MADEIRA BEACH - Ever since a Holiday Inn hotel closed on the beach, the city has been looking for a replacement.
Last week it came to fruition when a new Courtyard by Marriott Madeira Beach opened at 601 American Legion Drive.
The new facility is expected to serve both business travelers and vacationers coming to the beaches. It will employ 32.
“The city maintained years ago that they wanted a flagship hotel and today the dream became a reality,” said Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford. “It is elegantly modern with all the efficiencies and luxuries that today’s traveler needs and wants.”
The four-story, 91-room hotel features a large heated swimming pool, hot tub and fire pit outside - all with a view of Boca Ciega Bay to the west. It has 91 parking spaces.
Inside, the amenities include a 1,400-square-foot conference room with seating up to 200, a fitness center with three treadmills and two stair steppers, a bistro dining area where ala carte breakfast and dinner selections are available, a full-service bar, a business station, media pods with all the necessary plug-ins and WiFi in all public areas and rooms.
Around the corner from the check-in and reception area is an innovative airline boarding pass/mobile check-in area for travelers. There is also a Marriott Go Board, which features information on area attractions.
CLEARWATER - Less than a week before baseball spring training begins, the Philadelphia Phillies and Clearwater Threshers minor league affiliate showed off their offseason upgrades to Bright House Field.
The most prominent change is the new high definition scoreboard in left-center field, standing at 27 feet high and 31 feet wide and 300,000 pixels. The scoreboard, which is almost twice as large as its predecessor, was designed with better viewing angles and a superior performance in the sun, a common problem in outdoor stadiums. The “ribbon” display over the first base dugout, 4 feet high and 26 feet wide, is also larger than the previous scoreboard.
Both displays are capable of showing live game action, highlights and replays, line scores, real-time data and in-game statistics, live fan cams, speed of pitch and unlimited sponsor/advertisement opportunities.
“You’re going to see quite an upgrade,” said John Timberlake, the director of Florida operations for the Philliies and the general manager of the Threshers.
PINELLAS PARK - For years, Library and Recreation Services hosted a book drive and giveaway for children at the Country in the Park festival held every March.
This year, the department wanted to offer children something different at the annual event, set for Saturday, March 21, at England Brothers Park.
“I think we tapped everyone’s supplies of books on the shelf,” said Debra Rose, the department’s administrator. “We were ready for a new idea.”
Since the city is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, Rose and her staff decided to tap into that for inspiration.
“The centennial was an excellent opportunity for us to be creative,” she said.
The result is a program called “We Make a City.” Children will be able to use cardboard, markers, paper, tape and other supplies - all provided by Library and Recreation - to build their own vision of Pinellas Park. They’ll be able to use old photos as reference, but those participating will be able to build anything they please - farms, stores, homes, schools, churches and more.
The cardboard city will be 6 feet wide by 3 feet long once it’s completed.
LARGO - The eight students of Life Christian School of Learning were overwhelmed as they explored the upgrades that transformed their three-room school in Largo Feb. 25.
During the first two days of renovations, they had helped the Vivint employees who volunteered their time to upgrade their school. But for the final day, they left on a field trip and waited patiently outside their school doors while the volunteers finished the final touches.
Tears filled their eyes as they shouted over the colorful renovations: brand new desks and chairs; a SmartBoard, an Xbox and a wall covered in chalkboard paint; hammocks that would hug them close and equipment to jump, climb and balance on; new laptops and iPads; bins filled with tools to help them learn and new toys everywhere.
In the back room, they found a ball pit. Twelve-year-old Jacob Callahan immediately dove in and buried himself, his multi-aged peers surrounding the blue pool in excitement.
“Oh wow! Oh my gosh!” the students, ages 8 through 18, exclaimed before shouting a “thank you” in unison.
The home automation company Vivint donated $30,000 in new equipment and renovations for the tiny private school, which is designed to help children with learning challenges flourish.
SEMINOLE - Hundreds of bikers turned out for Screwie Louie’s Porpoise Pub’s inaugural Flowers for Phoebe scholarship benefit Feb. 22.
More than $4,000 was raised during the event, which was organized to honor the life of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck.
On Jan. 8, Phoebe died when her father allegedly threw her from St. Petersburg’s Dick Misener Bridge on the Sunshine Skyway’s northern approach.
More than 300 motorcycles participated in Bikers for Phoebe, which kicked off the benefit. They drove to the Sunshine Skyway, where they dropped flowers in the water in Phoebe’s honor.
“We made quite a roar going over the bridge,” said Margo Adams-Reid, who sits on the Flowers for Phoebe board. “It was amazing to see so many people care about a little girl they never met. The flower drop was beautiful ... There were tears and there was a lot of camaraderie among everyone participating. It was a gorgeous day."
LARGO - Without glasses, 11-year-old Richardson Alexis is basically blind. But glasses, especially at “an insane high prescription” of -20, would cost Alexis’ family $250, said missionary Bethany Perissien, who works in the St. Jean de Sud region of Haiti.
“That may as well be a billion dollars to this family,” she explained.
Luckily for Richardson, Perissien was able to fit him with one of the hundreds of eyeglasses donated by the ophthalmologists in the Largo office of the Eye Institute of West Florida, where she used to work. A special pair of glasses, made by the office of optometrist Joel Marantz of St. Petersburg, is on its way to Haiti.
For now, Richardson can see dramatically better.
“I was a little worried he would take them off right away after he left our compound,” Perissien explained.
But a few weeks later, she saw Richardson at his school.
“I was delighted to see him wearing them,” Perissien wrote in an email from Haiti. “(T)o see him wearing glasses in school, to see the blackboard better - that’s why I am doing what I am doing.”
LARGO - For the past year, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has been working with mayors from the barrier island municipalities on a uniform process to allow orderly and safe re-entry for residents and businesses after a mandatory evacuation order.
Gualtieri and several mayors gathered for a press conference Feb. 16 in the sheriff’s administration building in Largo to explain the new process.
After the governor declares a state of emergency, because of a storm or other natural disaster, it is then up to local officials to effect a mandatory evacuation, Gualtieri said. By local ordinance, that responsibility falls to the chair of the Pinellas County Commission.
After the disaster is over, the next major step is for residents and business owners to re-enter evacuated areas, such as the barrier islands. By ordinance, the sheriff is responsible for the re-entry process.
“We recognized some time ago that we had a disjointed process throughout the county where we had some cities that were doing it one way and some that were doing it another and some had no process at all,” Gualtieri said. “And, as that old saying goes, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail.’”
CLEARWATER - Motorists who regularly travel State Road 60 (Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard) are likely familiar with the flashing yellow arrows installed on traffic lights a few months ago as part of Pinellas County’s Traffic Management System.
Flashing yellow arrows on left-turn traffic signals were initially approved for use in Florida and 17 other states in 2010 by the Federal Highway Administration. The FYA signal allows motorists to make a left turn, when traffic is clear.
Studies published in 2009 showed that a FYA was a better way to alert drivers that they needed to yield to opposing traffic than a green light. Researchers also found that motorists reacted favorably to installation of FYAs with little or no public education.
Ken Jacobs, section manager with the Public Works Traffic Division, told Pinellas County Commissioners Feb. 10 that motorists were adjusting to the new signals on State Road 60, although some had difficulty when they were first installed.
“They are very confusing,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers. “With the flashing yellow, the public thinks they can go, but actually they have no right of way.
Jacobs told commissioners that studies had shown that people understood intuitively what a flashing yellow meant. He said traffic experts agreed that using one standard for left turns in all states would be good. And the best method for left-turn signals is a FYA.
SEMINOLE - Fans of the Seminole High School Warhawks marching band will be able to support the program while getting a chance to win a new car.
The Kiwanis Club of Seminole is sponsoring a car raffle that will benefit the band. The drawing will be held Sunday, March 15, 4 p.m., at the Pow Wow Festival.
The winner of the raffle will get to choose between a 2015 Chrysler 200, 2015 Dodge Dart and 2015 Jeep Cherokee Sport, which will be provided by Suncoast Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM. The first runner-up will receive a gold and diamond Rhythm of Love pendant (valued at $1,050) and the second runner-up will receive a week in Cape Cod (valued at $800; accommodations only).
REDINGTON SHORES - Firefighters from six Pinellas County fire departments responded to a structure fire at Anglers Cove Condominium, 174 Gulf Blvd. in Redington Shores, just after 8 a.m. March 3.
When they arrived, the building was already being evacuated and light smoke was visible coming from the north side of the building on the ground floor.
Firefighters from city of Seminole Fire Rescue, Madeira Beach and Pinellas Suncoast fire departments made “rapid attack,” according to a report from Seminole Fire Rescue. The firefighters then found that a fire in a storage room, adjacent to the condominium office, had been extinguished by the building’s sprinkler system.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners voted, 4-3, Feb. 24 to deny a request for a zoning and land use change for an assisted living facility in Seminole.
Commissioners denied a similar request from the same ALF on Aug. 19, 2014.
In August, the applicant, Gib Properties LLC, requested a zoning and land use change to allow Oak Tree Manor to build an expansion on an adjacent parcel of land on De Long Way and Park Boulevard. The applicant modified its latest request, proposing to build a wing on the same parcel the facility is currently located on and use the adjacent property as grass parking.
CLEARWATER - In the last 50 years, the College Fund of Pinellas County has donated $1 million to help more than 700 deserving local students without financial means to attend more than 140 different colleges across the nation.
During its 50th anniversary lunch at the Countryside Country Club in Clearwater Feb. 28, the organization celebrated its accomplishments and honored two of its longest-serving directors who led the program and guided hundreds of Pinellas County students to success, before, during and after college. The organization has been more integral to the creation of community than scholarships alone.
CLEARWATER - Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Newton did so well in her Ironman competitions in 2014, she won a coveted designation reserved only for those who rank in the top ten percent of their age group in the world.
She is an Ironman All World Athlete.
Newton, 48, is ranked 290th in the world, and 151st in the U.S., in a category for women from 45 to 49 years old. The rankings are based on a point system tied to how well an athlete did compared with the winner of a particular event in his or her age group.