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Hibbard: Upgrades to bear fruit soon

The mayor seeks another term to see the changes through.

By MIKE DONILA, Times Staff Writer
Published January 25, 2008


Mayor Frank Hibbard, shown near the Clearwater Memorial Causeway, was elected in 2004.
[Douglas R. Clifford | Times]
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photo
Former Mayor Rita Garvey faces Hibbard in Tuesday's election.
[Jim Damaske | Times]

CLEARWATER - Mayor Frank Hibbard looks at a city in transition and sees years of investment about to pay off.

In his first term as mayor, Clearwater has:

- Spent $10-million to dress up downtown Cleveland Street.

- Begun the $30-million BeachWalk promenade.

- Welcomed the construction of new condo towers downtown and on the beach - sometimes to the dismay of neighbors.

Now Hibbard, 40, is seeking three more years as mayor. He faces a challenge from former Mayor Rita Garvey in Tuesday's election.

To critics, Hibbard is a spendthrift who tore up the beach and gave developers everything they wanted.

But supporters say he has fostered progress and opened lines of communication between City Hall and the public.

And Hibbard says the city's work will bear fruit as new businesses and residents move downtown.

"I'm not sure if it's up to me to define my place in Clearwater's history," he says. "But hopefully I've been an agent in guiding us through some changes that inevitably would occur and doing things that will benefit us for years to come."

The city must invest in itself or it will stagnate, Hibbard and his supporters say.

"Frank came charging in with new ideas ... and realized something had to be done with Cleveland Street," said Duke Tieman, 74, a South Greenwood community activist and real estate broker.

Others, like Ewa Kunowska, a vocal critic of City Hall, disagree.

"The money spent isn't working," said Kunowska, who owns the small Tropical Sky Ranch Motel Vocal on Clearwater Beach. "If you come to Clearwater Beach, you see zero customers."

Development isn't all Hibbard says occurred since he's been in office, first in 2002 as a city commissioner and now as mayor.

A financial adviser for Morgan Stanley, Hibbard says he's accomplished three of four major goals as mayor.

He has opened dialogue between the city and residents through public meetings as well as monthly breakfasts. He has created a Veterans Appreciation Day that brought 5,000 people to Clearwater High School last year. And he's promoted healthy living through programs for city employees and in 22 elementary schools.

The one thing left, he says, is to build a senior center, perhaps with money from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.

"We have a very large population of seniors," he says. "They need to have a place they truly feel is their own."

***

Self-described as "fairly intense, family oriented and very driven," Hibbard is the youngest of six children, something he says taught him "a lot about competition."

He moved from Chicago to Clearwater in the seventh grade and graduated from Countryside High School before going to Florida State University, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees.

In 2001, he caught the political bug, saying he "didn't want to sit on the sideline" while city decisions were being made. He lost to Bill Jonson in a race for a City Commission seat. He then spent the next year as an alternate on the Community Development Board and built his support.

As an advocate for diversifying the city's economy, he won a seat on the commission - now known as the City Council - in March 2002.

Hibbard was automatically elected to the mayor's post in December 2004 when no one filed to run against him.

Although being mayor is a part-time job with mostly ceremonial duties, Hibbard wields genuine influence.

When the city needed someone to champion its Coachman Park boat slip initiative, officials turned to him. It passed.

And in 2006, when Hibbard took offense at a suggestive Hooters billboard on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard, restaurant co-founder Ed Droste agreed to tone it down.

In addition, Hibbard has worked to get the city involved in regional decisions.

"Most of us live in Clearwater, but we cross the lines to go to work, so transportation, for example, is a major issue," he says. "We used to be one of the top 10 cities (in population in Florida). We're not anymore. If we're going to be involved in growth, then we should be in a leadership position and have influence outside."

Hibbard also touts his work to strengthen ties between residents and City Hall. Since March 2005, the city has hosted monthly breakfasts where up to 10 residents get to know city officials.

"We've had more outreach since I've been mayor than any time in history," he says, referring to the breakfasts, several town hall meetings and a summer's worth of forums in 2005 to discuss the city's vision.

***

Hibbard, however, hasn't always been on the same page as the rest of the council and has landed in some controversy.

With the city facing state-mandated property tax cuts, he voted last year against building more restrooms near the playground at the Long Center. Recently - with more possible tax cuts on the way - Hibbard declined to give additional funding to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. He said he supported both initiatives but said the city probably shouldn't spend the money right now.

He also raised eyebrows when he told the St. Petersburg Times he'd like to be a full-time mayor, which would give him more power and eliminate the need for a city manager.

And last June, Hibbard took some heat after residents learned a group of city leaders - despite budget cuts - would spend $4,700 to visit Philadelphia to talk with Phillies baseball owners. City leaders said the trip helped nurture good relations with a team that spends $7-million annually in Clearwater and has made the city its spring training home for more than 60 years.

***

Between his two jobs, Hibbard says he works 80 to 85 hours a week. But he says he wants to continue because "I feel like there's some unfinished business still left."

Up next, he says, is focusing on "reconciling our wants vs. our needs."

He says further state-mandated cuts in tax collections could be on the way and city leaders need to figure out how to balance quality of life vs. public safety.

And along with building a senior center, he wants to bring a movie theater to the downtown.

"A movie theater will bring people in," he says. "And the result is you get some restaurants and some retail and that's proven.

"I consider the entire city to be a body, and if one part of the body gets sick, then it affects the rest of the body eventually."

Fast facts:

Frank Hibbard

Age: 40

Occupation: Financial adviser and vice president of Morgan Stanley. Incumbent mayor.

Family: Wife Teresa; son Spencer; daughter Whitney.

Education: Bachelor's degrees in business and economics and a master's degree in business administration from Florida State University.

Community involvement: United Way, Pinellas County Mayors Council (president), Metropolitan Planning Organization (chairman); Jim Moran Board for Entrepreneurial Study Florida State University Business School; advisory board member for Clothes for Kids; member of the board of directors for the Florida League of Mayors, Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority (board member).

Hobbies: Golf, tennis, keeping up with college football.

Web site: None.

Quote: "There's an expression that says: 'After all is said and done, more is said than done.' I'd prefer to run counter to that. I'd like to get more done than just talk about it."

[Last modified January 24, 2008, 21:19:37]


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