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    Metro Week in Review

    Begging draws ire of businesses

    By Times staff
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 9, 2003

    TAMPA -- Business owners in Ybor City fear that constant pleas from grizzled strangers are chasing away good customers and giving Ybor a bad rap.

    They're so worried, they've asked the city to find a legal remedy.

    City attorneys are researching potential solutions but no bright ideas are forthcoming and they aren't operating under any particular deadline.

    The city already has an ordinance against aggressive panhandling, but merchants say it's difficult to enforce.

    Ybor draws dozens of panhandlers -- homeless men, mostly, who ply the strip with hard-luck stories. As the crowds grow, so do the number of people pleading for change.

    "It gets annoying," says Lefty Brugueras, a tattoo artist at Shiva's Pain tattoo parlor. "They give you the same line over and over: 'I'm moving to Orlando. I'm out of gas.' "

    Jays, Dunedin get into spat over building name

    DUNEDIN -- More than a year after the city and the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team settled a long and heated dispute over contract renegotiations, tempers are flaring again.

    Commissioner Bob Hackworth says he is angry with Toronto Blue Jays officials for what he called an "act of defiance" when the team dedicated its training center to a longtime employee.

    On Feb. 20, city commissioners rejected a request by the Jays to change the name of the Englebert Complex spring training center to the Bobby Mattick Training Center at the Englebert Complex, saying building dedications are reserved for residents who have made substantial contributions to the community.

    But the team named its center after Mattick, a vice president of the organization, just the same.

    "It's a real slap in the face to this city," Hackworth said.

    Jays officials say they did nothing more than commit to hanging a plaque inside the building, and that the team has the right to rename the center

    American Indian group challenges Chasco Fiesta

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- For nearly a decade now, members of the Florida American Indian Movement have complained that a popular Pasco festival features stereotypical and racist images of Indians, but they have done little to stop the party.

    Last week group members turned to the courts and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice, saying the governments that support the event receive federal money to "promote false and derogatory imagery of the American Indian."

    The Chasco Fiesta, which is in its 81st year and runs March 20-30, is based on a mythical story of a Spanish boy and girl who are captured by the Calusa Indian tribe and later wed as Queen Chasco and her consort Pithla. In one traditional play, the Spaniards converted the Indians to Christianity.

    Chasco organizers last year agreed to change elements of the fiesta, but AIM members said further talks on the event broke down. Still, Chasco officials have long denied that the festival is anti-American Indian.

    The complaint names Pasco County, New Port Richey, the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the Krewe of Chasco.

    Mermaids float into Hernando budget picture

    BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County is debating whether it should one day be employing mermaids.

    The question of whether the county will assume ownership of the Weeki Wachee Springs attraction is hanging over the county's budget picture.

    The Southwest Florida Water Management District, which leases the attraction's land to a private owner, is awaiting the findings of an appraiser who has to come up with cost estimates.

    Swiftmud officials are negotiating with the attraction's owner, who hopes to sell his interest, and have offered the county the opportunity to take over.

    But county commissioners are thinking of spending $1.5-million upgrading Pedersen Park down the coast. And mermaids cost money, especially since the 1950s attraction is looking a little worn.

    "We can't afford to operate and manage both at the same time," said Parks and Recreation Department director Pat Fagan. "We are going to have to sit down and prioritize what the county can and cannot do."

    Last week the commission voted to move ahead with conceptual plans for Pedersen Park, but they'll keep an eye on the mermaids.

    City will revisit Sunday liquor laws

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Don't try to get a hair of the dog with a Bloody Mary with Sunday brunch in St. Petersburg. The city's liquor law, which was passed in 1976, makes it illegal to sell packaged beer and wine from 12:01 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays.

    Now a member of the St. Petersburg City Council wants to ease those regulations, a move he said would boost business by luring more tourists and restaurant customers to the city.

    Council member John Bryan said his proposal was prompted by the recent decision to allow vendors to sell alcohol before 1 p.m. Sunday during the Grand Prix auto race.

    "If it's good enough for the Grand Prix, then it's good enough for the rest of the city," he said. "We are a resort community. We deal with a lot of tourists and tourism. . . . These laws make it very awkward for the restaurants and hotels."

    The sale of liquor, beer and wine at restaurants and bars is also prohibited between 2 a.m. and 1 p.m., and packaged hard liquor is banned all day.

    Bryan, a non-drinker save for an occasional frozen strawberry daiquiri, called the rules antiquated.

    "Why are we still doing this? It dates back 100 years," he said.

    But the Rev. Gustave Victor, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said at least a morning of quiet reflection is the least the city can do.

    "It's bad enough that people go to church and praise the Lord and then go start drinking afterward," he said. "Under no circumstances would I want to support drinking on Sundays in any way, shape or form."

    In short . . .

    -- TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners voted Wednesday to take over ownership of Raymond James Stadium, which would end their obligation to pay much of its $4.3-million property tax bill. They also pledged to seek ways to ensure that Hillsborough schools won't lose any tax money as a result. Commissioners Jan Platt and Pat Frank expressed opposition to the arrangement, worrying that it was a can of worms that, once opened, will invite other major property owners, particularly the money-losing Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, to seek similar deals.

    -- CLEARWATER -- Local philanthropists Bernard and Mary Ann Powell have pledged $4-million to the Salvation Army in upper Pinellas County, with $1.2-million earmarked for a new complex at Druid Road and Highland Avenue. Powell, owner of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa from 1947 to 1990, was a successful lawyer in the Detroit area before he and three other investors bought the resort. The new complex will more than double the Salvation Army's space.

    Coming up this week

    -- Next weekend is expected to see the first big surge of spring breakers, when many local high schools and colleges let out for break. In Clearwater, locals are bracing for traffic jams because a series of road projects will clog the roads more than usual this year.

    -- Media giant Clear Channel hopes to break ground on an amphitheater at the Florida State Fair next week in order to have it open by the fair's 100th anniversary in February 2004. But Hillsborough County and Tampa officials have said another venue in the area could cripple already-struggling venues that will require taxpayer support.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.

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