ST. PETERSBURG - The excitement is building as preparations continue for the Firestone Grand Prix set for Friday through Sunday, March 27-29, on a 1.8 mile, 14-turn temporary street course in downtown St. Petersburg.
Touted as one of the biggest event weekends in the Tampa Bay area, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg features six different racing series, plus a myriad of entertainment and fun for the entire family.
The waterfront-course runs along adjacent downtown streets circling Pioneer Park, the Duke Energy Center for the Arts, The Dali Museum and extends onto the runways at Albert Whitted Airport. Green Savoree Racing Promotions owns and operates the event.
ST. PETE BEACH - Winston Churchill once said success is not final and failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.
That phrase sums up the actions of retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Major Gary Littrell of St. Pete Beach who for four days in early April 1970 took command of a South Vietnamese Ranger battalion under siege by more than 5,000 North Vietnamese troops. Out of an original group of 477, Littrell was among 41 walking and wounded to safely leave the hill they gallantly defended.
His actions and decisions led him to receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1973.
He is the only Medal of Honor recipient in the area, one of three in Florida and one of 79 currently alive in the U.S.
This weekend Littrell will be honored again when the Bayway Bridge is rededicated in his name by city officials from St. Pete Beach.
“I don’t look at it as honoring me,” said Littrell, 70, who spent 22 years in the Army, mostly as an Army Ranger. “I look at it as honoring the men and women in uniform, present and past. It just shows the patriotism the citizens of Florida have toward our men in uniform.”
LARGO - Veteran Scott Owens of Largo suffered a traumatic brain injury during a bombing in Iraq in 2006.
He came home to battle memory issues and post-traumatic stress disorder, sinking into depression as he searched and failed to find a job as a civilian. His wife, Shannon, worried as her husband pulled further and further away from her, to the point of becoming suicidal.
Michael Dunlap of Dunedin joined the Marine Corps fresh out of high school and served six years until he was discharged in 1982. He also struggled to fit into civilian life, roaming the country and once even living out of his car.
All three share their trials and, ultimately, their stories of triumph over difficult circumstances in the production Telling: Tampa Bay, which comes to the Largo Cultural Center Wednesday, April 1, 6:30 p.m. Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
The show, part of the national Telling Project, features the stories of six local veterans, along with Shannon Owens, to help the community understand the unique challenges veterans and their families face.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Utilities is considering changes that could make a big difference in how meter reading is done in the future. They could even lead to the end of the every-other month billing cycle.
“It’s a big policy decision,” said County Administrator Mark Woodard during a March 18 work session on Utilities business model and rate sustainability.
Doug Bean, director of governmental services at Raftelis Financial Consultants Inc., presented preliminary findings from a business case study and rate sustainability project that started March 13, 2014.
The purpose of the study is to “identify opportunities and technologies to enhance utility performance and customer experience,” he said. The project also includes a comprehensive rate sustainability analysis to ensure cost recovery and long-term financial health of the county’s Utilities services.
The goal is implementation of a business process that results in “world-class customer service,” he said.
For the past year, Bean and other experts from Raftelis have met with representatives from all the departments involved in Utilities business model. They conducted interactive workshops to establish specific goals for the project.
Two of four Pinellas County beaches ranked in the top five in USA Today's 10Best Readers' Choice for Florida's Best Beaches.
The rankings were decided by fan votes for 16 of the state’s beaches over four weeks. Voting ended March 16 and results were announced Wednesday, March 18.
Clearwater Beach and Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola swapped the first place position almost daily as fans cast their daily votes. But in the end, Pensacola took the coveted No. 1 spot.
Clearwater Beach came in second, followed by Siesta Beach in Siesta Key in the No. 3 position, Playalinda in Titusville took fourth place and Pass-a-Grille Beach in St. Petersburg rounded out the top five.
Coming in close behind was Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin in sixth place. The county’s Fort De Soto Park in Tierra Verde took eighth place.
Fans ranked St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Port St. Joe as No. 7, Henderson Beach State Park in Destin ranked No. 9 and the 10th spot was taken by Lovers Key State Park in Ft. Myers.
Two years ago, Clearwater Beach was named Florida's Best Beach Town by USA Today in a similar poll.
MADEIRA BEACH - The City Commission’s March 10 meeting closed on a note of nostalgia. It was the last session to be held in the current Madeira Beach City Hall, which has been the center of city business since it opened in 1965.
City employees have relocated to their new city hall offices, with access available via a temporary pathway behind the old city hall. Still to be completed is the commission meeting hall, centerpiece of the facility, which was delayed because a special curved glass for the windows is back-ordered. The meeting hall is due to be completed in time for the April commission sessions.
The old city hall has had its share of problems in recent years, ranging from mold infestation and air conditioning failure to a leaky roof and widespread water intrusion. Conditions at city hall have even been a suspect in some employees’ illnesses.
Renovation of the existing building would be “nearly impossible and cost prohibitive,” a consultant told the city in 2012.
The new city hall will be quite a contrast to the old.
The oval-shaped commission meeting room at the center of the city hall complex features water views all around from floor-to-ceiling windows. Flanking the meeting room are office spaces in one wing and the multi-purpose building in the other. A covered deck goes between the two wings and continues across the entire back of the multi-purpose building, overlooking the water. At the front of the complex is a wide stairway leading to the elevated offices and function rooms.
BELLEAIR - After years of talking and months of construction, the roundabout in the center of town is now open. It opened on Saturday, March 14, and by all accounts it should solve several ongoing problems at the intersection of Ponce De Leon Boulevard and Indian Rocks Road in Belleair.
The idea of building a roundabout was hatched roughly two years ago when several residents complained to the town commission that they feared for their children’s safety as they crossed Indian Rocks Road on their way to the recreation center. Eventually, the commission approved the idea and construction began late last year.
It had been hoped the roundabout would be finished by the end of 2014 but delays caused by underground utilities kept happening, something Town Manager Micah Maxwell says was inevitable.
“The utilities are older in that section of town,” he said. “While that intersection is the crossroads for traffic, it is also the crossroads for underground utilities. There are bigger pipes, both gas pipes and water pipes and when they need to be replaced you need specialized equipment to deal with it. You never know what you are going to find when you start digging.”
LARGO - Mere blocks from where she identified her daughter’s body six years ago, Sharon Blair talked about the latest version of the Jennifer Act, a bill working its way through the Florida Congress designed to help those struggling with prescription drug addiction.
It’s a bill she’s lobbied for, year after year since her daughter’s death, contacting legislators, researching the lawmaking process and speaking at schools and churches. The bill is named after her daughter, Jennifer Reynolds, who died of a drug overdose in Largo at age 29.
Sitting at a Largo Mall restaurant March 12, Blair confesses that the pain of Jennifer’s death hasn’t lessened. The day she stared down at her daughter’s body on a table in the Medical Examiner’s Office is a seared memory Blair will never forget.
“I made a pact with her, lying there, ‘We will address this, if it’s the last thing I do. We will address this in this county, in this state,’” she said.
PALM HARBOR - It wasn’t long ago that families across the nation were rocked by the nation’s housing crisis.
Banks, businesses and private individuals alike were all affected in the aftermath of the catastrophe and some people are still bearing with the economic burdens that resulted from the national scandal.
But several years have passed since then and many people now wonder where the housing industry has settled and if it’s safe to re-enter the market as a buyer. For those living in or looking at Palm Harbor, there’s already some good news to report.
A local company, Pioneer Homes, which has been in business for over 35 years, has invested approximately $18 million into energy-efficient construction of “green” or environmentally friendly townhomes in Palm Harbor. The homes are located in Harbor Ridge, 562 Harbor Ridge Drive, off Alt. U.S. 19, and are selling from $224,900.
The featured model is The Cypress, which has 1,700 square feet of living area to go with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and a 2-car garage.
LARGO - After moving to Florida, the Poggi family waited 10 years, working hard to make their dreams of living in a safe and stable home a reality.
“When we came from Puerto Rico, always our heart was in a house and a home,” said Jonathan Poggi, speaking in Spanish.
He and his wife Elizabeth lived with their teenage children - Keyshla, 18, Jonathan Jr., 16, and Norianna, 14 - in a rundown rental home that was constantly plagued with plumbing leaks, rats and roaches. Along with the unhealthy conditions, the family dealt with high water bills, a landlord that did little to address the problems and a fear that their rent on the three-bedroom house would increase despite the issues.
But on March 6, the family’s prayers were finally answered. They were welcomed to their new home at 428 First Ave. NE. in Largo by the Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas County staff who helped them achieve their dreams.
Jonathan Jr., unlocked the front door with the new key, and his father waved inside the friends, family and community that had gathered to celebrate with the Poggis.
SEMINOLE - Demolition of the former Seminole 8 Touchstar Cinema located next to the Seminole Mall is slated to begin Monday, April 6, said Jim Ford, a city building official.
Because of the demolition, 80th Avenue east of 113th Street and Liberty Lane north of Temple Terrace will close for approximately 45 days starting Thursday, March 26. Traffic will be routed through the mall parking lot.
Pinellas County’s places of worship are offering special Holy Week and Easter services, including the following.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
CLEARWATER - Holy Week services will include:
- Maundy Thursday - Thursday, April 2, 7 p.m. - Good Friday - Friday, April 3, noon - Easter Eve - Saturday, April 4, 5 p.m., featuring Holy Eucharist - Easter Day - Sunday, April 5, 8 and 10 a.m., with Holy Eucharist
The Easter Bunny is planning to make the rounds in Pinellas, with events beginning March 28 and continuing through April 11. Easter fun for 2015 includes egg hunts, an eggstravaganza, carnival, ecofest and more, including the following.
Highland’s egg hunt
LARGO - Come meet the Easter Bunny and hunt for eggs at Highland’s Egg Hunt on Saturday, March 28, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., at 400 Highland Ave. Cost is $8 per child.
ST. PETERSBURG - Weedon Island Preserve - often referred to as “the best kept secret in Pinellas County” - won’t be a secret for much longer. The world's largest running magazine, Runner's World, features Weedon Island as its “Rave Run” in the April 2015 issue.
It includes a two-page spread showcasing a runner along a stretch of boardwalk, surrounded by mangroves. The photo was taken from the 45-foot observation tower, which offers panoramic views of Tampa Bay.