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Public transit moves toward more on-demand services

Some public transit riders in Hillsborough County will need to find alternative transportation starting Sunday, Oct. 8, when 14 routes are eliminated to save some $6 million annually.

Other Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus riders will have better and more frequent service in the route redesign.

“There are winners and there frankly, unfortunately, are losers,” says Steve Feigenbaum, HART’s Director of Service Development. “There are going to be people who aren’t going to be positively affected. We’re trying to keep it to a minimum.”

HART attempts to streamline services making them more efficient, relying upon more innovative on-demand services to replace lower ridership circular routes. Its goals are in line with a survey revealing the public favors more frequent service, even if it takes longer to reach the bus stop.

“We’re trying to do this whole thing, based on the data, where we can get the best bang for our buck,” he explains. “The budget is not adequate to really serve the full needs.”

HART is beefing up transportation to Tampa International Airport, increasing it from one to three routes. It also is increasing the frequency of Route 34 to every 20 minutes on weekdays. Bus frequency also is increasing on Routes 1, 14 and Metro Rapid.

New routes make it easier to commute from Tampa International Airport to Brandon Mall, or from Downtown Tampa to MacDill Air Force Base.

Buses 2,4, 10, 18, 21LX, 22X, 27LX, 28X, 41, 47LX, 53LX, 57, 61LX and 200X are being cut.

HART will be relying on and expanding where possible its Hyperlink services, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service providing door-to-door service, connecting riders with existing bus lines on demand. HARTPlus will continue to serve the handicapped within three quarters of a mile from the old routes.

The transit authority is in the midst of a massive public awareness campaign to reach riders along all affected routes. Orange bags were being placed at affected stops, notices were being posted in bus shelters, and HARTline personnel were riding the buses to inform riders about alternatives.

In general, public transit riders may want to consider vanpools, carpools, Hyperlink /(in the University, Temple Terrace and/or Brandon areas), HARTFlex, private on-demand services like Uber or Lyft, taxis or private rides to get to a bus route or their destination. Hillsborough County’s Sunshine Line offers door-to-door service and bus passes to elderly, low-income and disabled individuals without transportation, and is especially useful for medical appointments, aging services and food programs.

“A lot of people that have been on express routes have shifted to vanpool,” he says.

Additionally, some shelters will be moved to replace outmoded shelters in other locations.

The route changes can be found at HART’s website under the label Mission MAX, short for Modernizing and Aligning for Excellence. An interactive tool is provided through Google Maps.

On September 25, HART approved its long-range plan which maps out its efforts to improve services in the next decade. It includes expansion of the Hyperlink service to the SouthShore in 2020, to Palmetto Beach in 2021, to Riverview in 2023, to West Park and Big Bend in 2025, in Town ’n County and South Tampa in 2026, and to East Brandon, Citrus Park and Seffner/Mango in 2027.  

“It’s a higher frequency grid in the core area and more of the on-demand type service for lower densities on the perimeter,” Feigenbaum explains.

It combines both funded improvements where monies are expected through property taxes with a sort of wish list of enhancements that may be implemented if funds become available.

Feigenbaum says HART may possibly implement ridesharing services similar to an Uber or Lyft service to help get riders to the existing routes. It may begin with a pilot program that has not yet been developed. He’s hoping it will be available in 2018.

In Pinellas County

A similar program already is under use by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Its Direct Connect program uses Uber, United Taxi and apps to connect riders to its service grid. Handicapped riders can use Wheelchair Transportation Service (WTS).

Modern technology and innovative technology led PSTA to form what was the “first public-private partnership” to get people to the bus stop, PSTA officials say. Other transit systems have since taken a greater interest in emerging technology and alternative services.

Direct Connect began in two zones in 2016, then expanded in January to the current eight zones countywide. Plans call for expanding it further potentially in February of 2018, says PSTA Transit Planner Bonnie Epstein.

“The purpose of the program is to provide convenient first and last mile service to our core and frequent local routes,” explains Heather Sobush, PSTA Planning Manager. 

Another goal is to increase ridership on its 41 routes. “We just don’t have the funding to keep it at the frequency level that we’d like,” Epstein says. “So they run once an hour.”

Direct Connect can transport riders to the core system, where more frequent service is available, cutting transit time. Because of a $5 PSTA subsidy, riders pay no more than $1.

“Right now the county is divided into eight zones. Within your zone you can only travel to and from the Direct Connect in your zone,” Epstein says.

In February, they hope to remove the zones and allow more flexibility. “We expect a lot more growth,” Sobush says.

“We still want to provide that shared ride service,” she says. “We’re looking at ways to also have these innovative projects to be shared ride services as well.”

New live, work, play, stay places coming to Downtown Dunedin

The sounds of construction are back in Downtown Dunedin with a new mixed-use building going up and other projects just beginning or in the works.

Victoria Place

Located at 821 Victoria Drive in Dunedin, Victoria Place is under construction. This mixed-use building will house 30 units and eight retail spaces when it is completed later this year.

There are several factors that make Victoria Place an attractive place for future residents, including “the urban lifestyle that Dunedin offers,” says Claudia Emery of Victoria Place. “The walkability to events, restaurants and boutique shops is a draw to the community.”

Developer and contractor JMC Communities Inc. along with architect BSB Design Inc. are working on the project, which is expected to be completed fall of 2016.

Artisan Apartment Homes

Artisan Apartment Homes is a proposed four-story apartment home development, which includes retail shops and a public garage leased by the city at the corner of Monroe Street and Douglas Avenue.

If all goes as planned, construction will start June 1st and be completed by summer 2017. The new complex will house 65 units, with more than 11,000-square-feet of retail space.

Dunedin Bed & Breakfast

Dunedin, with its small town charm, is no stranger to the bed & breakfast concept. Therefore, it is no surprise that a new bed & breakfast is planned for downtown Dunedin. The 11-unit lodging concept situated at 520 and 530 Skinner Boulevard is currently in the pre-construction phase.

The proposed development includes fives bedroom units inside the main building with an additional six units in detached duplexes. The main building will have a wrap-around porch, while the duplex units will have front porches. Retail space on the property is also planned.

Pinellas County plans to replace aging bridges

Many of us drive across the local bridges on a daily basis, whether going to work, school or leisure, without a second thought to when they were built or what condition they might be in today. Pinellas County government, however, is taking into consideration the aging infrastructure of local bridges and working toward a solution for improvement.

“We have a systematic rating for bridges in Pinellas County, which we monitor pretty closely,” says Mary Burrell, Public Information Manager for Pinellas County.

Burrell says two bridges in particular are on the county’s radar: San Martin Boulevard Bridge in St. Petersburg, and the Dunedin Causeway. Both bridges were built in the early 1960s, with  life expectancy of about 50 years. Now that time is running out, it is time to address the aging spans.

“The San Martin bridge has some structural rating deficiencies that warrant it being evaluated for future considerations, she says. “It has been rehabilitated over the years and now it is time to decide whether rehab or replacement is warranted.”

Burrell goes on to say that while there are rating deficiencies, construction on the bridge would be no sooner than 2018 due to a lack of funding.

“We are in the study phase, it’s an 18-month study, and the purpose of that is to seek funding from the highway administration. We currently have what could be considered matching funds from ‘Penny from Pinellas’ county funding for fiscal year 2018 and 2019, which is very much predicated on our ability to obtain matching funds from federal highway administrations.”

As for the Dunedin Causeway, it is going through the same process, although Burrell says it is moving approximately six months ahead.

“With the new technology available today, we are shooting for a life expectancy of about 75 years, compared to 50 as when these bridges were built,” she says. “The bridges are safe, there are just some ratings that warrant it to be in our radar, and make sure we have funding in place when timing is appropriate.”

Holiday Inn Express will be first hotel in Trinity in West Pasco County

Pasco County is looking toward an active 2015 as new residences, restaurants, offices and shopping malls go vertical. Among the newest announced projects is the Holiday Inn Express -- the first hotel in the Trinity neighborhood of West Pasco.

The 86-room hotel will open in late 2015 at Trinity Corporate Center, off State Road 54 and within proximity of the Medical Center of Trinity. Wells Fargo Advisors is the anchor tenant for the 21,000-square-foot corporate center.

"This is a growing area with lots of new retail, new hospitals, a lot of rooftops, meaning more homes and that will mean more weddings ... graduations," says Michael Holtz, owner of St. Petersburg-based MPH Hotels, Inc . Holtz has developed more than 150 hotels in 20 states.

Synovus Bank is backing the approximately $9 million investment. The hotel's design is by Dunedin-based David L. Wallace & Associates. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Properties Group is the broker of the sale and purchase of the property.

The Holiday Inn Express that will soon be under construction is the new prototype of the hotel chain, Holtz says.

It will have a contemporary look, 17 suites, a spacious lobby, high-speed and wireless Internet access, a fitness center, board room and conference room, and a swimming pool and hot tub.

There also will be an outdoor patio with barbecue pits. "It's a whole new concept where guests can meet and get to know each other better," Holtz says.

Though this is Trinity's first hotel, there is room for more, he adds.

"I think Pasco County is being aggressive now and there are other opportunities coming along," Holtz says. 

City Of Tarpon Springs Seeks Bids To Improve Sponge Docks

The City of Tarpon Springs is moving ahead with plans to seek bids to refurbish the historical sponge docks in this Greek-style seaside village along the Anclote River.
Bids are expected to be reviewed before the end of March. If the city's Board of Commissioners agree on the scope and cost of the project, construction likely will begin by summer. About $1.3 million is projected for  a budget that will pay for a small oval-shaped amphitheater, a floating dock for visitors including kayakers, an 8-foot wide wooden riverwalk, benches along the seawall, Florida native landscaping, wooden directional and historical markers and brick elements along Dodocanese Boulevard and around the docks.
Wood and brick are historically accurate features for the sponge docks, according to Ed Hoffman, Jr., president of Tarpon Springs-based Hoffman Architects. "We're putting the docks back in the sponge docks," Hoffman says. "Right now, it's just a concrete wharf, a concrete platform."
The goal is to make the sponge docks more pedestrian-friendly and create a shaded, landscaped area where people want to gather for Greek dances, special events or just sit and enjoy the docks, Hoffman says.
Hoffman gave commissioners and the public an update on the project at a December city commission meeting. The project has been under design for about two years with public input gathered during several workshops.
Funds for the project are from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenues. Changes are slated for publicly owned land; no private property is involved. Construction bids will be a guide on how much of the project is affordable.
"What we want to do is try to enhance what we have there," says Tarpon Springs Mayor David Archie.
Still, some residents and business owners are skeptical and worry that the authenticity and quaintness of the docks will be lost. "It's too modern for what we have down there," says former Tarpon Springs Mayor Anita Protos.
The project is unanimously supported by city commissioners.
"I can't wait to see the finished product," says Tarpon Springs Vice-Mayor Susan Slattery. She anticipates the amphitheater, in particular,  as a field trip destination for young children who will learn about the city's history and the legacy of the Greek sponge divers who came to Tarpon Springs in the 1890s. "I think that's a great opportunity for children," Slattery says.
Commissioner Townsend Tarapani says the project "looks toward the future. Without a doubt, at the end of the day, this is something everyone is going to be proud of."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Susan Slattery, Anita Protos, David Archie, City of Tarpon Springs

Construction Begins On New Transit Center In Pinellas Park

Bus riders will have an easier time of figuring out schedules and making connections when the new Pinellas Park Transit
Center opens in the summer of 2014.

CHTR Development, LLC, is in charge of construction after winning the contract with a low bid of $359,000. The new facility will replace the current transit center at 70th Avenue North behind the Shoppes at Park Place.

It will be manned with transit employees who can sell tickets and provide information at a customer service window. There also will be restrooms and water fountains for the hundreds of riders who get on and off the buses. It will be the first time central Pinellas has had such a fully equipped center, says Bob Lasher, spokesman for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

The new transit center is an effort to modernize bus service and increase ridership.

In November 2014 voters will have a chance to vote on a referendum for a 1 percent sales tax to pay for a 30-year plan to improve transit service and potentially have light rail service connecting St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Bob Lasher, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority

Tarpon Springs Plans Sponge Dock Improvements

Residents of Tarpon Springs, the future of the beloved Sponge Docks is in your hands.

Dedicating approximately $1 million toward a community outreach improvement project, the City of Tarpon Springs has hired locally based Hoffman Architects to work with the community to develop a conceptual design for the docks.

Currently, the two-phase project is in its beginning stages -- the “Public Involvement and Preliminary Design” phase -- as Hoffman Architects holds interviews and workshops with various stakeholders, boaters, shrimpers, spongers and merchants throughout the area.

“Our goal is to get their input on what they think is needed -- their vision, concerns and what they'd like to see,” says Todd Willsie, senior architect at Hoffman Architects. “Taking all the information we've received, we've started doing some master planning.”

While Willsie and the rest of the Hoffman Architects crew works on a design for the docks, a community workshop will be held on Thursday, Feb. 9, at the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum at Craig Park. The second workshop dedicated to this project, design concepts will be presented to the public before moving onto Phase II.

“Our goal is to bring more outsiders into the area,” Willsie says. “We want people to hang out down there longer, ultimately spending more money. A big goal in Tarpon is obviously to keep it on the map. It's always been a big tourist destination.”

Phase II of the project will focus on the actual improvement design, working drawings and specifications.

“We're trying to determine whether or not we should concentrate the city's money into one area or spread it out, master planning the whole thing and just improving the important parts now,” Willsie says. “One thing we'll focus on at the meeting is assigning dollar values and then we'll let the public decide what's important.”

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Todd Willsie, Hoffman Architects

Honeymoon Island To Get More Beach, Dunedin

2012 is looking bright for beach-goers of Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin.

Located at #1 Causeway Boulevard, Honeymoon Island will undergo a $5.6 million revitalization project, adding three rock T-Groin structures to the beach and nourishing about 2,000 feet of shoreline.

“About 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the ebb shoal of Hurricane Pass will be used to fill the northern portion of the public beach,” says Andy Squires, coastal manager at Pinellas County Department of Environment and Infrastructure.

Tentatively scheduled to begin in late summer or early fall of 2012, construction on the project is awaiting permit acquisition and funding from the State of Florida. Currently, the permit is under review and the funding request will be considered during the 2012 State Legislative Session along with several other beach projects throughout Florida.

“A Joint Coastal Permit must be obtained from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” says Squires. “With the permit and appropriate funding, Pinellas projects can take anywhere from one to eight months, depending on the size and weather conditions.”

T-Groin structures serve to attenuate wave energy, ultimately slowing the rate of beach erosion. Temporary geotextile sand-filled tubes are more common and cheaper to install -- such as those located on Upham Beach in St. Pete -- but, according to Squires, plans for rock structures coincide with future nourishment projects for Treasure Island and Long Key in St. Pete in 2013.

“Wide sandy beaches provide storm protection to beachfront properties and infrastructure, recreational space that fuels the local economy through tourism-related activity and habitat for marine sea turtles and shorebirds,” says Squires.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Andy Squires, Pinellas County Department of Environment and Infrastructure

Weaver Park Opens On Waterfront In Dunedin

Outdoorsy folks will have a new waterfront park to explore when the city of Dunedin opens Weaver Park. Sections of the park are already accessible, but an official ribbon-cutting event will take place on February 5th starting at 3:30 p.m.

Weaver Park
is on eight acres running alongside Alternate 19 just north of Main Street in downtown Dunedin.

"The property is perfect for a park because it's between the Pinellas Trail and St. Joseph's Sound," says Vince Gizzi, parks and recreation director for the City of Dunedin. "It is an absolutely great location for picnicking, walking, fishing and putting your kayak in the water."

The park features a 725-foot pier, a bungalow rec center and picnic areas. Future additions to the park will include a kayak launch, pavilions and bungalows. A restroom facility will be opening in August or September of 2011. The park was funded by the state and Pinellas County.

The Feb. 5 event will be "a sunset opening," Gizzi says. "We will have a reggae band and light refreshments will be provided." The Dunedin Pipe Band will also be in attendance as will sail boating demonstrations and arts and crafts for children.

Weaver Park is at 2750 Bayshore Boulevard in Dunedin. Park hours are from 7 a.m. to sunset seven days a week. Jolley Trolley Service is available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at the intersection of Main Street and Highland Avenue.

Writer: Kimberly Patterson
Source: Vince Gizzi, City of Dunedin

Beach Trolley Connects St. Pete To Tarpon Springs

For years, tourists and residents have enjoyed riding the Jolley Trolley from the beaches of Pass-A-Grille in St. Petersburg to the northern tip of Clearwater Beach and points in between. They can now extend that ride even farther north to the sponge docks of Tarpon Springs.

The new route, which extends Jolley Trolley public transit service from Clearwater Beach through the downtown neighborhoods of Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and the docks at Tarpon Springs, began on Nov. 17 and will run every weekend on Fridays and Saturdays until midnight and until 10 p.m. on Sundays.

"We have all these communities along the Alternate 19 corridor with these great downtown areas like Dunedin and Palm Harbor on up to Tarpon Springs," says R.B. Johnson, chairman of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's board of directors. "The idea was to link these areas together to make it easier for tourists and residents to go to these areas of concentration without worrying about getting in and out of their cars."

The route extension is financed through contributions made by the Clearwater Downtown Development Board, the municipalities of Tarpon Springs and Dunedin, Pinellas County and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Jolley Trolley fare is $2 one way.

"It's helping promote these areas," says Johnson. "It works off of itself and builds up community. It fills that transit gap on weekends, going to restaurants and bar hopping from point A to point B, and points in between. We feel like we need to have better transit in north county. This is one small step toward that end."

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: R.B. Johnson, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority

Get Your Swivle On: Hoola Monsters Circle Tampa Bay

What started in a St. Petersburg backyard is now catching on throughout Tampa Bay as a path to fitness and serenity.

Abby Albaum rediscovered hula hooping in a friend's backyard a few years ago and got hooked. Her passion led her to further research and practice at a weekly drum circle in Treasure Island, and before she knew it she was teaching classes, designing her own hoops and leading a performance group of like-minded hoopers. Hoola Monsters was born.

Albaum recently began teaching classes in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and South Tampa that explore the fitness and meditative benefits of hula hooping. She performs at Casa Tina restaurant in Dunedin every Friday and with her troupe at the Saturday Morning Market in downtown St. Pete on a regular basis.

"It's a movement meditative practice using hula hoops," explains Albaum. "A mind-body-spirit practice as well as an aerobic activity that can burn up to 600 calories an hour. It's totally addictive."

Albaum makes and sells her own line of hoops, which are custom fitted to each individual.

"You can fit hoops just like a bicycle," explains Albaum. "It's based on height and body type. The hoops you get  from the toy store are too lightweight for an adult. Ours are made of industrial-strength material with four different types of tubing. I always make sure they are outfitted with grip tape just like on a tennis racket or baseball bat."

So where did the name, Hoola Monsters, come from?

Albaum answers: "When I started hooping, my friends were giving me a hard time because it was so addictive. They said 'You've turned in to a hula monster!' I thought that would work really well for marketing."

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: Abby Albaum, Hoola Monsters

Dunedin Fine Art Center Expands, Adds Classrooms Thanks To Donors

In response to increasing demand for class instruction, the Dunedin Fine Art Center (DFAC), located at 1143 Michigan Blvd. in Dunedin, has elected to double its size.

"We're removing the oldest part of the building and replacing 3,500 square feet currently used for office space, classrooms and a gallery, and adding a whole new section of approximately 4,500 square feet," says DFAC spokesperson Ken Hannon. "It's a major project for us."

Hannon says the expansion is planned to be completed by summer 2011, and will expand the David L. Mason Children's Museum as well other amenities.

"The expansion will add a children's gallery and clay lab as well as house a newly renovated hands-on art museum for children," says Hannon. "We'll be showing children's work in the new gallery."

The $1.9 million project, designed by Collman and Karsky Architects of Tampa and constructed by J. Kokolakis Contracting of Tarpon Springs, is the first phase of the DFAC's capital campaign.

The expansion has been made possible by donations from two of the center's longtime supporters, Louis Flack and Oskar Elbert, who recently died, leaving his entire estate to the Dunedin Fine Art Center.

The existing building was built in 1975 and has carried the DFAC's vision of providing educational, cultural and creative arts experiences for adults and children. Classes include disciplines such as book arts, jewelry making and a variety of visual arts, as well as theater arts.

The David L. Mason children's museum will be closed during construction, but is expected to reopen in September 2011.

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: Ken Hannon, Dunedin Fine Art Center

Tampa Bay Farmers Markets Re-Open For Fall, Winter Seasons

With autumn upon us, farmers markets across the Tampa Bay region are readying to share the harvest. It seems nearly every municipality has at least one. A few are new, and a few have made some changes. Here's a thumbnail sketch:

Realize Bradenton hosts a farmers market downtown on Old Main Street between Manatee Avenue and 4th Street from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday from October to May.

"We have built a community of vendors, residents, businesses, and most importantly, a community of dogs," says Johnette Isham, Realize Bradenton's executive director. "We have live music every Saturday. The first Saturday features a chef demo, the second raffles and prizes, on the third Saturday we join with Mainly Arts, showcasing artists and craftspeople and featuring art from a Manatee County elementary school. On the last Saturday of the month we do kids' activities."

Isham says the market has generated foot traffic and revenue for Bradenton businesses since it opened a little over a year ago. "Ninety thousand people came downtown last year," she says. half of them for the farmers market. Next year 135,000 are predicted, due to more events we've planned. That equals projected consumer spending of $3.1 million for 2010-11."

Wesley Chapel is opening a new market at the The Shops at Wiregrass at the intersection of Bruce B. Downs and State Road 56 the first Saturday of every month starting in November.

According to Tiffany Ferrecchia of Tampa Downtown Market, the Winegrass market will feature produce, plants and eco-friendly arts and crafts as well as products featured at existing Wiregrass stores and restaurants.

Lizzy Lenk is a vendor who sells her Bag It Conscience products at several Tampa Bay markets. "I like going to the markets because it gives me an opportunity to talk to people and encourage them to do simple changes that can go a long way toward improving and changing the environment for the better," she says. "I find it a wonderful, creative, meaningful and fun way to earn my living. People absolutely love coming out. It gives them an opportunity to meet with friends and be outdoors. They can buy handmade, home-cooked or locally grown products. Many love not buying from the big corporations but supporting local crafters. We are fortunate that we have lots of these kinds of markets happening almost every day of the week. It brings life to the streets."

Other area markets include St. Petersburg's mammoth Saturday Morning Market;  Gulfport's Tuesday Morning Market; Clearwater's Open Air marketDunedin's farmers market; Largo's Heritage Village and downtown markets, Tampa's downtown market, Ybor Market and Seminole Heights market; Parksdale Farm Market in Plant City; Brooksville's downtown market, Hernando Beach's Open Market; and Lakeland's Farmer's Curb Market and Farmer's and Flea Market.

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Sources: Johnette Isham, Realize Bradenton; Lizzy Lenk, Bag It; Tiffany A. Ferrecchia, Tampa Downtown Market
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