Like the flower, city gets outshined
Ironic that Pinellas Park was once the prime provider of the fillers for floral arrangements: The city gets overlooked, too.
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001
[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
From left, Brenda Keeth stands and cheers as Tina Leigh and Tammie Elliot root for their team from Pinellas Park at the Little League Nationals, held at Helen Howarth Park in Pinellas Park. The city has tried to nurture an ambience for families, establishing thriving Little League and soccer complexes.
Rita Bott says the personality of Pinellas Park is best characterized by a bit of history: when the city was the statice flower capital of the world.
In the 1940s, nurseries around town supplied international florists with the small, brightly colored flowers that, fresh or dried, are used as filler in arrangements. On shipping days, thousands of the cut flowers were put in buckets of water and lined up at the train station.
"Every single person, everyone in Pinellas Park, came and helped load them," Bott said. "Everybody came out for this . . . all ages."
A band played while they worked.
Bott said the willingness to drop everything to help a neighbor typified Pinellas Park then and -- perhaps it will be a surprise to outsiders -- that spirit describes the city today.
Non-residents often have derided the city as a place for rednecks to put their cars up on blocks. Pineapple Park, they have said.
That scorn, Bott said, has served only to deepen the bonds among those who live in the city: "I think that basically there always has been, perhaps because they were picked on by other cities, a sense of devotion to each other."
The city has tried to nourish an ambience that residents can enjoy without leaving town:
- The annual Country in the Park festival, capped this year by a tribute to deceased race car driver Dale Earnhardt
- Thriving Little League and soccer complexes
- An expanded public library
- A dedicated horse community
- A center for senior citizens
It's also got neighborhoods of million-dollar homes.
City officials also passed the county's first juvenile curfew and built a band shell with materials and workers provided by local businesses.
Most recently, the city has begun a push to revitalize neighborhoods. Officials are awaiting the final draft of a plan to fix up Skyview Terrace, the first neighborhood scheduled for improvements such as landscaping, traffic calming and property upgrades.
As it became cheaper to ship things from South America, the city gradually lost its hold on the statice flower business until the mid-1980s, when the last growers were gone. That left city officials searching for other businesses to make their home in Pinellas Park.
They've managed to do that, partly because Pinellas Park has much of the undeveloped land in Pinellas County. The city has attracted new business such as Home Depot, Lowe's and CVS Drugs. Robotic Parking, which builds garages that have individually enclosed slots for cars, is getting ready to open a plant in the city.
"It's very impressive to see how much industry is here," Bott said. "People don't see that as they're driving through Pinellas Park."
The city says it has more medical technology companies within its borders than any other municipality in Florida. Those include R. P. Scherer, which manufactures soft gel caps and paintballs. Transition Optical produces lenses for glasses that turn dark in the sun.
A map from the Industry Council journal of 1996 (the last year it was published) showed that Pinellas Park had the lion's share of industry in Tampa Bay.
Pinellas Park's growth has not always been easy.
In the past few years, the City Council fired a city manager (Jim Madden) and promoted an engineer (Jerry Mudd) from the ranks. Mudd appointed and fired assistant city manager/finance director Peggy McGarrity, which plunged the city and the council into further turmoil.
The police department continues to confront allegations of sexual discrimination. The department's three highest-ranking officers have departed.
With or without scandal, neighbors participate in the democracy, coming before the City Council to complain about the way things are run. Although the two sides may carp at each other, the council does try to please its constituency, sometimes to a fault.
Wheelchair-bound Marshall Cook has come before the council repeatedly to complain about people parking their cars on the sidewalks. Cook can't get by without rolling into the street and endangering his life.
Council told the police department to fix it, and volunteers started ticketing violators who, in turn, complained to the council.
So, the council told police to back off. Warn, but don't ticket, unless there's no other way around it.
Just last month, the council held a town meeting to gauge residents' feelings on three proposed ordinances: the appearance of Dumpsters in the redevelopment area; carports in front-yard setbacks; and the parking of commercial trucks in residential neighborhoods.
During the 31/2 hours, council members also learned that some residents think they should be more decisive. "I think the City Council is putting itself in a position where they can't make a decision," Mujralie Beharry said. "Council can't please everybody."
- Pinellas Park has annexed 182.56 acres since the fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2000.
- Those annexations included 166 parcels of land with a total value of about $43-million that will raise $340,392 in taxes.
- According to the 2000 census, Pinellas Park has:
- 45,658 people 18 or older;
- more Hispanics (2,856) than any other minority group;
- 1,942 Asians, the second-most populous minority group.
- Pinellas Park was incorporated in 1915.
- The city has five tennis courts, 14 racquetball courts, 16 baseball/softball fields, eight soccer/football fields, 10 basketball courts, 16 shuffleboard courts and one horseback trail.
- There are eight private schools and 10 public schools.
- The city's Web site is http://www.pinellas-park.com.
Communities of West Pinellas