LARGO - Even the butterflies are glowing, as Florida Botanical Gardens lights up for the 2014 holiday season.
Holiday Lights in the Gardens opens Friday, Nov. 28, and runs through Dec. 31, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., at the Florida Botanical Gardens, 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo.
Last year, more than 76,000 visitors from across the globe strolled through garden paths illuminated by more than 750,000 environmentally friendly LED lights. Oohs and aahs are common sounds as groups discover light displays tucked into garden beds, under bridges and on the water in the 30-acre venue.
Light displays include alligators, dolphins, eagles, turtles, a parrot, herons, a pelican, owls, flamingos and a swan, along with animated butterflies, hummingbirds and an animated train display with more than 1,250 LED lights.
A large collection of decorated flora including holiday trees, flowers, roses, poinsettias and palms and tropical foliage wrapped and draped in glowing light complete the scene.
The laser light displays are a crowd favorite, according to Terry Berube, president of the Florida Botanical Garden Foundation. And this year, there are two new laser light shows to enjoy.
The mission of Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office is to serve and protect, 24/7, 365 days a year.
But during the holidays, it takes on a bigger role, one that goes to the heart of the community.
Ride & Run with the Stars celebrates its 21st anniversary this year. Since the event’s inception in 1995, $500,000 has been raised to help thousands of children and their families through the Sheriff’s Christmas Sharing Project.
The money goes to purchase items - food, clothing and toys - that are delivered to the families by community policing deputies.
“It makes it more personal,” said Cristen Smith with the Sheriff’s Public Information Office.
This year’s big event is Saturday, Dec. 6, at Fort De Soto Park. Registration is $35 per person and includes a long-sleeved T-shirt, food and giveaways.
LARGO - It took three years of activism and all three branches of the Florida government, but as of Nov. 20 Jose Godinez-Samperio of Largo is finally a lawyer.
“I feel like it was such a far-fetched dream,” he said, the day after he was sworn into The Florida Bar. “It’s always going to be a lot more meaningful to me.”
Godinez-Samperio was sworn in at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa. Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga - whose “reluctantly” concurring opinion explained the unfairness of the state law and gave Godinez-Samperio the leverage he needed to lobby for a new law in the Florida Congress - did the honors.
“I wanted him to do it,” Godinez-Samperio said. “I don’t think (the bill) would have passed without that.”
With that push, Gov. Rick Scott signed House Bill 755 into law May 12. Before that, Godinez-Samperio was limited to what he could do working for Gulfcoast Legal Services in Clearwater.
“For three and a half years, every time anyone asked me a question, I’d have to stop them, ‘I’m not a lawyer. I can’t give you advice,’” he explained. “It was a constant reminder, to myself: I cannot practice law because of my immigration status.”
TARPON SPRINGS - In a tourist hotspot like Tarpon Springs, image is everything. It’s the reason for the Hibiscus Street renovations and the sponge dock improvement project. And now, it’s the goal behind the city’s new chronic nuisance ordinance.
Brought forward by the Tarpon Springs Police Department, the ordinance passed through the City Commission with a unanimous vote on Nov. 18.
“We’re consistently faced with certain properties that are not only a blight but really consume a lot of resources from the police department and code enforcement,” said Police Chief Robert Kochen. “(The ordinance) gives us a little more teeth, if you will, to go after these properties.”
The ordinance, Tarpon Springs Police Department Operations Capt. Barbara Templeton wrote in a memo to the City Commission, isn’t designed to address minor issues from property owners. Instead, it will be used to combat on-going issues that fail to be resolved.
“It’s going to directly affect the quality of life for business owners, residents and visitors,” she said later.
MADEIRA BEACH - The city of Madeira Beach will play host to a college football beach celebration Wednesday, Dec. 24 on South Beach at John’s Pass.
City Manager Shane Crawford said the city will host the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl Beach Bash, which will feature players and fans from the two participating college football teams in a variety of games and activities on the beach.
The game, which will be played Friday, Dec. 26, 8 p.m., at Tropicana Field, will be carried live by ESPN. As in past years, video clips from the Beach Bash will be included throughout the game or at halftime.
Teams for the game will come from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the American Athletic Conference. Possibilities include Miami and Notre Dame from the ACC and Central Florida or Cincinnati from the AAC, Crawford said.
The Beach Bash was formerly held in St. Pete Beach.
“We put in a bid for it and got it,” said Crawford. “It should be a lot of fun.”
After practice sessions earlier in the day, the two teams will arrive in Madeira Beach for lunch at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in John’s Pass Village.
At 3 p.m., the players will head out to the beach for a number of recreational events, including beach volleyball and paddleboards. At 5 p.m., the teams and their fans will gather at a stage and around a large swimming pool for the start of a variety of competitions. They will include head-to-head action in a belly-flop contest and other events.
BELLEAIR - One of the reasons the town of Belleair bought the Belleview Biltmore Golf Course was to make sure there would never be any development on the property. The course is valued green space in the community and stands over the town’s water supply, which could be disrupted if residential or commercial development were ever to take place on the property.
During the debate over the fate of the Belleview Biltmore Hotel more than two years ago one of the hotel’s owners, Daniel Ades, told the commission that he and his brother could sell the golf course to a developer as a way to make money. That angered the town’s commissioners, particularly Mayor Gary Katica, who vowed that it would never happen. He didn’t have a legal leg to stand on until Town Manager Micah Maxwell came up with the idea of having the town buy the course. That way it could remove development rights and preserve the green space.
Part of the $13 million dollar deal forgave the Ades brothers the $275,000 it owed in fines levied because of the deteriorating state of the hotel. The brothers had threatened to foreclose on their own mortgage thus wiping out the liens. The town saw the purchase of the golf course as a way to get something out of potentially nothing. It also got $50,000 in cash from the brothers as part of the deal.
OZONA - When Tony Marino and his wife Jayne drove past Pat’s Landing on Shore Drive back in 1999, Tony knew immediately he wanted it.
After a number of years in the corporate world with Time Warner Cable, Marino was looking for a place to store his boat but the allure of Pat’s Landing was too much to ignore. A few months later, he and his wife purchased the marina and renamed it Marino’s Marina.
Now, more than 15 years later, it is a well-oiled small business that has become a lifestyle for Marino and his wife.
But it wasn’t always that way.
After purchasing the business in 2000, Marino continued to work in Rochester, N.Y., for Time Warner before accepting a buy-out offer in 2004. He and his family moved south to live in Ozona and manage the marina on a daily basis.
Two years later, the recession hit and Marino was questioning his decision.
“It was a tough time,” he said. “For 25 years I collected a paycheck every two weeks and then I no longer had that.”
When the recession hit, many boat owners sold their boats and marinas were forced to lower their rates. But Marino bucked the trend.
She’s outspoken, passionate and not one to mince words to make her point.
Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala has worked tirelessly for 14 years on behalf of her constituents in District 4 and the county as a whole. Now, she wants to take time for herself and her family.
“My two sons were in eight and ninth grade when I was first elected. They paid a huge price for me being in office,” she said. “I decided I want to set my own schedule, enjoy this chapter of my life watching my granddaughter grow up, having family dinners, being able to travel when I want and not have to make a travel schedule around meetings.”
Latvala’s granddaughter was born in June.
“Being a county commissioner is not part-time, it is 24/7,” Latvala continued. “You are always reading reports or long agendas preparing for the next meeting, and meetings with constituents and staff.”
Commissioners also serve on many other community boards and several taxing districts, which are very important and take a lot time and thought, she said.
“We deal with such a diverse number of issues that it really takes a lot of preparation time, even after all these years,” she said. “I really want to spend time in my beautiful home in Crystal Beach, be able to entertain often and just enjoy life without the huge responsibility of public office.”
BELLEAIR - More than 350 people, residents of Belleair, watched as a dream became a reality and the town got a signature centerpiece that honors the military in a location that can’t be missed. The fountain at Hunter Memorial Park was officially opened after a two-year effort to raise the money needed for the project.
It happened on Nov. 9, Veterans Day weekend as one man put it, and given the nature of the fountain, the timing of the opening couldn’t have been better.
The flags of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force and Army surround the lighted structure. The Clearwater High School ROTC presented the flag and one of the guest speakers was Retired Brig. Gen. and Belleair resident Joseph Oder.
But first up was Belleair Mayor Gary Katica who served in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict. He set the tone of the day by impressing on the audience how important veterans are.
“For them it is an honor and a duty that is not taken lightly,” he said. “Some families made the ultimate sacrifice and for that we should always remember.”
Our mouths were watering with the entries for the 2014 Holiday Reader Recipe Contest. Yet again, Tampa Bay Newspapers readers prove to be talented and creative holiday chefs.
Winning first place and the $50 prize is Kayla Jacobson of Pinellas Park. Her recipe, Pumpkin Dinner Rolls, intrigued us. This flavored twist on a holiday staple may be a bit tedious for those who have never made rolls from scratch, but we challenge you to try it!
Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally one of the busiest travel times of the year. More than two million Floridians are expected to travel this weekend, meaning drivers will need to take extra care on Florida’s roadways.
During the long holiday weekend, the Florida Highway Patrol, along with reserve and auxiliary troopers, will be on the roadways to assist with the increased traffic and to help ensure safe travel, Nov. 26-30.
“The Florida Highway Patrol wishes everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday,” said Col. David Brierton, director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “The Patrol is committed to making Florida’s roadways safer by putting more troopers on the road during this busy travel period. Drive safely, drive sober, protect yourself and your loved ones by buckling up every time you get in a vehicle.”
Roadways most likely will be crowded this weekend as locals and visitors take time off for the holiday.
According to AAA Auto Club’s Thanksgiving travel forecast, released Nov. 20, more than 46 million Americans are planning trips of 50 miles or more over the long weekend - the most since 2007.
About 4.2 percent (1.9 million) more will travel this year than last. AAA says it is the greatest growth rate for any holiday since Independence Day 2012. AAA considers the holiday travel period as Wednesday, Nov. 26, through Sunday, Nov. 30.
Signs are pointing to a green holiday season for retailers relying on the generosity of this year’s gift-givers to improve their bottom lines.
The National Retail Federation recently released results of the annual Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, showing that the average person will spend $804.42 on gifts in 2014, nearly 5 percent more than last year’s actual spending of $767.27 a person.
According to a recent report from United Way, 12 percent of Pinellas County households (50,486) live in poverty. Another 34 percent (136,874) don’t make enough to pay for basic needs.
The holidays are difficult for people who are barely getting by. Fortunately, the United Way report says that community support is “good” in Pinellas. Helping others is a tradition in, especially during the holidays.
There’s a feeling of excitement in the air - a bit of holiday magic some might say, as Pinellas County gears up for the season. Enjoy light displays, parades, tree lightings and more. Happy holidays to you and yours.
Oakdale Christmas Light Display
ST. PETERSBURG - The 2014 Oakdale Christmas Light Display runs nightly, Nov. 28 through Jan. 3, 6 to 10 p.m., at 2719 Oakdale St. S. Now in its 38th year, this light show is among the largest and longest running home displays in the United States.
Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and Clearwater Police Department are teaming up for Operation Safe Holidays, beginning on Black Friday, Nov. 28, through Saturday, Nov. 29, at Westfield Countryside Mall, 27001 Highway 19 N. in Clearwater. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. both days.
SkyWatch, a manned mobile surveillance tower, will be positioned between Whole Foods and BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse on the south side of the mall.
LARGO - After a tally of votes, four businesses can claim the title of “Best of Largo” in the inaugural contest: Once Upon a Child Largo, Island Breeze Soups, PureLife Medi-Spa and Mahajan Medical Center.
The Largo Leader hosted the contest, partnering with the city of Largo in its month-long promotion of Largo-based businesses during Small Business Month and ahead of Small Business Saturday this week. The four winners will be featured in a December issue of the Largo Leader and will receive free space at the Largo Central Park’s Sunset Market.