LARGO - Even two weeks later, the plaza at 12580 Seminole Blvd. looks much as it did the morning of July 5, after a fire destroyed the longtime businesses that called it home.
The roof of the L-shaped building is collapsed, and its insides are charred black. The iconic brick fireplace of the Fireplace Restaurant still stands, and a bench still sits outside Debbie Allen’s hair salon.
But it will be months before the local businesses can return, and much depends on how well and fast insurance claims can be paid. Until then, the business owners are in a state of limbo.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on what I had in there: hundreds of dollars worth of equipment,” said Allen, who opened her salon in the plaza 26 years ago.
The family that owns House of Shades, Lamps and Lighting is renovating an old convenience store across the street, at 12691 Seminole Blvd., into a suitable display room for their merchandise. Michael and Sharon Carter will reopen their business relatively soon after the fire, but in many ways, it’s like starting over again, 18 years after the first time around.
MADEIRA BEACH - The Florida Department of Transportation plans a $2.8 million maintenance project to the Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge, which will require occasional lane closures during evening hours over the next year.
The work is expected to begin this month and last through the fall of 2016.
According to an FDOT release, construction will include concrete restoration of support beams and the bridge foundation, repairs to the bridge decks and pedestrian railings.
The project also includes work on the tender house and sidewalks, which will force closure of the sidewalks on occasion. When necessary, roadway lane closures will occur from 8 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Electronic message boards will alert motorists in advance.
Quinn Construction of Palmetto is performing the work.
The bridge, which opened in 1962, is part of State Road 666, or 150th Avenue. It features four lanes of traffic with a concrete and steel low-level median barrier. It is one of eight thoroughfares leading to the Pinellas beaches.
The cyclists of Project HERO Pinellas literally push each other along the road to recovery.
The group provides an outlet for veterans to recover from physical and psychological wounds through cycling. Every Thursday, dozens of members gather for a group ride on the Pinellas Trail. They motivate new members to become physically active again and help each other prepare for upcoming challenge rides.
Support comes in the form of camaraderie and encouragement. But it often means a hand at your back, boosting your speed, or at the bar of your recumbent bicycle to help propel you up an overpass.
“And it’s not just the folks that are helping injured vets - it’s the veterans helping the rest of us. It’s as much mental as it is physical,” said one of the group leaders, Army veteran Mitch Lee. “It’s been extremely rewarding.”
The group is a local training group for a national movement: Ride 2 Recovery Project HERO, short for Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunity. Along with helping veterans get back into shape with bicycles that are fitted to meet their physical needs, the project offers six different multi-day challenge rides that cover 350 to 450 miles apiece.
MADEIRA BEACH - Every day is Bring Your Pet to Work Day for Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford.
After emergency surgery saved the life of Crawford’s beloved pet MJ, the fluffy little dog has practically become city hall’s newest employee.
It all started when Crawford realized that something was wrong with MJ a few months ago. It was a Friday afternoon at about 4:30, and there really wasn’t anything that a veterinarian could do other than prescribe the dog pain medication.
“I thought, ‘He’s got his own pain medicine, I’ll just manage it myself,’” said Crawford. MJ had previously undergone surgery to fix a dislocated hip. Crawford figured that MJ’s prior injury might have something to do with his new problems.
But as MJ’s condition worsened over the weekend, it became clear that something else was the cause of his pain. On Saturday, the dog was stumbling around the house in what Crawford describes as a tipsy, drunken stupor. By Sunday, MJ was completely paralyzed from his front shoulders down.
“His tail didn’t work, his legs didn’t work, nothing worked,” said Crawford. “He was dragging his back legs like a fish tail.”
CLEARWATER - It’s been five years since the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. Now, five states will benefit from the billions of dollars in claims and penalties the oil company must pay.
Attorney General Pam Bondi announced July 2 that Florida had joined four other Gulf States, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, in an “historic multi-billion dollar joint federal-state agreement in principle” with BP Exploration and Production Inc. to resolve economic losses, natural resource damage claims and Clean Water Act penalties associated with the April 20, 2010 spill.
“In 2010, our state - and the entire Gulf region - woke up to a story that shook the nation; an oil spill that not only threatened states that depend on the Gulf for their economic livelihood, but their very way of life,” Bondi said in a press release. “Today, after just five years of negotiations, I’m pleased to announce that Florida has entered into an agreement in principle of more than $3 billion with BP for the state’s economic and environmental recovery which will benefit areas of the state most devastated by the spill. I want to thank all of the people who came together, in common purpose, to do the right thing for our state.”
CLEARWATER - After being open to the public for 33 years, Moccasin Lake Park will receive a much-needed facelift through grants and other funds totaling $600,000.
The 51-acre nature preserve features six different ecosystems teeming with wildlife, a network of trails that circulate throughout the park, and a visitor’s center that houses live animals.
“It’s the only true environmental nature park in Clearwater,” said Lynn Sumerson, a board member of the Friends of Moccasin Lake Park.
The park is a popular field trip destination for school groups and summer camps. It also hosts meetings for a variety of organizations at the Environmental Education Center, from the Pinellas Native Plant Society to the Suncoast Sierra Club to The Florida Herb Society.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund recently awarded Moccasin Lake Park a $200,000 grant to renovate its facilities.
“We applied for 200,000 and we had to match it with $200,000,” said Felicia Donnelly, administrative support manager for the city of Clearwater. “The city has also budgeted an additional $200,000, so the project total for renovations at this point is $600,000.”
CLEARWATER - Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a record $461 million in budget requests June 23, including nearly $7 million from Pinellas County.
But the news wasn’t all bad, Mary Scott Hardwick, the county’s intergovernmental liaison, reported at a June 23 commission meeting, with money in the budget for an Upham Beach project, prescription drug monitoring and homeless services.
“There are a lot of good things,” she said.
But, funding for local nonprofits wasn’t one of them. The governor vetoed a funding request for $250,000 from Vincent House in Pinellas Park, which assists people recovering from mental illness and other disabilities. Scott also said no to $400,000 for Directions for Living in Clearwater, which provides behavioral health services. The Pinellas Education Foundation also won’t get the $500,000 it requested for career path planning to help the county’s school students. In addition, Scott vetoed $400,000 for the Clearwater Homeless Empowerment Program, formerly Homeless Emergency Project.
Clearwater Historical Society Museum did not get the $204,340 it requested. Bill Wallace sent out an email to members of CHS and others June 23 informing them of the veto.
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Instead of a football, Shelton Quarles picked up a hammer and a pair of gloves. The former NFL player helped to demolish the interior of an existing housing unit at Shepherd’s Village on June 19.
Over the next month and a half, the unit will undergo renovations before becoming the home for a single mother and her children.
In the past 23 years, Shepherd’s Village has been able to help 250 families and nearly 500 children. The housing facilities in Belleair Bluffs offer a safe, steady home for up to 15 families annually.
These temporary homes have helped many women in crisis get back on their feet. But while the existing units are clean, they also date back to the 1970s and are in need of repair.
Thanks to the Shelton Quarles IMPACT Foundation, one of the units was renovated last year. At a Shepherd’s Village gala last winter, Quarles pledged to renovate another. With this second donation, however, Quarles wanted to give more than just money.
For three hours, Quarles and his two sons Shelton Jr. and Carlos worked alongside contractor Jerry to demolish the inside of the unit. Moving from the kitchen to the bathroom to the living room, the team pulled apart fixtures, removed tiles, and tore up the carpet.
DUNEDIN - City officials are leaning toward plans to charge people to park in some areas in downtown Dunedin, but they want to analyze options more before making any decisions.
At a three-hour workshop June 23, commissioners heard the pros and cons from many residents on regulating parking before agreeing by consensus on the two options they want staff to study further.
One option calls for paid and free parking to the public. The other calls for enforced three-hour parking with a transition to paid parking in six months. Commissioners asked for more information from staff and their advisers, Walker Parking Consultants of Tampa.
Commissioner Heather Gracy said she wanted to hear more from Walker regarding case studies.
“When you look at Dunedin what other comparable cities size-wise, population-wise have tried paid parking and perhaps failed,” she said.
In addition she asked that city officials evaluate the suggestion that residents be given a discount in parking fees.
“Any benefit we can add to the taxpayers of the city to underwrite the current parking, I want to know as much as possible on how we can accommodate that,” she said.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she wants to further investigate funding options besides paid parking to increase spaces while maintaining the downtown’s ambiance, such as future Penny for Pinellas revenue.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard’s preliminary budget contains no real surprises and, best of all, no millage rate increases.
That’s primarily due to participation by commissioners, constitutional officers and other stakeholders during the preparation process, Woodard said, after he presented his budget at the July 21 commission meeting.
“Developing a $2 billion budget requires a village,” he said, adding that while not all “needs and wants” were included, he had done his best to provide for all within the available revenue.
PINELLAS PARK - A 57-year-old Pinellas Park man was charged with first-degree arson Saturday morning after allegedly setting fire to his home on 97th Terrace.
Pinellas Park police responded to a call to assist firefighters at the scene of a suspicious fire the morning of July 25. When officers arrived, they found the home’s occupant, Gregory Gallagher outside cleaning his motorcycle in the driveway of a neighbor’s house, according to a media release. Gallagher was “acting erratically and indifferent that his house was on fire,” the responding officer reported.
TARPON SPRINGS - For 30 years, Island House Restaurant, opened in 1963 was a stable along Clearwater Beach, home to locals and tourists alike. It was a favorite spot for Philadelphia Phillies officials during spring training, complete with a baseball wall in the dining room that featured the autographs of hundreds of players who had made their way through the restaurant over the years.
Owner Manuel Houllis, who retrieved the Epiphany cross in 1943, was as well-known as his Greek cuisine.
CLEARWATER - From the world’s first coffee filter to the first 100 percent recyclable single-serve coffee capsule, Melitta has always been known for innovation.
It all started with Melitta Bentz, a German housewife who cut up a piece of her son’s blotter paper to create the world’s first coffee filter. This July marked the 107th anniversary of Bentz’s coffee filter patent. The now worldwide company Melitta continues to churn out new coffee inventions, all while continuing to preserve the family business mindset and integrity that it was founded on.
Did a boater have to steal normal life from an innocent dolphin? A grievously wounded dolphin haunts John’s Pass in shock, panic and profound pain. In critical condition and fighting for its life, “it” is Babyface.
She was born in 2006 in the shadow of the VA Hospital. Capt. John Heidemann and I named her after her mother, Face, named for the silhouette of her dorsal fin. Babyface is a notably gentle “only child” dolphin with a very special mother.
INDIAN SHORES - Calling himself “an effective conservative who delivers results,” U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, announced his candidacy July 20 for the U.S. Senate.
He will be seeking the seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is retiring in 2016 to run for U.S. President.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to represent the people of Pinellas County in the U.S. House, taking their voice to Washington, D.C., and delivering results for our neighbors and community,” Jolly said in a press release. “I am proud of what we have accomplished together, and I am confident that the best is yet to come for our region and our state. It is with this sincere belief and focus on the future of Pinellas County and the entire state of Florida that I proudly announce my candidacy for the United States Senate.”
WASHINGTON DC - The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation cosponsored by Congressman David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, July 27 to fight the problem of illegal fishing from foreign vessels in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 774) passed the House by voice vote.
“Illegal fishing from foreign vessels is a direct threat to the livelihood of thousands of hardworking Americans along the Gulf coast as well as the quality of life throughout our Bay area communities. This bill will strengthen enforcement mechanisms against those who illegally fish our waters and will protect this important resource for our recreational, commercial, and charter boat fisherman,” Jolly said.