SEMINOLE - Tampa Bay Newspapers office at 9911 Seminole Blvd. in Seminole will be closed Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and New Year’s Day, Jan. 1.
Deadline for the Dec. 25 newspapers is noon Wednesday, Dec. 17, for all editorial copy. Deadline for retail and classified display ads is 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18. Deadline for classified line ads is noon Friday, Dec. 19.
Deadline for the Jan. 1, 2015 newspapers is noon Wednesday, Dec. 24, for all editorial copy, and retail and classified display ads. Deadline for classified line ads is noon Friday, Dec. 26.
TARPON SPRINGS - A Tarpon Springs police officer with 17 years on the job died at a local hospital Sunday morning. He was shot by a transient while responding to a noise complaint.
Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. was charged with one count of first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri explained the sequence of events during a press conference Sunday evening.
Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek, aka Charlie K, responded to an apartment complex at 199 Grand Blvd. about 2 a.m. A caller told police there was a car in the lot with the music blaring. The caller had asked the occupants to turn down the music, but a black female refused and “flipped him off,” Gualtieri said. The unidentified man called Tarpon Springs police.
Gualtieri said Parilla and the female, a friend who was identified as Evelyn D. Santiago, had been at a party together in Holiday. Parilla asked the female to accompany him on his trip to Tarpon Springs. They traveled in a vehicle owned by a friend of Santiago.
Parilla reportedly had gone to the apartment complex to confront someone who had “dimed him out” for violation of his probation, Gualtieri said. Parilla was released from a Florida prison in March. He has 30 previous felony arrests and 15 misdemeanor arrests. There was a warrant out for his arrest on two counts of amphetamines.
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.
CLEARWATER - Though it might be the season to be jolly, safety officials in Clearwater want you to be safe, too.
The Clearwater Police Department recently kicked off a campaign aimed at keeping city streets safer for residents, tourists, bicyclists and motorists.
The goal of the program is to educate the public on the dos and don’ts of sharing the roadways and is funded by a $94,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation.
“This is the second time we’ve done this,” Clearwater Police Department Public Information Officer Rob Shaw said. “The grant will allow off-duty officers to work shifts where they specifically focus on pedestrian safety and improving the streets of Clearwater.”
The earlier effort, which ran from March 2014 to July 2014, produced 1,410 warnings and 680 citations for pedestrians alone.
The first phase of the campaign is underway. During this phase, off-duty officers, who will patrol the streets until the end of May, will pass out informational brochures to pedestrians and bicyclists they observe breaking the law. In addition, officers will work to educate motorists who fail to observe pedestrian rights of way by, for example, blocking crosswalks or failing to yield when turning right at a red light.
TARPON SPRINGS - Almost nine months after they installed the Ama mermaid at Craig Park, the Tarpon Springs Public Art Committee has already begun raising money to give the statue a permanent home.
Earlier in the year, French artist Amaryllis Batailleas created a customized sculpture for Tarpon Springs as part of her Amaryllis Art for Charity program, which places unique Ama mermaid statues around the world. Tarpon’s mermaid, which was unveiled on April 1, stands at 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 360 pounds. At the base of the statue, a small bronze plaque reflects the history of the city.
According to a press release from the city in February, the statue was originally proposed in Tarpon Springs “because of the beauty of the city’s close proximity to the Gulf and bayou waters, the mythical ties between mermaids, manatees and Greek culture and the city’s ability to draw national and international visitors.”
But the three-year contract was only a rental of the statue; the Public Art Committee and the city of Tarpon Springs can decide to sell, auction or purchase the statue at any point during that term.
CLEARWATER - The watchword at the Dec. 16 Pinellas County Commission meeting was flexibility.
Community leaders are concerned that proposed changes to the county’s Tourist Development Plan would limit how bed tax dollars could be spent on future projects.
The county collects a 5 percent tourist (bed) tax on accommodations rented for less than six months. State statute controls a complicated formula used to divide revenue cent by cent into spending categories. In fiscal year 2014, 59 percent of bed tax revenue is going to marketing and operations; 18 percent to debt service; 8 percent to beach nourishment; 1 percent to the tax collector; and 14 percent to reserves.
Before giving the public an opportunity to speak, Commission Chair Karen Seel, who also chairs the Tourist Development Council, recommended delaying the vote to amend funding of the capital project category of the Tourist Development Plan.
“Since there has been so much discussion in the community,” Seel suggested that the commission meet with the TDC to “see if there is some common ground we might be able to find.”
She suggested that the commission consider only the pending sunset of the fourth cent, which if repealed would allow the continued levy of the fourth and fifth cent. Commissioners agreed unanimously to repeal the sunset.
DUNEDIN - State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is confident that legislation he is filing to help craft beer brewers grow their businesses will become law next year.
Latvala and Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, devised identical bills that would allow microbreweries to legally sell the 64-ounce “growlers” or containers of craft beer. They held a press conference at the Dunedin Brewery Dec. 16 to discuss their views on the “Growler Bill.”
Florida and Utah are the only two states that don’t allow 64-ounce growlers, Latvala said, attributing the restrictions to “protecting monopolies.” He doesn’t see a reason for distributors to justify their opposition.
“Happily, many of the distributors including our local distributors have come around to that way of thinking,” Latvala said. “And I think our path to being able to pass this bill this year will be significantly better than the past two years. I think I can safely predict we will be successful this year, finally.”
Latvala, who was first elected to the senate 20 years ago, said he was going to take advantage of Sprowl’s enthusiasm to work the bill in the House along with House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa, who has assisted Latvala in the past two years on the bill.
LARGO - The journey over trails and unpaved paths of the Florida Divide mountain bike route took Charlie Kemp of Largo a little longer than expected.
For about 868 miles, Kemp traversed across the Florida Scenic Trail, forest roads and the South Florida Water Management District levee system, using only a few paved roads to make his journey across the length of the state. He traveled alone, with all the equipment and provisions he would need strapped to his mountain bike.
Kemp, 45, is an insurance claims specialist by day. But recently, he was the first to travel the entire distance of the recently defined Florida Divide in a sport few have heard of - bikepacking.
“The objective is to ride as much gravel and off road as you possibly can,” Kemp explained. “If we could do it without ever touching pavement, we would do so.”
The trek - starting in Fargo, Georgia and ending at the southern tip of Florida in Flamingo - was a test of his resolve, Kemp said. It was a test to get to the end of the route, to get out of each wilderness preserve and through every part along the journey.
“It was absolutely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it also was one of the most rewarding,” Kemp said.
INDIAN SHORES - The site plan for Ocean 9, a multi-family condominium project at 19738 Gulf Blvd., was approved by the Indian Shores Town Council Dec. 9.
When complete, the project will consist of nine units and four levels over parking.
According to Mayor Jim Lawrence, the site plan approval is just the first step in a long process that includes approval of the construction plans by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Department of Transportation and a second approval by the Town Council.
Ground breaking is expected in June or July, followed by a six-month construction phase.
The quasi-judicial public hearing was conducted by town attorney Robert Metz. Michael Palmer, president of Synergy Civil Engineering of Clearwater, was part of the design team and spoke at the hearing.
Michael Arrigo of Architectonics Studio in St. Petersburg designed the building, James Montgomery created the landscape plans and Know It Now of Dunedin was the property surveyor.
Town engineer Bob Brotherton reviewed the plan and provided a two-page evaluation.
The applicant/owner of the property, Kirit Shah, shared his pleasure over the approval.
LARGO - Gateway North, the first luxury apartment community built in Largo in about 20 years, celebrated its grand opening Dec. 10.
Residents began moving into the three-story, 342-unit development at 2681 Roosevelt Blvd. last month. The complex includes a lake with a walking trail, a resort-style clubhouse with a water-scaped pool, cabanas, a fitness center, a business center and outdoor grilling and entertainment areas.
It’s a project that has been a long time in coming, explained Anthony Everett, Central Florida director of the Pollack Shores Real Estate Group, during his comments Dec. 10.
“In fact, I have been trying to bring multifamily housing to this site for more than 15 years with three different master developers,” he said. “Needless to say, I am thrilled to be attending a grand opening today.”
There was always some factor that prevented the project from becoming a reality - either the land or construction costs were too high, the rental rates too low or the city’s own impact fees were costly, he explained. However, Everett said he spoke with Largo’s Community Development Director Carol Stricklin and Economic Development Manager Teresa Brydon about the impact fee problem.
AAA Auto Club says Christmas Day gas prices should be the lowest since 2008. Experts are predicting that travelers will be out in record numbers.
As of Dec. 18, a week away from Christmas Day, the national average for a gallon of unleaded was down to $2.48, which is 41 cents less than the same day last year, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report.
“Gas prices should continue to fall through the rest of the year,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA - The Auto Group. “Prices are dropping at around 1-2 cents a day, and if that trend continues, gas could be 15 cents cheaper by Christmas.
During this holiday season, the Florida Highway Patrol joins law enforcement and highway safety agencies across the nation participating in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign.
The campaign runs through Jan. 1, 2015.
In 2013, nearly 20 percent of all fatal crashes in Florida were alcohol related. During last year’s campaign, 421 impaired drivers were removed from the roads, preventing them from hurting themselves or others.
Holiday services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are scheduled at places of worship throughout Pinellas County, including the following.
St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church
CLEARWATER - St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, 1955 S. Belcher Road, presents Christmas Eve services, on Wednesday, Dec. 24, will include family mass at 4 and 6 p.m.; a midnight musical prelude, 11:30; and a midnight mass. Christmas Day masses, on Thursday, Dec. 25, will be presented at 7, 9 and 11 a.m. Call 531-7721 or visit www.scosparish.org.
Helping others is a tradition in Pinellas County, especially during the holidays.
Every year, scores of volunteers, organizations and businesses join together to help children and families struggling to make ends meet, the elderly who live alone, the sick and disabled have a better holiday. The following is a list of organizations that need help to share the holiday spirit.
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.
Lights of Lake Park Estates
SEMINOLE - The Lights of Lake Park Estates, a holiday light display in Seminole, will run through December. The lights are displayed Sunday through Thursday, 6 to 10 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 6 to 11 p.m. To reach the display from Starkey Road, go west on Bryan Dairy Road, turn right at the first traffic light at 109th Avenue North and follow the arrows. To reach the display from Seminole Boulevard, go east on 102nd Avenue North; cross the Lake Seminole Bridge, go to first traffic light at 97th Street North, turn left and follow the arrows.
One of the best parts of living near the water is the annual holiday boat parades that have become a tradition in Pinellas County.
Boat parades are scheduled every weekend, Dec. 5-21, sponsored by municipalities with borders on the Gulf and local waterways.
The city of St. Pete Beach is hosting its annual tree lighting and holiday boat parade Friday, Dec. 5, at Horan Park, 7701 Boca Ciega Drive. Enjoy live music, hot chocolate, art projects for children, a movie in the park and a special visit from Santa. The park is the perfect place to view the boats decorated in their holiday finery.
It’s almost time to say goodbye to the old year and embrace the new one. In the Tampa Bay area, there are plenty of ways to ring in the New Year. Following is a list of some planned events.
- The Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce and Frenchy’s will host its second annual Community Fireworks event on New Year's Eve, Wednesday, Dec. 31, on Clearwater Beach. The event will take place at the stroke of midnight. For information, visit www.lightitupclearwater.com.