orlando.
TREASURE ISLAND - In an effort to “set the record straight,” Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning defended allegations of environmental destruction by the city during a press conference Jan. 21 at the Bilmar Beach Resort.
The allegations came in a recent lawsuit by the operators of the Thunderbird Beach Resort, Page Terrace Motel and Windjammer Resort Motel who contend the city is in violation of state law by allowing vehicles to be driven on the beach seaward of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection coastal construction line, behind the hotels, during special events.
Circuit Court Judge Pamela Campbell ruled in favor of the motel operators in early November on a motion for summary judgment. The city has since appealed the decision.
Campbell agreed with the plaintiffs that Treasure Island was in violation of Florida statute 161.58, which makes it illegal to park or drive vehicles on Florida beaches without a local ordinance that allows it. Treasure Island has such an ordinance but it was passed after the state deadline.
Pinellas County motorists are paying less than $2 for a gallon of unleaded - the lowest pump price in the state, according to AAA Auto Club’s Fuel Gauge report for Jan. 23.
The average price in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Area was $1.97, which is nearly 13 cents lower than the average price statewide. The state average was $2.10, six cents more than the national average of $2.04.
As prices continue to fall, experts are predicting that the national average could hit $2 at any time.
Residents of Tampa Bay are saving more than $1.32 a gallon compared to Jan. 23, 2014 when the average price was $3.29 a gallon Jan. 22. In late December, prices averaged $2.37. A week ago, AAA reported an average price of $2.044. The highest price ever recorded in the local area was $4 on July 16, 2008.
Orlando was the only other metro area reporting pump prices less than $2 as of Jan. 23 with motorists paying an average of $1.99.
According to gasbuddy.com, the highest average price of gas in the United States was $4.10 on July 16, 2008. The lowest was on Dec. 29, 2008. The highest average in 2014 was $3.70 recorded on April 29 and the lowest was $2.25 on Dec. 31 of that year.
BELLEAIR SHORE - The mega-mansion home on Gulf Boulevard being built by Philadelphia Phillies superstar player Ryan Howard is just about completed.
A source close to the project said on Jan. 19 the house and grounds are “about done,” and that the Howards were already in residence at the time. Landscapers were at work at the time placing plantings in front of the walled property.
Construction of the house has been a major project in itself, taking nearly three years to finish. A Belleair Shore ordinance allows 24 months from the permit date for a home to be completed, with six-month extensions permitted on commission approval. An extension through spring of 2015 has been granted.
Due to the huge impact the Howard home will have on the town’s tax base, the commission agreed early on to be as cooperative as possible in assisting its construction. Mayor John Robertson said in 2011, “It is to the town’s benefit to get this home done as efficiently and with as much cooperation as we can.”
The construction phase has gone well, considering the home’s size and intricacies. At 17,500 square feet, it is one of the largest homes in Pinellas County, and the largest single-family residence by far on the Pinellas Gulf beaches.
LARGO - The last recorded bid was $9,650 when the auction closed on the Pinellas County Sheriff’s “doggone rug” Wednesday afternoon.
A deputy found a typo on the rug, which had been on the floor for a couple months in the lobby of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s new Administration Building at 10750 Ulmerton Road in Largo. Instead of the intended inscription “In God We Trust,” the misprinted rug’s inscription read, “In Dog We Trust.”
The rug was removed from the lobby Jan. 4.
Sheriff’s officials made the best of the situation, deciding to auction off what they were calling the “doggone” rug with proceeds going to a local dog rescue organization.
The auction was conducted online Jan. 15-21. Bidding ended at 4 p.m. The final bid posted to the auction website was $9,650 to a bidder by the name of masb1955. Officials have not yet identified the winner but have stated that if the winner were a local resident, a presentation ceremony would be scheduled.
Canine Estates Inc., 292 Alt. U.S. 19 N. in Palm Harbor will receive 100 percent of the auction proceeds.
Canine Estates is a 501c3 adoption and sanctuary facility dedicated to saving the lives of abandoned, abused and injured dogs primarily from high kill shelters. They provide rehabilitation, vaccination, spaying and neutering and seek to find loving homes for all their animals.
CLEARWATER - Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and a coalition of Clearwater community leaders wants to help keep that dream alive.
Members of the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center Coalition have worked for the past three years to breathe life into a community center once slated for demolition and the fruits of their labor are finally paying off.
Saturday marks the grand reopening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center and organizers are hoping the public will come out and see all it has to offer.
“We want this to be a home away from home,” said center executive assistant Lillie Henry. “A lot of children have come through this building over the years. We want to keep that tradition alive.”
The center, which has a 40-year history in the North Greenwood community area of Clearwater, has undergone massive renovations in the past two years, including a complete indoor and outdoor renovation, roof and air conditioning replacements, a new paint job, complete with new furnishings and appliances.
CLEARWATER - Approximately 38 employees who work at the direction of the Pinellas County administrator make less than a living wage. Commissioner Ken Welch wants to fix that.
Welch brought up the idea of instituting a living wage policy for county employees during the Jan. 13 meeting.
“The county is focused on poverty,” Welch said. “I’d like to see us consider a living wage for our own employees.”
Welch did some preliminary research and found that about 38 employees working under the county administrator make less than the living wage of $12.50. The wage amount was set using a calculator from MIT. The city of St. Petersburg recently approved a living wage of $12.50 for its employees.
County Administrator Mark Woodard said he would reach out to the Constitutional Officers and see if they had an interest in making the policy countywide.
Commission Chair John Morroni described the decision as a “no brainer.” He said the policy should be considered whether the Constitutional Officers agreed or not. The other commissioners agreed.
Staff estimates it would cost about $150,000 a year to give a pay increase to the 38 employees.
CLEARWATER - The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport continues to celebrate record-breaking growth in passenger travel. And now, a new airline plans to launch service from PIE beginning in March.
Officials gathered at the airport for a press conference Jan. 12 to announce that Silver Airways is expanding its flying and launching services to Pinellas County’s international airport. PIE will be the 11th Sunshine State airport offering Silver Airway service.
Beginning March 12, the airline will offer nonstop service to Fort Lauderdale and Key West. It also will provide connections to Jacksonville and seven destinations in the Bahamas, including Freeport and North Eleuthera.
“As further demonstration of Silver Airways continued commitment to state of Florida residents and visitors, we are looking forward to launching service from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport,” Silver Airways CEO Sami Teittinen said in a press release. “Introducing service from St. Pete-Clearwater is all about offering business and leisure travelers from throughout Tampa Bay more options for convenient flights to south Florida and the Bahamas, while giving other Florida customers even more opportunities to access all that the Tampa Bay area has to offer.”
SEMINOLE - Mayor Leslie Waters has proposed a two-part, “red, white and blue” initiative for Seminole in hopes of it becoming “the most patriotic city in the county, maybe even the state,” she said.
In her mission statement, she wrote that the initiative is “a focused, multifaceted and manageable effort toward an enhanced awareness and communications of the display of our nation’s colors, appreciation of veterans, recognition of those who gave their all, and support of the men and women currently in uniform.”
“We need to see more red, white and blue in our city,” she said.
She sent her initial proposal to the City Council on Oct. 3, after the plans to establish city branding and identity fell through. The council had discussed city branding, which was one of their seven-year goals, at workshop sessions last year. But when it came time to approve the $68,000 cost for a consultant, “everybody got cold feet,” Waters said.
But her patriotic plan “won’t cost the city a thing,” she said. Instead, the city will need to make only minor efforts for the initiative, such as creating a Speakers Bureau at City Hall that includes topics like flag etiquette, posting the United States Flag Code on the city website, and researching what it would take for Seminole to become a Purple Heart City.
LARGO - The Largo Public Library invites the entire community to read a book together.
The library bought more than 75 copies of the chosen selection, “Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy” by Carlos Eire. As of Jan. 27, all but five were checked out as the Largo community prepares to join the library in a series of discussions, activities, dancing, culinary demonstrations and a bit of personal writing - all centered on the themes and topics brought up in the book.
CLEARWATER - She’s vibrant and thriving and always on the go - and she certainly doesn’t look her age.
With much pomp and much circumstance, the City of Clearwater will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in 2015 with a packed schedule of events planned to honor the centennial milestone.
“The centennial is a once in a generation,” Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said. “The city wants to make sure our residents are in a mood to celebrate and that they are glad to be members of the Clearwater community.
SEMINOLE - Though her performance wasn’t televised during the audition rounds of “American Idol,” Seminole High School’s Angela Rodriguez received a coveted golden ticket to move on to the show’s Hollywood round.
The 15-year-old was one of around 200 performers - as well as the youngest - to make it to the next level. Episodes from this portion of the competition will air on Fox during the first week of February.
DUNEDIN - Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers sent out a message Monday afternoon that he was recovering at home after being treated for a heart blockage over the weekend.
Eggers experienced unusual discomfort in his shoulder and neck the morning of Jan. 23. He received medical care at Dunedin Mease Hospital’s emergency room and was then transported to Morton Plant Hospital for additional care.