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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Derby Lane as Rays new home?

St. Petersburg-- Early in the long slog of another City Council workshop Thursday in the endless cul-de-sac of what has become the soap opera of the Tampa Bay Rays' destiny, council member Karl Nurse injected an intriguing nugget.

Nurse said he happend to know that the owners of Derby Lane, the dog track and gambling mecca on Gandy Boulevard, would be interested in talking about becoming the new home of the Rays. 

" I've been told that they'd be happy to talk about that as a baseball site," Nurse said during a break. 

Chris Steinocher, president and CEO, said the Derby Lane site has transportation money reserved for improvements in the area, it is an attractive option. 

In the past year, he said, more talk about Derby Lane as a possibility has surfaced. 

For years, the owners of Derby Lane haven't expressed much interest in their possible role in the stadium saga.

Of course, the Rays are prohibited by their use agreement with the city to negotiate over any alternate stadium site. And Derby Lane isn't adding any fuel to the fire. …

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Tampa chamber urges Legislature to expand health care coverage

As the Legislature heads into next week's special session on the budget, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday restaked its position in support of expanding Medicaid.

“On behalf of our over 1,200 members in Tampa and across the Tampa Bay region, we strongly urge our legislators to pass meaningful health care reform," chamber president and CEO Bob Rohrlack said in a prepared statement. "This has been a priority issue for our chamber for years, one which many other business organizations have since rallied around, and it is imperative that our elected officials resolve this issue during this upcoming special session.”

In a similar statement, chamber chairman Ronald Christaldi said, "we all suffer if our legislators do not expand health care coverage. Ultimately the cost to care for those who are not covered will be passed along to hospitals and the business community. This is an unreasonable burden to bear and one that will certainly stifle our state’s economic growth." …

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St. Pete Homeless Change initiative building momentum

ST. PETERSBURG---You might have noticed the vintage parking meters painted yellow near the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club, the Museum of Fine Arts or, more recently, Tropicana Field.

The city began repurposing old meters last fall and placing them strategically as part of their "Power of Change" campaign. So far, a dozen meters are operating in high-traffic pedestrian spots, bringing in about $200 a month in loose change. The meters don't accept bills, although the city is working on a phone app similar to its popular online parking option.

The best spot? Straub Pavilion near the bandstand right across from the Vinoy: it usualloy nets more than $20 a month, topping off above $40 in January, according to city records. 

But not all meters are feeling the love. A meter near Al Lang Stadium, meant to capture Saturday Morning Market traffic, has underperformed so far. So Cliff Smith, the city's manager of veterans, social and homeless services, moved it a bit to the east. Luckily, the  meters are easy to move and, since they were just laying around and only need a coat of signature yellow paint, not much cost is involved. …

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St. Pete Council debates, then delays vote on waterfront plan

ST. PETERSBURG-- The downtown master waterfront plan, for much of its nine-month life, appeared to be the mirror opposite of the Pier debate.

The public meetings weren't particularly contentious. The City Council appeared satisfied. No significant opposition surfaced.

But, in January, consultants and city staff added conceptual language and renderings showing a hotel and conference center behind the Mahaffey Theater.

It took awhile, but opposition to that idea grew steadily.  And on Thursday, after several hours of debate, the City Council voted to remove any reference to a hotel. 

But that wasn't good enough. As 11 p.m. neared, council members who had been in meetings since 8 a.m. started to debate the meaning of the word "civic."  

Finally, Council chairman Charlie Gerdes said he'd had enough. He said he didn't trust himself to make revisions to the plan after a fatiguing day. Gerdes walked over to council member Jim Kennedy. Shortly after, Kennedy made a motion to continue the discussion at the June 4 meeting. An exhausted council, facing a hefty chunk of agenda left to wade through, approved  it unanimously. …

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St. Pete City Council approves Southside CRA

The City Council unanimously approved the Southside Community Redevelopment Area on Thursday. 

Council member Karl Nurse has led the political efffort to create the CRA and use the property tax proceeds generated from the tax-increment-financing district within its boundaries to fund affordable housing and other redevelopment efforts instead of more traditional TIF uses like streelights, utilities and street improvements. 

Mayor Rick Kriseman has also pushed hard for the measure. The Pinellas County Commission approved the measure earlier this month. 

Measuring about 7.5 square miles, the proposed CRA includes Midtown and Childs Park, extending from Fourth Street to 49th Street and from Second Avenue N to 30th Avenue S. About 14 percent of the city's residents — roughly 34,000 people — live there. Nearly a third of those fall below the federal poverty line, including 45 percent of children. About 650 vacant and boarded homes dot the landscape.

"It's way past needed," said council member Wengay Newton, who represents part of the district. "We do have some areas that need help."

The CRA is expected to raise $67 million over its 30-year-life.

Several members thanked Nurse for his efforts. …

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During budget listening tour, St. Pete officials get an earful about city staffers' wages

ST. PETERSBURG | When officials set out to hear residents' thoughts on the 2016 budget earlier this month, they learned about concerns of gentrification.

At the second forum, held Wednesday night at the Enoch Davis rec center, the people had a different worry: city employees' wages.

In his draft budget now, Mayor Rick Kriseman is proposing 2 percent raises for staffers.

Too paltry, most of the 41 speakers (many of them city workers themselves) said at Wednesday's event.

"You want me to give you 100 percent, but you want to give me 2 percent," Kevin Jackson, who works in the city's traffic operations division, said to loud applause.

Several people questioned the mayor's plan to hire more upper level management instead of restoring blue-collar positions lost during the recession.

"Mayor I'm asking you, please," said worker Robin Wynn. "We need help out there. We need workers."

The budget figures presented so far are preliminary. Kriseman's official budget won't be sent to council until July. Already, there are expectations that the city will see a revenue boost because of rising property values. …

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Pasco GOP chairman resigns

James Mathieu has resigned as chariman of the Republican Party of Pasco County.

Mathieu notified members of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee of his decision in an email message Tuesday night.

"For personal reasons, I am resigning as chairman of the Republican Party of Pasco. Thank all of you for this opportunity to serve. Keep the faith and Republicans will prevail in 2016. Thank you all,'' the email said.

The party elected Mathieu chairman in July 2013. He formerly had been the vice chairman. Mathieu, an attorney and former city attorney and interim city manager for Port Richey, made three unsuccessful runs for the state legislatie seat based in west Pasco now held by Rep. Amanda Murphy,D-New Port Richey. His campaign incluuded sharp criticism of then-House Speaker Will Weatherford and a platform endorsing the expansion of Medicaid to cover uninsured Floridians. …

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The Tampa Rays?

U.S Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez came to St. Petersburg Wednesday to pat Mayor Rick Kriseman and local business leaders- including the Tampa Bay Rays -- on the back for their wage and leave policies.

But the Obama administration cabinet member inadvertently touched a longstanding Bay Area political nerve when he started talking baseball.

Moments after saying that he enjoyed nothing more than watching the New York Yankees lose, Perez referred to the local team as the, wait for it, Tampa Rays.

Perez was talking about the importance of women being able to continue participating in the workforce when he said, "that's true if you're the Tampa Bay.. Tampa Rays..used to be Tampa Bay, the Tampa Rays."

After a  chorus of whispered "it's still Tampa Bay,"  Perez corrected himself.

Standing next to Perez? Rays President Brian Auld, who never stopped smiling, although his smile might have became a tad tighter while he softly corrected Perez.

At least Perez didn't mention Montreal. 


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Rays brass says stadium can spur urban renaissance

Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld told a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce lunch crowd Tuesday that baseball is the only sport that can create "its own sense of place" due to its 81-game home schedule.

"No other sport can do that," Auld said. 

Auld touched briefly on the long-running stadium impasse between the team and the St. Petersburg City Council, repeating the Rays' mantra that a new stadium has to be good for the team and the region. 

A new stadium could spark development, help solve the Bay Area's mass transit quandry and create jobs, he said.

The City Council has scheduled a workshop to discuss the stadium situation for May 28.  Rays owner Stuart Sternberg and Mayor Rick Kriseman, who saw his attempt to ink a deal scuttled by council in December, say they're not likely to negotiate during the regular season. 

The Rays have long said they need to evaluate possible stadium sites in Tampa and other parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.  They have a use agreement to play at Tropicana Field that expires in 2027.  …

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In Sarasota, they're calling Jeff Vinik's new mansion the 'S.S. Magellan'

Two reasons for that, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

First, there's Vinik's history in the 1990s as the famously successful manager of the Fidelity Magellan Fund.

Also, it's big. At 15,902 square feet, the mansion on St. Armands Key will occupy two lots, feature a modernist design and be the third-largest private residence in the city of Sarasota when complete.

Vinik paid a total of $7.75 million for the two homes that were demolished to make way for the new place.

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St. Pete Fire Station in Fossil Park isn't "sick" after all

St. Petersburg's nascent budget cycle was thrown for a loop last week when council member Bill Dudley announced that firefighters were getting sick at Fire Station #7 in Fossil Park at 6975 Martin Luther King Jr. St. N. 

Dudley said he had visited the station recently and was shocked at the conditions of the 54-year-old building. He said roaches ran across his feet.

His colleagues immediately put a new station on top of their capitol improvement list---at a cost of $3.5 million.

On Thursday, Fire Chief Jim Large told council that an environmental assessment found no mold or other toxins. He repeated that no firefighters had reported being made ill.

Still, City Administrator Gary Cornwell said his staff would present a plan to replace the aging station at a budget meeting next week.  

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St. Petersburg Waterfront Plan to be tweaked

The ambitious plan to reimagine St. Petersburg's seven-mile waterfront will go back to the drawing board for some linguistic polishing after City Council members objected Thursday to the plans to include a private hotel and conference center near the Mahaffey Theater and Dali Museum.

City Development Administrator Alan DeLisle argued passionately to keep the language intact, saying that the city needed to explore ways to lure visitors to the city to plump up weekday traffic and jolt a still sleepy summer season.

But several council members, including Karl Nurse, Wengay Newton and Steve Kornell, expressed strong reservations about ratifying a plan to endorsed privatizing part of the city's waterfront, even if any development would likely require a public vote.

Several prominent residents, including Momma Tee Lassiter and Kathleen Ford, also objected.

City officials and consultants said they would work on placing the language into context and changing words such as "should" to "could."

The council take a final vote on the plan on May 21.  Newton voted against it on its initial reading. 

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St. Petersburg City Council confirms 1st woman city attorney

St. Petersburg--- -Jackie Kovilaritch has made history. On a day with the council chamber full of Pier watchers, Mayor Rick Kriseman's choice for the city's first woman city attorney was hailed as keen legal mind and a trailblazer.

She will take over for her longtime boss, John Wolfe, on Aug.1  

Kovilaritch, 48, joined the city's legal office in 2000.  Last year, she was promoted to Wolfe's top assistant. She has taken the  lead in many critical city issues, including negotiations with the Tampa Bay Rays over the team's desire to search in Hillsborough County for new stadium sites.

The council vote to confirm her was unanimous. 

"This is just another barrier we're breaking down," Kriseman said.

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Affordable Housing or First Tee: St. Petersburg City Council spars over funds

ST. PETERSBURG---During a meeting dominated by the future of the city's Pier, a discussion about golf, affordable housing and race broke out.

At issue: the city shifting $250,000 in unused money for multi-family rental rehab to the First Tee program, a non-profit mentoring program at the city-owned Twin Brooks golf course--currently undergoing a $1.5 million renovation.

Several council members said they were uncomfortable taking money dedicated to affordable housing to the build a 3,000-square-foot learning center. The program serves 4,100 youths.

Council member Amy Foster said the lack of affordable housing is at crisis levels.

"People feel like they are being priced out of their community," she said.

Two residents spoke saying that spending affordable housing money on golf programs didn't make sense.

The program serves primarily African-American children who live near the golf course at 3800 22nd Ave. S, said First Tee officials.  

Council member Wengay Newton said the program serves a valuable purpose and a center is needed, especially since some tension has surfaced in the past between golfers and First Tee kids. …

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St. Pete's Art Scene is an economic driver, study says

ST. PETERSBURG--The city's arts community just doesn't make the city a hip draw, it nets millions and provides hundreds of jobs, according to a study by the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

The study found the city's non-profit arts and cultural organizations brought a direct and indirect economic impact of $212 million in 2014 and sustained more than 800 jobs.

Nearly 5.2 million visitors patronized museums, galleries, peforming arts centers and other venues, the study found.

Although total spending and economic impact might be large---artists are just scraping by. Nearly 6,000 artists surveyed reported an average of income of $17,498, an increase of less than 3 percent from 2002.


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