CLEARWATER - It’s shiny and new and is awash with that new building smell - and it is ready to serve you.
The much-anticipated opening of the Clearwater Fire Station No. 45 is right around the corner and the public is invited to attend. A grand opening celebration is planned for Monday, Jan. 26, 2 to 4 p.m., at the new facility’s 1140 Court St. location.
The original facility was built in 1974 at 610 Franklin St. in Clearwater. However, the years were not kind to it, fire Chief Robert Weiss said.
“It aged very poorly over the years,” Weiss said, adding that the complex did not house the city’s administrative or operational departments. “It wasn’t a very cohesive environment.”
According to Weiss, the development plan for a new station has been on the books for more than 10 years. The initial concept was to rebuild at the Franklin address, Weiss said, but Clearwater City Council members wanted to consider other locations within the department’s response zone. The new location at 1140 Court St. was deemed the perfect spot.
Pinellas County motorists are paying less than $2 for a gallon of unleaded - the lowest pump price in the state, according to AAA Auto Club’s Fuel Gauge report for Jan. 23.
The average price in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Area was $1.97, which is nearly 13 cents lower than the average price statewide. The state average was $2.10, six cents more than the national average of $2.04.
As prices continue to fall, experts are predicting that the national average could hit $2 at any time.
Residents of Tampa Bay are saving more than $1.32 a gallon compared to Jan. 23, 2014 when the average price was $3.29 a gallon Jan. 22. In late December, prices averaged $2.37. A week ago, AAA reported an average price of $2.044. The highest price ever recorded in the local area was $4 on July 16, 2008.
Orlando was the only other metro area reporting pump prices less than $2 as of Jan. 23 with motorists paying an average of $1.99.
According to gasbuddy.com, the highest average price of gas in the United States was $4.10 on July 16, 2008. The lowest was on Dec. 29, 2008. The highest average in 2014 was $3.70 recorded on April 29 and the lowest was $2.25 on Dec. 31 of that year.
BELLEAIR SHORE - The mega-mansion home on Gulf Boulevard being built by Philadelphia Phillies superstar player Ryan Howard is just about completed.
A source close to the project said on Jan. 19 the house and grounds are “about done,” and that the Howards were already in residence at the time. Landscapers were at work at the time placing plantings in front of the walled property.
Construction of the house has been a major project in itself, taking nearly three years to finish. A Belleair Shore ordinance allows 24 months from the permit date for a home to be completed, with six-month extensions permitted on commission approval. An extension through spring of 2015 has been granted.
Due to the huge impact the Howard home will have on the town’s tax base, the commission agreed early on to be as cooperative as possible in assisting its construction. Mayor John Robertson said in 2011, “It is to the town’s benefit to get this home done as efficiently and with as much cooperation as we can.”
The construction phase has gone well, considering the home’s size and intricacies. At 17,500 square feet, it is one of the largest homes in Pinellas County, and the largest single-family residence by far on the Pinellas Gulf beaches.
LARGO - The last recorded bid was $9,650 when the auction closed on the Pinellas County Sheriff’s “doggone rug” Wednesday afternoon.
A deputy found a typo on the rug, which had been on the floor for a couple months in the lobby of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s new Administration Building at 10750 Ulmerton Road in Largo. Instead of the intended inscription “In God We Trust,” the misprinted rug’s inscription read, “In Dog We Trust.”
The rug was removed from the lobby Jan. 4.
Sheriff’s officials made the best of the situation, deciding to auction off what they were calling the “doggone” rug with proceeds going to a local dog rescue organization.
The auction was conducted online Jan. 15-21. Bidding ended at 4 p.m. The final bid posted to the auction website was $9,650 to a bidder by the name of masb1955. Officials have not yet identified the winner but have stated that if the winner were a local resident, a presentation ceremony would be scheduled.
Canine Estates Inc., 292 Alt. U.S. 19 N. in Palm Harbor will receive 100 percent of the auction proceeds.
Canine Estates is a 501c3 adoption and sanctuary facility dedicated to saving the lives of abandoned, abused and injured dogs primarily from high kill shelters. They provide rehabilitation, vaccination, spaying and neutering and seek to find loving homes for all their animals.
CLEARWATER - Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and a coalition of Clearwater community leaders wants to help keep that dream alive.
Members of the Clearwater Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center Coalition have worked for the past three years to breathe life into a community center once slated for demolition and the fruits of their labor are finally paying off.
Saturday marks the grand reopening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Neighborhood Center and organizers are hoping the public will come out and see all it has to offer.
“We want this to be a home away from home,” said center executive assistant Lillie Henry. “A lot of children have come through this building over the years. We want to keep that tradition alive.”
The center, which has a 40-year history in the North Greenwood community area of Clearwater, has undergone massive renovations in the past two years, including a complete indoor and outdoor renovation, roof and air conditioning replacements, a new paint job, complete with new furnishings and appliances.
CLEARWATER - Approximately 38 employees who work at the direction of the Pinellas County administrator make less than a living wage. Commissioner Ken Welch wants to fix that.
Welch brought up the idea of instituting a living wage policy for county employees during the Jan. 13 meeting.
“The county is focused on poverty,” Welch said. “I’d like to see us consider a living wage for our own employees.”
Welch did some preliminary research and found that about 38 employees working under the county administrator make less than the living wage of $12.50. The wage amount was set using a calculator from MIT. The city of St. Petersburg recently approved a living wage of $12.50 for its employees.
County Administrator Mark Woodard said he would reach out to the Constitutional Officers and see if they had an interest in making the policy countywide.
Commission Chair John Morroni described the decision as a “no brainer.” He said the policy should be considered whether the Constitutional Officers agreed or not. The other commissioners agreed.
Staff estimates it would cost about $150,000 a year to give a pay increase to the 38 employees.
CLEARWATER - The St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport continues to celebrate record-breaking growth in passenger travel. And now, a new airline plans to launch service from PIE beginning in March.
Officials gathered at the airport for a press conference Jan. 12 to announce that Silver Airways is expanding its flying and launching services to Pinellas County’s international airport. PIE will be the 11th Sunshine State airport offering Silver Airway service.
Beginning March 12, the airline will offer nonstop service to Fort Lauderdale and Key West. It also will provide connections to Jacksonville and seven destinations in the Bahamas, including Freeport and North Eleuthera.
“As further demonstration of Silver Airways continued commitment to state of Florida residents and visitors, we are looking forward to launching service from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport,” Silver Airways CEO Sami Teittinen said in a press release. “Introducing service from St. Pete-Clearwater is all about offering business and leisure travelers from throughout Tampa Bay more options for convenient flights to south Florida and the Bahamas, while giving other Florida customers even more opportunities to access all that the Tampa Bay area has to offer.”
SEMINOLE - Mayor Leslie Waters has proposed a two-part, “red, white and blue” initiative for Seminole in hopes of it becoming “the most patriotic city in the county, maybe even the state,” she said.
In her mission statement, she wrote that the initiative is “a focused, multifaceted and manageable effort toward an enhanced awareness and communications of the display of our nation’s colors, appreciation of veterans, recognition of those who gave their all, and support of the men and women currently in uniform.”
“We need to see more red, white and blue in our city,” she said.
She sent her initial proposal to the City Council on Oct. 3, after the plans to establish city branding and identity fell through. The council had discussed city branding, which was one of their seven-year goals, at workshop sessions last year. But when it came time to approve the $68,000 cost for a consultant, “everybody got cold feet,” Waters said.
But her patriotic plan “won’t cost the city a thing,” she said. Instead, the city will need to make only minor efforts for the initiative, such as creating a Speakers Bureau at City Hall that includes topics like flag etiquette, posting the United States Flag Code on the city website, and researching what it would take for Seminole to become a Purple Heart City.
PINELLAS PARK - The Pinellas Park Police Department is gearing up for a big year.
Not only is it celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but Chief Dorene Thomas announced that she’s retiring after 35 years of service in Pinellas Park. She made her announcement at the Pinellas Park PD’s Jan. 6 centennial celebration.
Her last day will be April 24 and Assistant Chief Michael Haworth will step up April 25 to become chief when she leaves.
“Chief Thomas has been a tremendous asset to our police department and our city,” City Manager Doug Lewis said. “She has brought a level of superior service and respect and has honored our residents with her dedication and compassion.”
Thomas spent five years working in law enforcement for St. Pete Beach before being hired as a patrol officer for Pinellas Park in 1980. From there she was promoted to sergeant in 1986 and then lieutenant in 1998. She served briefly as interim police chief before being offered the job permanently in 2000, making her the first full-time female police chief in Pinellas County.
“I’ve met some wonderful people along the way,” she said. “It’s been a really wonderful journey for me. It’s been indeed my honor and I’m humbled to have been a servant.”
DUNEDIN - Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers sent out a message Monday afternoon that he was recovering at home after being treated for a heart blockage over the weekend.
Eggers experienced unusual discomfort in his shoulder and neck the morning of Jan. 23. He received medical care at Dunedin Mease Hospital’s emergency room and was then transported to Morton Plant Hospital for additional care.
TARPON SPRINGS - In 2014, The Shepherd Center distributed 675,000 pounds of food to those in need in north Pinellas County.
Volunteers and employees handed out 30,000 bags of groceries from the food pantry, served 26,000 meals at community kitchens and provided 1,700 Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners through Project T.H.A.N.K.S.
This year, in its new, larger building, the faith-based organization finally has the room to grow, literally and figuratively.
PALM HARBOR - It all started about three years ago during a birthday celebration.
That’s when Jeff Domb, Sean Greelish and Sam Price were sipping on a few ones at the Palm Harbor House of Beer when Price said he had $100,000 he wanted to sink into a brewery operation if Domb and Greelish would be interested in joining.
The three long-time friends, who were also veteran home-brewing hobbyists, agreed it was a great idea. So after jumping through a few hoops, the Stilt House Brewery and craft beer taproom opened Nov. 29 at 625 Alt. U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor.
BELLEAIR - Town commissioners are moving toward approving an agreement that restricts development of the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club course for 20 years from the time it is approved.
Belleair Commissioners raised no objections to a draft agreement Jan. 20 that stems from previous commission discussions on ways to prevent development on the golf course property, which the town owns.
The declaration of land use restrictions, if approved, would be binding upon the golf course property and any person who may from time to time own, lease or otherwise have an interest in the golf course property or any portion thereof.
Have you ever heard about another person’s experience, wondered what it felt like and then went through it yourself? That happened to me today.
Just this morning, I was reading compelling accounts of a life lived among chimpanzees in the African forests. Famed primatologist Jane Goodall has startled the world with her many discoveries - chimps use tools, panic in water, can die of grief. Startling too is her frank admission that, upon hearing of the death of a chimp she knew for years, she grieves.