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Budget shines on historic building

The project to restore the 113-year-old Anclote Key lighthouse has avoided a veto this time around to get $500,000 in state aid.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000

The battered cast-iron lighthouse on Anclote Key has survived years of neglect and vandals who have broken its lens, spray-painted it with graffiti and knocked pieces from its iron staircase railing.

On Tuesday, the lighthouse survived yet another challenge: the governor's mighty pen.

The project to restore the 113-year-old lighthouse to its original glory will receive $500,000 in the coming year from the state, said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, who shepherded the appropriation through the Legislature's spring session. Although Gov. Jeb Bush used a line-item veto to ax the project last year, it did not meet the same fate Tuesday when Bush signed the budget.

"That lighthouse means an awful lot to an awful lot of people," said Lary McSparren, president of Gulf Islands Alliance Citizens Support Organization, which is overseeing the restoration effort. "It's history. Why throw away history?"

Several other North Pinellas projects also survived Bush's veto, according to Latvala's office. Oldsmar's Canal Park received $150,000 for Little League fields. The former Palm Harbor United Methodist Church, also known as the White Chapel, received $295,000 for restoration. Tarpon Springs received $400,000 to replace septic tanks around Lake Tarpon.

"I'm elated," Latvala said. "I think Pinellas did very well this year."

But not every project survived. The Upper Pinellas Youth Sports Association's $50,000 grant to light soccer fields was chopped from the budget.

The sports association has three soccer fields at its 26-acre complex on Old Keystone Road. One of the fields is fully lighted, and two are partially lighted. The association requested money to provide full lighting to the partially lighted fields.

"We have never gotten government funding," said Robin Kendall, the association president. "It's just very disheartening."

The association has about 750 soccer players who use the fields. Because only one field is fully lighted, some practices are cut short when night rolls in.

"Sometimes they practice in shadows," Kendall said. "With lights on those fields, that would have allowed us to go into the evenings."

The association has put in more than $500,000 in improvements to the complex over the years. He said parents and players will have to raise the money to light the fields.

"We will do it with or without any state funding," he said. "It may take a little longer, but we will make that complex something the people of Pinellas County can be proud of."

The $500,000 for the lighthouse will help stabilize the facility, McSparren said. The citizens support group also has applied for a $250,000 state grant from the Bureau of Historic Preservation and a $750,000 grant from the Department of Transportation.

Restoring the lighthouse, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places a year ago, will cost about $1.5-million, he said.

"(The lighthouse) has been at the mercy of anyone who wanted to kick it over the years," McSparren said. "It's a giant step forward if we get the $500,000."

Several residents and groups in North Pinellas were anxiously awaiting the fate of the projects.

Restoration of the White Chapel, built by the community in 1924, is an important part of the plan to renovate downtown Palm Harbor.

"That is the jewel of Palm Harbor heritage," said Palm Harbor's Main Street Manager Marcel Mohseni. "It is one of four or five major pieces that will make a big impact in the redevelopment and revitalization of the downtown Palm Harbor area."

The Oldsmar Little League also was happy to hear that Canal Park in Oldsmar would receive state funding. The league has raised $160,000 since 1996 to pay for five more new fields.

The $150,000 state grant will be added to the money the league has raised and about $300,000 from Oldsmar to pay for the new fields, said Larry Liebling, league vice president. The grant was in jeopardy of being denied earlier this year until a compromise in the Legislature gave it new life.

"We like to say we are rounding third and there's going to be a play at the plate," Liebling said. "But we'll be safe."

Other projects that will receive funding from the state are:

$250,000 for stormwater improvements at the Harbor Palms subdivision in Oldsmar.

$125,000 for the North Anclote River Nature Park in Tarpon Springs.

$100,000 for boardwalk improvements and a fishing pier at Anderson Park in Tarpon Springs.

$190,000 for the restoration of the north and east walls of the Oldsmar library.

$111,250 for the restoration of the Safford House in Tarpon Springs.

Times staff writer Robert Farley contributed to this report.

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