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    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 19, 2001

    Some highlights of the news from around the region for the week just ended.

    Pier's new managers malleable

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Despite worries that St. Petersburg's signature Pier would be converted into ho-hum mall shops, the City Council voted to turn to a large national company to manage the waterfront attraction.

    [Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
    MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE: Move over Zephyrhills, Dade City has turned on the tap to its own brand of liquid gold, Downtown Dade City Main Street has introduced a hometown brand of bottled water to merchants to peddle to thirsty visitors. The water is bottled by Tampa's Ultra Pure Bottled Water company.
    The upside-down pyramid that sits on pilings over Tampa Bay -- by some accounts the second-most popular tourist attraction around Tampa Bay -- has cost city taxpayers more than $1.3-million per year in subsidies.

    In a five-hour public hearing Thursday night, more than 80 people filled the City Council chamber, with most audience members opposed to a management change. They feared that The Pier's offbeat collection of small businesses would be replaced by generic chain stores if Urban Retail Properties, which operates three area shopping malls, took over.

    After the 7-1 vote for the change, which city officials said will save nearly $500,000 per year, Urban representatives said they don't see a Gap in its future. The malleable company says it is more likely to see more gift shops and small cart vendors.

    Tree idea is taking root, commissioner says

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Florida drivers know the feeling well, that shock wave of hot air that blows out as you open a car that has been baking in a treeless parking lot.

    Pasco County Commissioner Pete Altman may have tapped into something, he says, because ever since he proposed amending the county's tree ordinance by forcing existing businesses to plant trees on 10 percent of their lots, he's a hero.

    It didn't hurt that he mentioned planting shade trees to prevent "babies dying in record numbers from cars heating up in parking lots. "Back in the debate days in college, you could win any debate by bringing up dead babies," Altman said.

    Although advocates such as the Kid 'N Cars foundation say trees do little to make up for parents who foolishly leave their children unattended in cars baking in the summer sun, Altman said that since floating his parking lot plan Wednesday, "Everyone I talked to thinks it's a great idea."

    His only regret is that he didn't think of it sooner, what with the tree ordinance up for a final vote Aug. 28. But it's not just babies who have to worry, he said.

    "How about the 90-year-old woman or man who has a heart condition who comes out of the mall and gets into a vehicle that's 140 degrees?" Altman said, appealing to the one-quarter of county residents who are older than 65.

    Pricey haven coming for women on the go

    TAMPA -- Maureen Rorech Dunkel, the Tampa businesswoman made famous for her collection of Princess Diana dresses, is transforming a majestic, 10,000-square-foot home on Plant Avenue, a building on the National Register of Historic Places, into a kind of private women's club.

    Dunkel's vision of Marcelina, a "meaningful haven for today's busy women," includes a day spa, gourmet lunches, self-development seminars, camaraderie and a boutique of expensive Valentino haute couture.

    Marcelina aims to open with a series of group coffees and teas this fall.

    But such camaraderie doesn't come cheap. The price tag is $2,500 annually, and if enough women can afford it, a building on the national register could become an entirely different landmark.

    Police say one swipe could put card in thief's hands

    BROOKSVILLE -- Check your credit card statements, area police say, because your waiter could be taking more than a tip from your credit card.

    With the advent of portable scanning devices, it's easy to secretly copy information on the credit card's magnetic strip. Later, the data can be copied onto a counterfeit credit card and -- voila! -- time for a shopping spree.

    Hernando County sheriff's deputies are still trying to figure out the identity of a man who was trying to buy items at a Spring Hill Home Depot. An alert clerk thought the cards looked suspicious and asked to see his driver's license, which also looked strange. When the clerk tried to call a manager, authorities say, the man pushed the clerk, grabbed the cards and fled.

    A deputy caught up with the man, identified as Ricardo Penamalboa, 43, but deputies still are not sure of his identity or how he got the cards. The name on his cards did not match the name on the accounts they charged to.

    To protect against such fraud, police recommend that buyers keep an eye on their cards. The scanning devices are small enough to fit in a jacket. In a split second, the copying is done. Also, always look at statements to make sure the purchases are correct.

    Brown Schools lose a round with administrative ruling

    LECANTO -- An administrative law judge shook up the already fragile hold the Brown Schools had on the welcome mat in Citrus County.

    Brown operates a residential treatment facility for adolescents ages 10 to 17 who are emotionally disturbed. The state Department of Children and Families contracts with it to serve them.

    When Brown Schools took over the former Heritage building, its neighbors in the pricey Black Diamond subdivision quickly challenged the move, saying the county should have forced Brown to undergo a review process that includes public hearings and a County Commission vote.

    Last week administrative law Judge Donald Alexander ruled that Citrus government erred when it granted Brown zoning clearance to operate in the former Heritage Hospital building.

    Gary Maidhof, the county's director of development services, who made the decision the judge said was wrong, said he had some questions for the county's legal staff and will mull this change.

    But the legal battle is far from over. Both the Brown Schools, which continue to operate, and Black Diamond can appeal in Circuit Court.

    Hillsborough at a loss to explain water usage

    TAMPA -- Hillsborough commissioners considered several new get-tough watering rules Wednesday after learning their efforts to date have failed to stem the flow.

    Instead, they decided to ask the public whether to ban restaurants in unincorporated Hillsborough County from providing a glass of water unless requested by a customer.

    The vote to hold a public hearing Sept. 5 was 5-1, with Commissioner Jan Platt voting against the measure.

    "That's laughable," Platt said after the meeting. "That's just glasses of water. The board isn't taking this issue seriously."

    Hillsborough is the only member of Tampa Bay Water that has failed to meet a required 5 percent reduction in water consumption ordered by the Southwest Florida Water Management District. But it's also growing faster than Pasco and Pinellas counties, adding 6,000 new water service hookups in the past year.

    County Administrator Dan Kleman will ask Swiftmud for clarification on what it thinks Hillsborough should do.

    Coming up this week

    The new state Board of Education meets in Tampa next week to vote on its budget for "K through 20." The board will also talk about revisions to the school code, a 5,000-page document that controls everything to do with education. This is the board that put the Florida Board of Regents out of business, merging grade schools with colleges under one blanket of oversight. Individual universities have been promised more autonomy, and the board is charged with composing a single vision for education in the state.

    Finalists for St. Petersburg police chief will be interviewed by Mayor Rick Baker and staff on Wednesday. That night, the city will host a candidate reception for the public. Some in the community have criticized the search because instead of using a national search firm, the mayor had the staff sift through 117 applications. Of the four finalists, one is a former St. Petersburg police chief and one is a current assistant chief in the department.

    - Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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