A good year for tennis, nudity and audacity
© St. Petersburg Times
It was a good year for people whose bread and butter is battering fuzzy green tennis balls.
And women who make a living grinding to music in G-strings and T-backs.
And people who like to get naked to sunbathe, swim and swat volleyballs.
In 2002 in Pasco County, a proposed $5.7-million public tennis stadium got the go-ahead; strip club owners outflanked the county's adult business ordinance, and the nudism industry surged with the opening of a bare-skinned resort called Caliente.
It also was a year of naked political ambition. The county's former sheriff, Lee Cannon, lunged for a state Senate seat coveted by his Republican arch-nemesis Mike Fasano.
Cannon blamed Fasano for engineering the loss of his badge in 2000 to Republican neophyte Bob White. November was supposed to be payback time.
But with eight years in the state House, some as majority leader, Fasano was no easy pickings. In losing to Fasano, Cannon managed to win only 37 percent of the vote.
Another Democratic party mainstay, New Port Richey lawyer Chuck Kalogianis, tried for a bigger office, the U.S. House of Representatives. He couldn't dislodge incumbent Republican Mike Bilirakis, though. Seems like Kalogianis hasn't quite been able to distance himself from his past as an exotic male dancer known for wearing a racy chicken ensemble.
Speaking of performances, did you see that musical put on by New York choreographer and director Nicolette Boothby?
She's the award-winning Broadway bigwig who staged the musical The Taffetas at the Angel Cabaret Theater in New Port Richey.
Um, actually not.
Fearing a pan from Pasco Times theater critic Barbara Fredricksen, cabaret theater employee Bill Garon created the fictional Boothby to add Broadway pizazz to the performances.
Garon makes part of his living as the opening act for a Liberace impersonator. Boothby is actually the name of his sister, a 38-year-old homemaker from Kentucky.
But for audaciousness, nothing beats what happened at Deerwood Academy, a charter school in Port Richey at which $96,000 of taxpayers' money turned up missing.
Perhaps "missing" is being too charitable. More like tens of thousands of dollars in suspicious checks and questionable credit card payments.
No one has been charged with criminal acts -- yet. But Deerwood founder Hank Johnson and his right-hand man, a felon named Jeffrey Alcantara, were fired as part of a massive house cleaning.
The school district tightened up its charter school operations further by appointing Land O'Lakes principal Max Ramos as overseer of Deerwood.
Of course, it wouldn't be Pasco if you didn't see cement mixers, roofers and bulldozers everywhere. But the development landscape shifted with a bunch of major announcements in 2002.
Community and North Bay hospitals are both leaving New Port Richey for the greener pastures -- and greenbacks -- of the wealthier Trinity community.
Community plans to shut its 414-bed hospital and build a $150-million, 376-bed hospital at Little Road and State Road 54. North Bay wants to spend $74-million on a 122-bed hospital on Trinity Oaks Boulevard.
In Wesley Chapel, East Pasco Medical Center agreed to buy 50 acres on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to build a 300-bed tower. It would be the first hospital in the 40 miles between Zephyrhills and New Port Richey.
In a decision that divided the county into caviar and cube steak camps, county commissioners green-lighted plans to build a $5.7-million, 5,000-seat tennis stadium in Wesley Chapel.
Saddlebrook Resort has agreed to manage the stadium, fill it with tournaments and cover any operating losses. Renowned for its high-priced tennis academy, Saddlebrook trains dozens of the world's top players.
Critics of the stadium groused that the stadium project, attracting mostly champagne toasting tennis fans, is not a good fit for Pasco. They preferred to spend the money on youth sports.
An even bigger project, Connerton New Town Development, the long-promised city in the heart of Pasco, was trimmed in 2002.
State conservationists said they would buy a bit less than half of the property. Connerton will still be a city, but with 8,700 homes instead of the previously announced 15,100.
Solidifying its status as the North American Capital of Nudism, Land O'Lakes got its fifth resort in 2002. Caliente's heated pools and bare-but-for-the-sweatband tennis courts are drawing admirers to U.S. 41 from places such as Great Britain and New York.
Nakedness of the more sensational kind flourished on U.S. 19 despite Pasco's best efforts to cover it with fig leaves.
In a triumph of the go-go girls, the county withdrew an ordinance to exile strip bars, adult book stores and massage parlors to industrial parks.
A federal judge had deemed the law unfair to such U.S. 19 establishments as Lollipops and Calendar Girls, which would have had to hightail it to the nearest warehouse district.
To residents of Hudson, where most of the strip clubs lie, the county's replacement ordinance was a mockery, leaving existing businesses in place.
Pasco fared better with its sign ordinance. Approved earlier this month, the law requires future businesses to use ground-hugging monument signs instead of towering pole signs.
Scenic Pasco advocates wanted the county to go the ordinance one better and gradually remove the existing roadside clutter on U.S. 19.
But with visions of the overturned adult businesses ordinance dancing in their heads, county officials opted not to overreach.
In a sign of more serious times, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office broke a blissful three-year spell in which no suspects died at the hands of a deputy.
But in 2002, a Zephyrhills jewelry store proprietor, a suspected drug dealer from Trilby and a probation violator in Holiday all died when they pulled guns on deputies. Each deputy was exonerated.
In Port Richey, the city seems serious about letting its residents decide whether to discard its independent police department.
By contracting out to the Sheriff's Office, the west Pasco community could save about $500,000 a year over the current 14-member department budgeted at $1.2-million a year.
Finally, Dade City almost had to cancel Christmas. Well, not exactly. Short on money, the county seat had decided not to hang its traditional downtown Christmas decorations.
But . . . cue U.S. Cavalry trumpet charge . . . the St. Petersburg Times helped rescue the city with a $2,000 donation. Downtown businessman Otto Weitzenkorn also helped out financially.
So if you see the giant illuminated candy canes on street poles, realize that 2002 could have been a whole lot worse.
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2002: The Year in Review