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Turks endured a painful past, too

Letters to the Editor
Published May 11, 2005

Your April 27 story Painful past, joyful future unfortunately portrays a one-sided perspective of historical events as fact.

While Armenians remember the loss of their ancestors during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, it should also be acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of Turks also died as a result of the Armenian revolt in the empire's eastern provinces.

Cataclysmic forces brought on by war such as disease and famine also played a great role in these human sufferings.

This was a grievous time for all. Armenian claims of genocide, however, have never been legally or historically substantiated. Regardless, Armenian activists' pursuit of recognition has continued, and has included acts of terrorism against Turkish diplomats in the United States and elsewhere.

Through all this, Turkey has pursued the facts via numerous collaborative efforts.

Last month, Turkey's prime minister issued an unprecedented proposal to Armenia's president for an impartial study of the matter by Turkish and Armenian historians, the results of which will be shared with the international community.

We hope Armenian expatriates in the United States and elsewhere will support this endeavor, as we seek a reconciliation that will allow us to look forward - together - to a peaceful and prosperous future.

-- Engin Soysal, minister counselor and deputy chief of mission, Turkish Embassy, Washington, D.C.

There was more to Green Thumb Festival

Re: Green Thumb Fest proves popular in "Tree City," April 27.

Shelley Kinser wrote a good article covering the Green Thumb Festival that took place April 23-24 at Walter Fuller Park in St. Petersburg. As usual, there were many vendors and excellent programs. The article, however, covered only the "outside" events and failed to go inside the building, where four more major programs took place.

Inside the gym was an excellent children's program for Junior Gardeners. Awards were given for plants they grew, and free educational materials were given to each child along with seedlings to plant.

Across the hall was the Artistic Crafts display with contrived flowers, a botanical display and a children's exhibit of animals made from vegetables. In another room was the Grow and Share event where two programs were presented: Fascinating Bamboo by Phil Stager and Flower Arranging with Palms by Carol Lucia.

Down the hall was the horticulture exhibit and artistic floral design show, for which awards were presented. All this was sponsored by the Garden Club of St. Petersburg, a longtime supporter and participant in the Green Thumb Festival.

-- Pat Strawn, St. Petersburg

Biltmore can be like Vinoy, Don CeSar

Destruction of the Belleview Biltmore will be a severe loss to the heritage of Pinellas County. This grand hotel was built by Henry B. Plant to crown his Florida "system" of railroads and hotels and opened in 1897. To ensure reliable transportation to the Belleview, Plant also acquired the famous Orange Belt Railway, which in many ways is credited with beginning St. Petersburg.

The hotel is still one of the world's largest wooden structures. It compares with the Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego. Very few of these late 19th century hotels remain. The Belleview was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

A St. Petersburg Museum of History exhibit, "Boom-Time Grand Hotels of the 1920s," features 10 hotels, nine of which are still standing. Three of these are still being used as hotels: the Vinoy, the Don CeSar and the Dennis (now known as the Kelly).

Without the hotels, St. Petersburg's and Pinellas County's tourist and development economy would not have happened. The hotels themselves provided employment to thousands of local residents and made employment possible for a great many more working in related businesses. Aside from their architectural significance and charm and the notables who stayed in them, the hotels play a central part in the history of our economy and community character.

Hopefully, there is hope and a lesson to be learned from this exhibit. Two of our finest hotels, the Vinoy and the Don CeSar (how many times did the president stay there this past year?), were themselves on the skids not so many years ago. But entrepreneurs came forth, and now these hotels are flourishing. Our other fine hotels have adapted to become law schools, government offices, academies and condos. Cannot the same be done for the Belleview Biltmore?

-- Will Michaels, executive director, St. Petersburg Museum of History

Saving hotel will require lots of money

I am appalled at the travesty that is unfolding in this community with regard to the proposed demolition of the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa in Belleair. This 1897 Henry Plant hotel is the largest and perhaps the most significant landmark in Florida's industrial history era.

The desire to save this important structure will not be won with letters and yelling alone. It will take money, lots of it, which is the only language that big corporations understand.

May I suggest to Urdang and Associates that it offer the Biltmore to a new owner who will preserve and operate the hotel as it is, or give this community a reasonable time to assemble a private or private-public partnership to buy the hotel at fair market value.

To the DeBartolo Development Corp., you would be wise to stand down on this deal. You have made millions in the Tampa Bay area and will continue to make millions on your projects here. Do you really want to alienate this community by destroying one of the last pieces of history that remain here?

Maybe this community should consider a mass boycott of DeBartolo- and Urdang-related businesses until they guarantee that this historic landmark will not be demolished.

If I were a Belleair homeowner, I would be talking to my neighbors and Town Commission about an assessment to help the town get involved in a public-private partnership to keep these proposed condos and traffic out of my back yard.

Community support for preservation has been demonstrated. More than 70 percent of the residents of St. Petersburg voted to tax themselves to save Sunken Gardens. An informal poll shows 70 percent support to save the Belleview.

Community and corporate leaders, philanthropists, politicians and the millions who make up this community should get involved and not let this jewel be lost for the sake of a few more condos.

As a 42-year-old lifetime resident of this county, I will be forever ashamed if this community sits back and allows the Belleview Biltmore to be demolished. The time is now to act.

-- Jeff Francis, Friends of the Belleview Biltmore, St. Petersburg

[Last modified May 11, 2005, 00:46:18]

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