More than 28 percent of Pinellas County’s 623,605 registered voters had already cast a ballot for the Nov. 4 general election, as of Wednesday, Oct. 29.
As of Oct. 29, less than a week to Election Day, 158,638 (58.56 percent) of 270,883 mail ballots distributed had been returned to an Elections Office. Republicans were leading the Democrats with 106,794 mail ballots requested to the Democrats with 103,211. Another 60,883 ballots had been mailed to voters registered as other than Republican or Democrat.
Turnout totals include 9,038 ballots cast since Early Voting began Oct. 20. Registered voters can vote early from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at any Election Office through Sunday, Nov. 2.
LARGO - The public is invited to vote for their favorite businesses in a city-sponsored “Best of Largo” contest to promote Small Business Month this November.
The Largo Leader is hosting the contest, which will name a favorite business in four categories: restaurants, service providers, retail and office. Participants can vote online or by mailing or dropping off the ballot, available inside this week's Largo Leader, to Tampa Bay Newspapers, 9911 Seminole Blvd., Seminole, FL 33772.
The contests will run through Wednesday, Nov. 19. Participants can vote as many times as they wish, but all submissions must be received by 5 p.m. on the last day of the contest. Anyone can vote, and any Largo-based business is eligible for the contest. Business owners can throw their hats into the ring by voting for their own businesses.
Winners will be announced in the Nov. 27 edition of the Largo Leader. Owners of four “Best of Largo” businesses will be interviewed for individual feature stories in a December issue of the Leader.
BELLEAIR - After saying it was not economically feasible to save or restore any part of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, the pending developer of the property has revealed that a portion of the west wing will be moved, restored and used as a hotel or inn on the property.
The revelation came in documents presented to the Belleair Commission Oct. 27 at a special meeting called to deal with the various components required to give the hotel’s owners the go-ahead to demolish the century old structure to make way for a condo/townhouse development.
JMC Communities, headed by developer Mike Cheezem, has a contract pending with the Ades brothers of Miami, the current owners of the property. Once all legal and permit hurdles have been cleared, Cheezem will take over the property and begin development.
Cheezem has been at the center of the debate because local preservationists have been fighting to have the entire hotel saved. Until recently Cheezem has said saving any part of the hotel would be impossible. The documents presented to the commission show he has changed his mind. That happened apparently after Cheezem spoke to an architect who specializes in historic properties and who indicated the west wing could be salvaged.
MADEIRA BEACH - A new 46,000-square-foot Publix Supermarket at Duhme Road and Tom Stuart Causeway is scheduled to open Thursday, Oct. 30 at 8 a.m.
The first 500 customers will receive Publix recyclable bags.
Store amenities include a pharmacy and liquor store, as well as a deli and bakery.
Store hours will be Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Pharmacy hours will be Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The new store also has grocery, meat, produce, dairy and frozen food departments. It will also have a full-service fresh seafood department, along with self-service sushi, and floral departments.
The store will employ approximately 170 associates - mostly transfers from existing stores, but also several new associates.
“We are very excited to reopen this location,” said Brian West, manager of media and community relations. “The previous store was the oldest existing store in the company. Our customers have waited more than nine months for the return of their Publix. Our associates have worked very hard preparing this location and are eager to begin serving our customers and passing on the Publix spirit.”
As the economy improves, so does development. According to a recent report, plenty of projects are in the works throughout Pinellas.
Pinellas County Economic Development staff released its annual Development Updates, sortable by city and project, in September.
“We’ve been very pleased with the response to this year’s Pinellas County Development Updates,” said Stacey Swank, Business Development manager for PCED Marketing & Communications. “The economy is recovering, and redevelopment in Pinellas is paramount for our expanding companies to find room to grow and create new jobs.”
Several projects were spotlighted in the 26-page report, including an addition of 45,000 square feet to Tech Data’s existing 240,000-square-foot facility in Largo, and BayCare Health System's new $99 million headquarters campus in Clearwater.
Another highlight is a new 20,000-square-foot addition to the Technology and Innovation Center at Oscor in Palm Harbor. GE Digital Management is building a new 190,000-square-foot manufacturing Center of Excellence in Clearwater.
“In retail, there are too many projects to list in their entirety. From Pinellas’ first Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's, to the re-imagined Sundial and Seminole Mall, local consumers will have more convenient and upscale shopping choices and temptations,” the report said.
DUNEDIN - Incidents in which emergency personnel are hindered or helpless in efforts to rescue swimmers, boaters and others along Dunedin’s 37 miles of coastline convinced city officials that they need to buy a fire/EMS boat.
After more than an hour of discussion Oct. 23, city commissioners agreed unanimously to buy the $167,327 25-foot Fire/EMS rescue boat.
Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said Fire Chief Jeff Parks has done the due diligence necessary to determine what will type and size of a boat is needed.
She said a lot of the EMS issues occur between Honeymoon, Caladesi and other islands, off the Dunedin Causeway and Intracoastal Waterway because of serious rip tides and waves.
Emergency personnel need a boat that’s sturdy enough enough to rescue people who have cardiac arrest or experience other problems, she said.
Some citizens during the discussion said acquiring the rescue boat would be a replication of services.
While larger agencies, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, will respond to a heart attack on a boat in the Intracoastal Waterway, it’s not their primary function, Ward Bujalski said.
“And if it was replication of services, why do Clearwater and Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs all have a boat,” she said.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners received a briefing Oct. 21 on the county’s state of readiness to identify and treat patients infected with Ebola.
“I hope you have your flu shot,” Dr. Claude M. Dharamraj, Department of Health Pinellas County director, told commissioners. “More people will die in the U.S. from flu than Ebola.”
She explained that thus far the only Ebola outbreak in the United States had occurred in Dallas Texas.
“There is no case in Florida. No case in Pinellas and no cases pending in Pinellas,” she said.
She said the CDC had issued guidelines to determine a person’s risk of having Ebola, which include travel to West Africa or contact with someone with the sickness.
Dharamraj is charged with the responsibility of declaring when someone should be quarantined or isolated. But response is a team effort, she said.
Anyone “highly suspected” will be taken to the hospital and placed in isolation. They will be tested and checked daily. Healthy people who were living with a patient also would be isolated and observed under quarantine for 21 days.
DOH would be in charge of observing and monitoring the patient during quarantine. DOH would provide food and a guard to make sure the patient stays quarantined.
LARGO - Sara McBride was 10 when her mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The Largo family had noticed some changes in Donna McBride’s memory and attention.
“She’d get lost driving to places where she’d been,” Sara remembered. “She’d forget things that she’d normally wouldn’t.”
Donna worked as a paralegal, and her boss had cut her pay, explaining that she hadn’t been performing as she used to. She would get off task and lose focus. But she didn’t want to see a doctor - she didn’t want to believe she had a problem.
Donna’s two sisters came down from Tennessee to help. They told Donna they were taking her for a spa day and drove her to a specialist in Tampa. The terrible results came back in the same appointment, after a CAT scan that confirmed everyone’s worse fear. Donna was only in her 40s, but she was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“It was a shock for everyone, especially at such a young age,” said Sara, who is now a freshman in college.
In a blog Sara began, called “Brains are Beautiful,” she wrote about the day of her mother’s diagnosis, a day clearly etched in her memory. Donna didn’t take the doctor’s diagnosis well.
CLEARWATER - Once upon a time, Pinellas County had a robust Cultural Affairs department with its own staff and an annual budget of $2.9 million.
Its mission was to act as an advocate for the arts by promoting the development and appreciation of the arts throughout the county via programs and services. County grants were available to artists, teachers and art organizations to help fund their needs.
The county began funding art and culture in 1976, providing money to a non-governmental Arts Council, which acted as the official local arts agency. In 2006, Cultural Affairs became a part of county government and that department took over as the local arts agency.
Then came the Great Recession. Most county departments that did not provide essential services suffered massive budget cuts. The commission decided to disband Cultural Affairs in 2010, but they set aside $300,000 in seed money in hopes that a private organization would be interested in taking the job.
A task force formed to look for a way to create a private local arts authority. During the process, a local group did come together. The commission voted unanimously on June 14, 2011 to pass the seed money to Creative Pinellas. As the new local arts authority, Creative Pinellas also would receive revenue from the sale of specialty license plates to help fund its operations.
SEMINOLE - As a Seminole High School baseball player, Brett Phillips knew there were three things he needed to turn his dream of playing professionally into a reality: hard work, focus and commitment.
So while his friends were distracted by parties and girls, the 2012 grad focused more on hitting the gym and practicing, sometimes six days a week.
“In high school, I stayed away from partying,” he said. “I felt like all that stuff would potentially hold me back.”
It certainly paid off for him. Upon graduation, Phillips was a sixth-round draft pick by the Houston Astros and only one of three high school players in the country drafted by a professional team in 2012.
Three seasons later, he not only has a 2014 championship ring, which he won with the Lancaster JetHawks, the Astros’ High A advanced minor league team in California, he also was named the franchise’s Minor League Player of the Year.
“I had no clue I would win that award,” he said.
In fact, he learned about the award not long after Lancaster’s championship win.
Demonic decorations herald the haunting season: Halloween will soon be upon us!
Bewitched and bedeviled, Pinellas residents busily prepare their costumes, stockpile sweets and seek out some of the area’s most terrifying Halloween happenings.
During this creepy season, communities throughout Pinellas and around the Tampa Bay area play host to horrifying haunted houses, fiendishly fun festivals and tantalizing trick-or-treating. With such a variety of activities, there’s plenty to do for the adult crowd as well as all the little ghouls and goblins.
TALLAHASSEE - Everyone loves a good Halloween scare, but not when it comes to safety. Friday, trick-or-treaters will be out haunting the neighborhoods, and the Florida Highway Patrol is reminding motorists and pedestrians to use extreme caution and to safely share the road.
Parents and drivers should take extra care in safeguarding children. Low visibility and heavy pedestrian traffic can make Halloween roadways a bit “tricky;” These safety tips can help keep this holiday a “treat.”
Pay attention and eliminate distractions; turn off the radio and put down the phone.
TALLAHASSEE - Halloween is frightening enough without the added terror of drunk drivers on the road. This weekend, the Florida Highway Patrol will join thousands of law enforcement and highway safety agencies across the nation in enforcing Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.
This safety campaign, which runs through Nov. 2, is designed to discourage impaired driving using targeted enforcement and increased visibility of law enforcement on the roadways.
CLEARWATER - Fire doors were added for safety. An air conditioning system was added for comfort. The once-red brick building was painted white. But other than minor changes such as these, the three buildings of South Ward School at 610 S. Fort Harrison Avenue are just about the same as when they were built.
The original building was built in 1906 and was called simply Clearwater School at the time, said Bill Wallace, president and board member of the Clearwater Historical Society. In 1912, a second building on the property opened, which was the first Clearwater high school. A third building was added in the 1950s which added a cafeteria, media center and kindergarten, and South Ward remained an active school until it was closed in 2008. South Ward was added to the U.S. National Registrar of Historical Places in 1979.
Pinellas County is recovering. Adverse effects of the Great Recession, 2010 oil spill and tragic events of 9/11 are fading. Signs are pointing the way toward better times ahead.
Property values are up. Tourism is up and so are bed tax collections. More passengers are using St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport than ever before. Pinellas County seems to be rebounding nicely.
“It is amazing to see how much the tourist industry has improved since 9/11; we went from collecting $15 million to over $33 million today. I recall it was a difficult time for many in the hotel industry. It is exciting to see that we have more than doubled our collection of tourist development taxes over the past 13 years,” said Diane Nelson, Pinellas County Tax Collector. “Tourism is alive and well not only in Pinellas County but throughout the State of Florida.”
LARGO - Alakai Defense Systems, a small company based in the Largo area, recently secured an $8.7 million U.S. Army contract to mass produce its innovative Stand-off Covert Eye-safe Explosive Detection System, or SCEEDS.
The system is designed to detect explosives from a considerable distance, to be used at checkpoints and forward operating bases as soldiers screen incoming traffic. Its exact range is classified; Alakai President Ed Dottery described it only as “very, very, very long” during a demonstration of the system Oct. 24.