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Amelia's Abubut Opens in South Tampa

As a teenager in Manila, Amelia Pestrak learned the skills of a tailor from her aunt. Sewing and tailoring are an artisan trade of long-standing for many of her relatives in the Phillippines.

Now for the first Pestrak is putting her skills to use in her own clothing shop -- Amelia's Abubut. She opened in April in a small strip center at 3644B Henderson Boulevard.

The name "abubut" refers to a keepsake closet of trinkets and things that hold special meaning for their owner.

Pestrak's shop is filled with casual apparel for women and children, most of which Pestrak designs and sews herself. Clothing racks offer a variety of choices in colorful prints from sun dresses for young girls to adult women's blouses and skirts.

Amelia's Abubut also has purses and accessories including jewelry and scarves. There are even a few pot holders, aprons and cups around. Pestrak hopes people who stop by will find "your special thing."

The shop was in a mess when Pestrak moved in after a 4-month search for a South Tampa location. She and her husband, University of South Florida architect Walter Pestrak, cleaned up the space. 

They painted the walls in bright yellow, added a fitting closet and display cases. Furniture and curtains add splashes of color. Walter Pestrak describes the shop as "bright and colorful" like his wife Amelia.

She grew up on a farm in rural Phillippines. But as a 16-year-old she moved to the urban province of Manila where she began learning how to sew and tailor clothes.

Some might find it boring but Amelia Pestrak says, "I love to do it."

And she gets satisfaction when people, including family, wear her clothes. "She's wearing what I did a long time ago," says Pestrak of her 92-year-old mother.

Pestrak has worked a long time as a tailor but a quiet retirement didn't suit her. "I don't want to just stay home," she says.

For now Pestrak's sewing equipment is at her home. But she plans to move it to the shop and stay busy turning out her hand-made keepsakes and watching her business grow.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Amelia Pestrak, Amelia's Abubut

USF, All Children's Hospital Partner For Research Center

A research, education and training facility is now in the planning stages following a land transfer by the University of South Florida to the All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg.

USF officials signed over 1.4 acres of land to the hospital as a gift. In return USF received $2.5 million in state funds as part of an overall agreement worked out among state officials, legislators and the governor's office. The land was deeded by the state to USF in April with the understanding that it would then be transferred to the hospital by late June.

The transferred land, at 601 Fourth St., is next to All Children's Outpatient Care Center and the Children's Research Institute.

The facility will focus on research and innovations in pediatric care and childhood diseases. In partnership with All Children's, USF officials anticipate opportunities for the university's medical students for training, pediatric residency and expanded education for health science undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral fellows.

"This collaboration shows the sustained commitment of both organizations to provide the best training for USF Health medical students and all our residents and strengthen the USF Health pediatric residency program affiliation with All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine," says Jonathan Ellen, president and physician in chief as well as pediatrics professor and vice dean at All Children's.

State records regarding the land deal indicate plans for an approximately 300,000-square-foot facility at an estimated cost of $65 million to $85 million, creation of about 400 design and construction jobs, and more than 20 staff and faculty positions.

But hospital officials say there are no details on the facility or a construction date as yet.

"You had a dream, you didn't want to start and it not happen," says Roy Adams, All Children's communications director. "It's like we're happy to be given the property so now we can start planning."

Nearly three years ago the private, not-for-profit All Children's Hospital became the first hospital outside of the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area to join the prestigious Johns Hopkins Health System. A U.S. News & World Report Best Children's Hospital ranked All Children's in the top 50 in three specialty areas.

The University of South Florida is a Top 50 research university in total research expenditures among both public and private institutions nationwide, according to the National Science Foundation. 

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Jonathan Ellen and Roy Adams, All Children's Hospital-St. Petersburg

Tampa YMCA To Open New Gymnastics Center

Young gymnasts will be tumbling soon in a new gymnastics center at the Bob Sierra YMCA Youth & Family Center in the Carrollwood neighborhood of Tampa.

The $1.7 million, 11,500-square-foot facility is expected to open by fall and will double the number of children who can sign up for the YMCA's programs and services.

The existing gymnastics program is housed in the Bob Sierra Y building at 4029 Northdale Blvd. The new center will be a free standing building on nearby Ragg Road.

The construction project was proposed nearly three years ago to ease overcrowding. A fund-raising campaign was launched.

"Kids have to wait for their teams to practice," says Lalita Llerena, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA's communications director.

A variety of gymnastics opportunities are offered at Bob Sierra Y including pre-team classes, teams and private lessons for toddlers to age 18.

“We serve nearly 3,000 kids in our current gymnastics area," says Dena Shimberg, chairwoman of the Y's capital campaign. "With the new gymnastics center, we will be able to serve over 5,000 kids, as well as a more diverse program menu to help serve children and families in our community.”
 
In the future, the Northdale building will undergo a makeover in a multiphase project to upgrade one of the YMCA's oldest facilities. Llerena says an announcement on that could come at the ribbon-cutting for the gymnastics center.

Coming up next is the 2014 YMCA National Gymnastics Championships hosted July 1-5 by the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA at the Tampa Convention Center. The event will draw more than 5,800 athletes, spectators and visitors and pump about $4.5 million into Tampa Bay's economy.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Dena Shimberg and Lalita Llerena, YMCA

Major Donations Fund Arts And Sciences At Berkeley Prep

Berkeley Preparatory School is the benefactor of major donations that will fund the construction of a 75,000-square-foot arts and science building on its Town 'N Country campus.
 
More than $4 million of the total undisclosed amount is a gift from Bob Gries Jr., president of Gries Investment Funds and the former owner of the Tampa Bay Storm arena football team. Other significant donations are from Dan Doyle, Jr, president of  DEX Imaging, and members of Doyle's family.
 
"It's about our children. Our children are our future," says Gries, whose daughter is a student at Berkeley Prep. "I believe this is a very strong statement that Berkeley is a wonderful and outstanding institution. This is an opportunity to take an exceptional school to the next level to become one of the finest educational institutions in the country."
 
School officials say they hope to open the Gries Center for the Arts and Sciences by the start of the 2015-16 school year.  Berkeley Prep is a private school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, and is located at 4811 Kelly Road.
 
Funding for the center is nearly 75 percent complete, says school spokesman Jeremy Canody. The recent donations will provide the center with an endowment fund as well as help with construction, he says.
 
The center will offer state-of-the-art technology and opportunities for students to work independently and in groups. There will be college-level laboratory space, performance studios, an art gallery, recital hall, study areas and meeting areas.
 
"This building will have math, science and arts under the same roof," says Nicole Ackerson, chairwoman of the science department. "I can interact with those departments in a way that I haven't been able to before, and find out where we can collaborate to teach children in new, interdisciplinary ways."
 
The arts and science center is part of a master plan to address future needs of faculty and its 1,300 students. The plan is supported with a $50 million capital campaign, which already has funded the Straz Family Field House and the Berkeley Cafe, a state-of-the-art dining facility. In addition, the funds have paid for campus infrastructure improvements to the Touchton Family Clock Tower and the surrounding Quad.
 
Above and Beyond: The Campaign for Berkeley Preparatory School is the largest fund raising effort in the school's history.

Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Jeremy Canody, Berkeley Prep; Bob Gries, Jr., Gries Investment Funds

Lowry Park Zoo To Build New Veterinary Hospital

Construction on a new veterinary hospital and animal commissary at Lowry Park Zoo will begin soon following approval of a $6.5 million "pass-through" loan by Tampa City Council.
 
The 12,000-square-foot hospital is designed by Elements Architects for both aesthetics and functionality. An additional 2,000-square-foot animal commissary for food preparation for some 1,000 animals also is planned for the initial construction phase. When complete, there will be four buildings: the hospital, commissary, a quarantine and animal holding center and a 4,000-square-foot conservation center for research and study.
 
The hospital and commissary will be the first to open later this year.
 
"It really is meeting a very specific need that the Zoo has with its expanding collection (of animals)," says Bret Azzarelli, VP of Elements Architects. "The aesthetics need to fit into the surroundings. Some aspects are seen from the zoo. These were made to match the Florida boardwalk area. The remainder of the building is very utilitarian and functional."
 
A fund-raising campaign called "New Horizons" was launched in 2010. Approximately $7 million is already pledged; another $3 million is needed to fully fund the hospital.
 
The city, which owns the Zoo, is using its bonding authority to secure the tax-free loan, which is backed by the pledges from donors. The Zoo is operated as a nonprofit by the Lowry Park Zoological Society.
 
“Over the last 26 years, the Zoo has more than doubled in size, but our animal care facilities have not,” says Dick Stohler, co-chair of the New Horizons Campaign and a director of the Lowry Park Zoo Endowment Foundation. “The new animal care complex will provide the medical facilities necessary to meet our expanding needs and support future growth.”
 
The loan from SunTrust Bank will provide interim financing while Zoo officials continue to raise funds.
 
The hospital will be built just off the boardwalk by the Mason M. and Charles P. Lykes Florida Wildlife Center, and next to the existing animal clinic, which is about 27 years old. The new facility will have state-of-the-art medical equipment with areas for surgery, pharmacy, radiology and veterinarian offices.
 
In addition, zoo officials say they plan to use about $2 million for upgrades to the Manatee and Aquatic Center which houses the only nonprofit manatee hospital in the world. Since 1991 the center has treated about 330 wild manatees, or about 6 percent of the state's wildlife count of manatees.
 
Writer: Kathy Steele
Sources: Bret Azzarelli, Elements Architects; Dick Stohler, Lowry Park Zoo Endowment Foundation

Madison Street Park Next For Channel District In Downtown Tampa

For years, Tampa City officials have envisioned a booming Channel District: one with luxury apartments, multiple shopping opportunities and even open-air parks to keep the community active. And with the City acquiring nearly nine-tenths of an acre in the northern end of the District, that vision is closer to becoming a reality. 
 
In addition to Washington Street Park at the corner of 12th Street and Pierhouse Apartments’ nautical-themed art park at what used to be 11th Street, two new pieces of land — one being purchased by the City for $1.56 million and one which will be given as a donation -- total 43,000 square feet and are expected to become Madison Street Park.
 
The donated portion of land is coming from a company controlled by developer Ken Stoltenberg of Mercury Advisors, who has city approval to build the 24-story Martin at Meridian tower next door. For now, Stoltenberg has a proposal for the now-vacant land between Twiggs and Madison streets.
 
“My vision is for an active sports park that can be highly programmed to meet the needs of the growing number of young urban professionals,” he says. “Right now, if you want to play basketball, sand volleyball or take a boot camp or CrossFit class outdoors, you need to leave downtown — and that’s a shame.”
 
Stoltenberg envisions the almost one-acre space to be divided into a basketball court, dodge ball area, two sand volleyball courts, two boot camp areas and a dog park. He says he, as well as other developers and City officials, have been told time and time again that a park is an amenity people look for when considering living in an urban environment.
 
“Residents will have access to all of the aforementioned activities and won’t have to drive anywhere,” he says. “Additionally, the restaurants in the neighborhood will benefit from increased business, thanks to evening and weekend park visitors.”
 
Soon, Stoltenberg and his team will break ground on The Martin, a mixed-use development expected to add a little more than 300 apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail space to the area; BDG Architects/Urban Studio Architects and Hardin Construction will work with Stoltenberg on the project. 
 
The Martin at Meridian will join The Place at Channelside, The Slade, Bell Channelside and the currently under-construction 356-unit, $550 million Pierhouse At Channelside apartments.
 
Source: Ken Stoltenberg, Mercury Advisors

New Saunders Library To Be Built In Tampa In 2014

The old Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library near Ybor City will be torn down starting in December to make way for a new library at the same location. Plans call for the new library to be built in 2014 and open in 2015.

Construction on the $4.5 million, 25,000-square-foot library is expected to begin in January and will replace the nearly 45-year-old building currently located at 1505 N. Nebraska Ave. The new library construction continues the City's effort to invest in and improve neighborhoods just north of downtown Tampa.

"This will be marvelous for the community with Encore across the street with direct access to the library,'' says City Councilman Frank Reddick. "It's a project that many people have worked on for a lot of years.''

The existing library was built in the late 1960s and named for civil rights leader Robert W. Saunders Sr. Once known as The Scrub, the area was settled in the early 1900s by freed slaves after the Civil War.

The new two-story library will preserve the legacy of its namesake with a bust of Saunders in the existing library's reading area, and an African-American Research Library will become the central archive for historic documents and artifacts from notable local African American leaders and organizations. The Research Library will chronicle the history of the area and, according to Sells, will house numerous special collections.

"We're highlighting a lot of African-American history in Tampa,'' says Chief Library Renelda Sells.

Additionally, the new library will feature a bookstore, a recording room, a children's section and a 350-seat multipurpose room slated to include a portable stage for plays, concerts and banquets.

Booker T. Washington Elementary School students are expected to take advantage of these new spaces during school hours; a walkway currently connects the school building with the existing 7,300-square-foot, single-story library.

The current Robert W. Saunders Sr. Public Library will close on Sunday, December 1st, with new construction expected to see completion by anticipated by early 2015.

"We have been waiting a long time for this,'' says Fred Hearns, President of the Robert W. Saunders Foundation.

During construction, library patrons are encouraged to take advantage of the John F. Germany Public Library at 900 N. Ashley Dr., the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library at 2607 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and the Seminole Heights Public Library at 4711 N. Central Ave.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Sources: Frank Reddick and Renelda Sells, City of Tampa; Fred Hearns, Robert W. Saunders Foundation

Sarasota's Selby Gardens Flourishes With Renovations

The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is abloom with renovations and upgrades designed to modernize and heighten the aesthetic quality of the beloved Sarasota landmark.

The Great Room by the Bay, the organization's private event venue and meeting facility, received a "floor-to-ceiling'' cosmetic makeover this summer, thanks to financial assistance from Selby Board Trustee Sandy Rederer, as well as in-kind services provided by Fawley Bryant Architects, Tandem Construction and Milton Shenk LLC.

The 3,600-square-foot facility, which features 60-foot-high west-facing windows with stunning sunset views of Sarasota Bay, has been a popular destination for weddings, parties and other private events since its construction in the late 1980s, but Rederer and the Selby staff felt that the space was in need of a cosmetic upgrade.

"It was just really dated and really needed a face lift,'' says Sarah Colandro, Director of Interiors at Fawley Bryant. "We wanted to capitalize on the architecture already there, but to neutralize the space and take out the outdated aspects like the patterned carpet and the wood beams, doors and trim that showed the age of the building.''

Renovations to the Great Room began in July, 2013, and were completed in August. The design and construction team replaced the outdated patterned carpet with new high-performance flooring in a neutral shade of charcoal that is versatile enough to complement a variety of themed decor, while the walls and ceiling received a makeover including new light fixtures, ceiling tiles and fire sprinklers, as well as a fresh, white finish to brighten the room and accommodate any event style. Upgrades were also made to lighting and fixtures in the restroom area.

The most visually intriguing aspect of the $121,000 renovation project is the addition of floating, illuminated white fabric kites that are assembled in the ceiling alcove of the Great Room. The kites can be accented with colored spotlight lenses for drama and effect during themed weddings and parties.

"These improvements will help Selby Gardens remain competitive and successful in attracting prime wedding and event rental income,'' says Selby Gardens CEO Thomas Butcher. "The revenue from private functions provides much needed support for ongoing operations.''

In addition to the renovations in the Great Room, a second construction team took advantage of the Selby Botanical Gardens' slow summer season to work on the highly anticipated Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest, which is scheduled to open in early November.

The Ann Goldstein Children's Garden at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens will include an educational waterfall and forest pool where all ages can learn about aquatic ecosystems and rainforest plants, a canopy walk and rope bridge, an epiphyte canyon full of rocks and the unique plants that grow on them, a research station that features field botany techniques and gadgets, as well as an amphitheatre, classroom and special exhibition spaces in the Rainforest Village.

The project is funded by donations from community foundations, including the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation and other private donors, including Sarasota Philanthropist Al Goldstein, who contributed the lead naming gift to initiate the project, following his wife's death in 2011.

Hazeltine Nurseries, Tandem Construction and Milton Shenk LLC collaborated on the design and construction of the educational rainforest garden. The $5 million project began construction on March 1, 2013 and is scheduled for completion this fall. The Children's Rainforest will open to the public on November 9, 2013.

Writer: Jessi Smith
Source: Sandy Rederer and Thomas Butcher, Selby Gardens; Sarah Colandro, Fawley Bryant

Renovations Begin On Public Pool On Davis Islands

After nearly two years of public meetings and planning, construction has begun on renovations to Davis Islands' Roy Jenkins Pool.

The 94-year-old pool, located at 154 Columbia Dr., closed in 2008 when the pool failed to meet public health and safety guidelines, but is now slated to reopen within one year, donning a $2.5 million facelift.

The Davis Islands Civic Association authorized $500,000 to go toward renovations with the remainder coming from the City of Tampa.

“The renovation of this pool has been a community effort. We are making much-needed improvements so that the pool can be a safe and fun place for the entire Davis Islands community to enjoy,” says Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In June 2011, information from a $50,000 Davis Islands Recreational Area and Roy Jenkins Pool Study was released, targeting areas of demand for the pool.

The study documented existing conditions and evaluated the requirements to meet Department of Health codes. Since, public meetings for Island residents have been held, gaining input and approval of funds; residents have agreed with the Davis Islands Civic Association to authorize funds to go toward the pool's improvement.

“Residents were given an opportunity to comment on study concepts and make recommendations so their voices could be heard before decisions for project improvements were made,” says Laurie Potier-Brown, project manager for the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department.

Pillar Construction Group will work on renovations and, once complete, the pool will include a new operating system, piping, shell, deck and façade; new restrooms are among some of the added features for visitors to enjoy.

Completion is expected by April 2014.

“Next summer, I expect there will be hundreds of kids learning to swim and playing with friends in Roy Jenkins Pool,” Buckhorn says.

Roy Jenkins Pool will be open seasonally throughout the summer.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Mayor Bob Buckhorn & Laurie Potier-Brown, City of Tampa

Davis Islands Dog Beach To Close For Renovations

Davis Islands Dog Beach is undergoing a major renovation to enhance the dog-friendly playground.

City of Tampa Parks and Recreation will begin work on the $273,082 project on Monday, June 10th. When completed in December, plans call for new sand, utilities, seating, fencing and an artificial reef. The Davis Islands dry dog park will remain open during the renovations.

“Waves from passing ships have eroded the beach and shoreline at the popular dog beach, exposing rubble and making it unsafe for dogs and their owners,” says Linda Carlo, the City's superintendent at the Office of Special Events.

Just months ago, two local Davis Islands business owners, Carolyn Bigley of Davis Islands Pet Care and Jenn Fadal of Wag Natural Pet Market and Bathhouse, teamed up to create the nonprofit  Friends of Davis Islands Dog Parks -- an on-going, long-term community effort in partnership with Friends of Tampa Recreation, Inc.

Assisting City of Tampa Parks and Recreation in maintaining and improving both the Davis Islands Dog Beach and Dog Park, Friends supports the city's decision in improving the beach -- despite the six-month inconvenience of closing during renovations.

“When it reopens, it will be safer, cleaner and better than ever. This is an opportunity for a fresh start and to, hopefully, keep it maintained and looking beautiful,” the group said in a statement. “Once we realized the scope of the project, we are excited about the long-term benefits to our dog beach.”

As part of the beach renovation, the City will repair and repave the boat ramp located at the dog beach and will spruce up the shoreline by adding Florida-friendly landscaping.

Funds for the project will come from Community Investment Tax (CIT).

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Sources: Linda Carlo, City of Tampa; Carolyn Bigley and Jenn Fadal, Friends of Davis Islands Dog Parks

Tampa Resident Plans First Handicap-Friendly Dog Park, Seminole Heights

A local resident is working toward building Tampa's first handicap-friendly dog park.

Located on the western side of Henry and Ola Park at 502 West Henry Ave., the Seminole Heights Dog Park is slated to feature a large green space for pups to enjoy without the restraints of a leash, including water fountains, handicap-accessible cement pathways and various activities.

“Seminole Heights has a strong history and we deserve the same -- if not better -- amenities that we find in other parts of Tampa,” says Seminole Heights Dog Park Founder Mauricio Rosas.

According to Rosas, the park will become the City of Tampa's first handicap-friendly dog park and will be dedicated to service animals, as well as first responder K9s who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Rosas, who lives with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and has an 8-year-old service dog named Roscoe, decided to present the Seminole Heights Dog Park idea to the City of Tampa Park and Recreations Department because he thought Seminole Heights was lacking public green spaces for both dogs and their owners to enjoy; a main focus for Rosas was that dogs needed to be able to enjoy being outside, free from leashes.

“Service dogs can pretty much go in and out of anywhere and, if they're training, have free rein in public parks,” he says. “I think other dogs need to have the same opportunity as Roscoe. This project is about the community.”

Already backed by an extensive list of local sponsors including Dallas 1 Construction and Development, Seminole Heights Foundation, Courteous Canine, Ginger Snips Beauty Salon and Spa, Health Mutt, Phoenix Glass Studio, Forever Beautiful Salon and Wine Spa and Mickey's Cafe and Bakery, Rosas is looking for 16 businesses that can raise approximately $2,500 each to cover the initial $38,000 in project costs, which is expected to see completion within one year.

A fundraiser for the park will be held on May 5th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Courteous Canine's main campus in Lutz at 3414 Melissa Country Way. The event is expected to feature Taco Bus, a local mobile grooming truck, free dog training advice and agility courses. For more information on how to volunteer or become involved with Seminole Heights Dog Park, visit the official Facebook page.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Mauricio Rosas, Seminole Heights Dog Park

Construction Begins On Marine Exploration Center, Aquarium In Madeira Beach

The 25-year-old St. Petersburg Pier Aquarium is moving, expanding and rebranding, bringing the new Secrets of the Sea Marine Exploration Center and Aquarium concept to John's Pass Village in Madeira Beach.

Slated to open by November 2013, Secrets of the Sea will be the anchor attraction at John's Pass Village on Gulf Boulevard and 129th Avenue in Madeira Beach, featuring a broader, more technology-focused marine exploration concept.

Construction on the 13,500-square-foot, approximately $4 million facility began on April 23rd.

“The Pier Aquarium has been bursting at the seams for a long time while the public's interest in the ocean environment, cutting-edge technology and marine science continues to grow,” says Pier Aquarium President and CEO Howard Rutherford of the 2,000-square-foot St. Pete facility. “The unknown future of The Pier created an extraordinary opportunity for a bold, new approach to the Aquarium's mission.”

The Pier Aquarium will close on May 31.

Rutherford plans for Secrets of the Sea to become one of an epicenter for marine research and one of Madeira Beach's premier attractions, bringing the public together with state-of-the-art marine research, innovation and technology interactive experiences.

Various marine-related activities, aquariums, galleries and exhibits developed by the St. Petersburg Ocean Team will focus on research concepts in a fun, explanatory fashion; exhibits include Essential Estuaries, Touch Tampa Bay, Fish at Risk, Corals on Acid, Crustacean Station and Moon Jellyfish.

Local design-build team Biltmore Construction and Harvard Jolly Architects are working on the construction of the two-story structure with Lexington Design and Fabrication designing and building innovative Mystery Stations throughout the center, showcasing how several sea habitats and lifeforms are benefiting from some of the ocean's unsolved mysteries.

“We hope to create a new generation of environmental stewards,” Rutherford says.

A public/private partnership between John's Pass Village owner AEGON USA Realty Advisors, Enterprise Florida's State Small Business Credit Initiative and a local lender, the new aquarium space was recently endorsed by Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno.

Additionally, a collective hotel partnership called the Secrets Premier Hotelier Group has been instrumental in helping Secrets of the Seas achieve its capital campaign target to begin construction, agreeing to provide in excess of $100,000 over the next five years in support of the new marine attraction.

The partnership includes TradeWinds Island Resort and Guy Harvey Outpost, St. Pete Beach Sirata Beach Resort and Conference Center, Lowes Don CeSar Hotel, Postcard Inn, Dolphin Beach Resort, Bilmar Beach Resort, Grand Plaza Resort Hotel, Alden Suites, Sunset Vistas Beachfront Suites, Beachcomber Beach Resort and Hotel, Plaza Beach Resorts and Barefoot Beach Hotel.

Secrets of the Sea is expected to generate nearly 250,000 visitors annually and pump $8 million into the local economy, reaching more than 40,000 students from six different countries.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Howard Rutherford, Pier Aquarium

Business Owners Looking To Improve Dog Parks, Davis Islands

Two local Tampa Bay business owners and Davis Islands residents have teamed up to keep island dog owners and visitors happy and healthy, creating Friends of Davis Islands Dog Parks through the Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful Program.

Assisting City of Tampa Parks and Recreation in maintaining and improving both the Davis Islands Dog Beach and Dog Park, Carolyn Bigley of Davis Islands Pet Care and Jenn Fadal of Wag Natural Pet Market and Bathhouse formed the not-for-profit Friends of Davis Islands Dog Parks as an on-going, long-term community effort in partnership with Friends of Tampa Recreation, Inc.

Bigley and Fadal's new organization will work to raise funds and encourage volunteerism in an attempt to help create, maintain and improve off-leash waterfront dog parks; promote responsible pet ownership and environmental protection through community outreach and events; and create an environment where dog owners follow good “dog park etiquette.”

“Residents, veterinarians, dog trainers and behaviorists have mixed feelings about dog parks, but in my opinion, they are necessary. Most behavioral problems in dogs are largely due to a lack of exercise -- dogs cannot be leashed all of the time. They need to be able to run free and socialize and these parks give them the opportunity to do so,” Bigley says.

Adding that most dog parks end up having challenges, she says Davis Islands' public dog spaces are no different.

“Irresponsible pet owners not picking up poop is the number one issue, especially at the Dog Beach so close to the Tampa Bay,” she says. “Reports of dogs being dumped at the parks and an overall general disregard and respect for the park has made many islanders no longer use the parks, especially on the weekends.”

Bigley and Fadal are looking to change that, believing care for the parks has slowly declined over the years. Bigley says dog parks should benefit the community by providing a safe, clean area for dogs to be off the leash.

But in just the past few months, many improvements have already been made to the Davis Island Dog Park, thanks to John Allen and Earl Olson of Tampa Parks and Recreation: Fences have been repaired and painted and kiosks and benches have been fixed and are being maintained.

One of Friends' first fund-raising projects will be to create a memorial plaque wall where folks can purchase a plaque in memory of a lost pet. Plans for a memorial garden are also in the works.

“Friends started as a simple idea of making the parks cleaner, fixing up a few things and just beautifying them a bit, but its mission has become much more than that," Bigley says. "We encourage residents to get involved.”

To become a sponsor or to learn more about getting involved with Friends of Davis Islands Dog Parks, including weekly and monthly clean-ups, visit the official website and Facebook page.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Carolyn Bigley & Jenn Fadal, Friends of Davis Islands Dog Parks

Primrose School Builds Early Childhood Center Near UT

Offering private early childhood education for children ages six weeks to 5 years old, Georgia-based Primrose Schools is expanding to the South Tampa area on Kennedy Boulevard between Packwood and Rome avenues.

The $6.6 million construction project at 1700 W. Kennedy Blvd. near the University of Tampa, held a groundbreaking in December 2012 with plans to welcome the first round of students to the 22,700-square-foot center in August 2013.

Commercial general contractor and developer Phoenix Construction Company of Tampa is overseeing the construction and development of the new early childhood education center made up of 17 classrooms, a conference room and a training center.

This will be the sixth Primrose School location in Hillsborough County and the third in Tampa with two locations currently at Cross Creek Boulevard in North Tampa and Whitmarsh Lane in Westchase.

"There's a high demand for early childhood childcare in South Tampa, especially for children under the age of 4 because not many centers down here take infants,'' says Primrose School of South Tampa co-owner Jana Radtke. "We are thrilled to bring the best possible childcare experience to our South Tampa communities and understand the importance of instilling a love of learning throughout a child's early years -- this is essential to building a new generation of bright students.''

Radtke's work with Primrose began when she opened her first school in Texas in 1995 as a professional working mom struggling to find a quality early childhood education option for her own children.

"After having my children on waiting lists for 18 months, I left the corporate world to build Primrose School of North Lewisville in Dallas, Texas,” she says. “It was the best decision I've ever made!”

Looking to expand Primrose's exclusive Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accredited Balanced Learning Curriculum for children under the age of five to the South Tampa area, Radtke has been searching for the perfect location for seven years.

According to Radtke, Primrose School of South Tampa will be the only private school in the area built from the ground up that wasn't converted from a home or previously existing site. The new South Tampa location will be one and a half times the size of a normal Primrose school.

Additionally, Radtke says architects and engineers are working on-site toward U.S. Green Building Council LEED Certification with a goal of LEED Gold.

"The South Tampa location will be the first urban, LEED Certified school to be built in the area,'' she says.

Now enrolling, weekly rates for full-time students will range from $230 to $260, dependent upon age. Primrose School of Tampa will also offer an after-school program for school-age elementary students from public schools (with transportation provided from local elementary schools) for $100 per week. The new school is currently 70 percent pre-enrolled.

Writer: Alexis Quinn Chamberlain
Source: Jana Radtke, Primrose Schools

Community Volunteers To Build Tampa Heights Playground

The Tampa Heights Civic Association, PNC Bank and KaBOOM! are partnering on a new, innovative playground that will provide a safe place for children to play in the Tampa Heights community. Several years in the making, the new playground will be assembled in one day by volunteers on March 2. 

"This is so much more than a playground; it represents part of the implementation of a comprehensive neighborhood plan that the entire community has come together to create,'' says Lena Young Green, president of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association.

A national nonprofit organization, KaBOOM! has helped launch more than 2,200 playgrounds across the country. Founded in 1996 with the vision that every child in the U.S. should have a playground within walking distance of their home, KaBOOM! collaborates with communities to develop safe, accessible outdoor play spaces for kids.

A commitment of volunteers and community funding is required for planning to begin. PNC Bank, through the PNC Foundation's Grow Up Great initiative, provided the majority of funding to cover the cost of the playground. The Tampa Heights Civic Association is responsible for an additional $8,000. As of mid-February, $4,500 has been raised by the civic association, says Green.

The Tampa Heights playground will also include an Imagination Playground in a Cart, a play space designed by the New York architectural firm, The Rockwell Group. Movable blocks, mats, crates and fabric give children unstructured free play. 

When completed, the playground will be part of a Tampa Heights Health Zone, says Green. Other features include the Heights community garden; a greenway path for bicycling and walking, along with exercise stations and a dog walking area; a basketball court; and a youth and community center with commercial kitchen.

Volunteers are still needed to help assemble the playground equipment and move 43,740-square-feet of safety surface. The playground build-date is Saturday, March 2, from 8:30 am to 3 pm. 

Writer: Janan Talafer
Source: Lena Young Green, Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association
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