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MOSI working on move to Channelside District

MOSI could be moving to downtown Tampa.

Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) is in the process of developing a task force to plan, design and raise funds for a new science center in downtown. The task force will be comprised of community partners, land use experts, philanthropists, museum master planners, scientists and educators. This news follows a vote at the museum's board of directors meeting earlier this month, which looked at a feasibility study to rebuild a new science center around Amalie Arena.

The move to downtown is part of Jeff Vinik's redevelopment plan for the Channelside District.

“One year ago, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik invited MOSI to consider becoming a centerpiece cultural institution in the new $2 billion development his company is creating in the Channelside District,” says Grayson Kamm of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI).

Vinik has pledged financial support through his company Strategic Property Partners.

While it is still early in the planning stages, the downtown museum is described by Kamm as a “new, world-class, future-focused science center.” He goes on to say that the new site will also be environmentally friendly.

“The feasibility study called our current 300,000-square-foot campus on Fowler Avenue overbuilt, with countless inefficiencies,” he says. “Our new facility will be appropriately sized for our market and built with environmental sustainability in mind.”
 
If everything goes as planned and a new museum is built in downtown, the MOSI site at Fowler Ave would be closed and re-purposed by the county.

“Our current 74-acre site along Fowler Avenue is in the heart of Hillsborough County’s Innovation District, and there is potential to redevelop the land into something that could contribute greatly to the economic prosperity of the county and the entire region,” Kamm says. “Hillsborough County has not laid out any specific plans for the land.”

Brand new, renovated Bay Area hotels ready for spring break visitors

With Spring Break just around the corner, hotels in the Tampa Bay area are getting ready to host an influx of tourists, including four hotels now under construction and/or undergoing renovation projects designed to meet increasing demand from tourists and other visitors.

Loews Don CeSar

Located near St. Petersburg Beach, Loews Don CeSar is the historic pink palace built in 1928. In addition to two pools, an 11,000-square-foot spa and an award-winning seafood restaurant, the hotel is adding a new bar to the list of amenities.

The Rowe Bar, which opened earlier this month at the Don CeSar, represents a $1.8 million investment by Loews.

“This is a brand new space that seats 200,” says Jeff Abbaticchio, Director of Public Relations for the hotel. “The new bar includes an interior space as well as an outdoor area featuring three fire pits and an outdoor fireplace.”

In addition to the Rowe Bar, Loews has been working on another project within the Don CeSar family of hotels.

Beach House Suites by Loews Don CeSar

A few blocks north of the Don CeSar, Loews 30-year-old Beach House Suites recently completed an $8 million renovation to its 70 suites, which offer guests one-bedroom lodging complete with kitchen space and a washer and dryer.

”All 70 suites were renovated to offer more spacious and contemporary space for our guests,” Abbaticchio says. “Beach House Suites is the perfect lodging solution for guests coming to the area from overseas or staying for an extended vacation because it has all the amenities you need, like a kitchen and washer and dryer. Plus we offer a complimentary shuttle service between Beach House Suites and the Don CeSar so guests can enjoy all that the Don CeSar has to offer.”

Opal Sands Resort

Drive down Gulfview Boulevard in Clearwater Beach to find the crescent-shaped building that is Opal Sands Resort, the latest hotel to open on the world-famous beach.

The shape of the building guarantees every visitor a view of the Gulf, according to Opal Sands General Manager Jeff Castner.

This luxury resort, which had a soft opening in early March, is 15-stories, features 230 rooms and cost $50 million to build.
 
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa

Situated at 5223 Orient Road in Tampa, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is visible from Interstate 4 and adjacent to the MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre. The hotel features a spa, salon, restaurants, stores and of course a casino.

As large as the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino already is there are plans in the works for it to get even bigger. Last week, the Seminole Tribe of Florida met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and unveiled its plans for a $1.8 billion expansion for its Hollywood and Tampa hotel locations.

For the Tampa hotel, plans include a second tower with 500 new rooms, a helipad, five retail stores, a new lobby bar as well as new dinning and meeting spaces.
 
A construction start date for this project has not been set. 

New bicycle/pedestrian path connects Clearwater to Safety Harbor in Pinellas County

Good news for local and visiting pedestrians and bicyclists as the city of Clearwater announces the completion of an extended path running along Bayshore Boulevard on the eastern edge of the city along Cooper Bayou and Old Tampa Bay.

The trail, which connects the Courtney Campbell Causeway to Ream Wilson Trail at Del Oro Park is expected to be completed by today, March 1st.
 
“Providing bicycle and pedestrian accommodation is important for multimodal transportation alternatives, economic development and recreation for the city,” says Felicia Donnelly with the parks and recreation department for the City of Clearwater.
 
Donnelly says this connection will be among several other pedestrian and bicycle trail unions throughout the city, including Duke Energy, CSX, Druid Connection, Landmark Drive and Belleair trails. The city’s master plan for proposed bicycle and pedestrian paths proposes adding over 25 miles dedicated to trails throughout Clearwater.
 
The Druid Trail, which is expected to be completed later this year, will be a four-mile multiple use section along Druid Road. It will connect to the Pinellas Trail and residential areas, as well as Clearwater High School and Glen Oaks Park.
 
The city hopes that the connection between the Courtney Campbell Causeway and Ream Wilson Trail will open up a traffic-free path for pedestrians and bicyclists from Cypress Point Park to downtown Clearwater and north to Safety Harbor. With the master plan, the expectation is the network of trails will link the beaches to the Pinellas Trail, which runs North to South through Pinellas County.  
 
The trail will be complete with two bike fix-it stations where bicyclists can fix minor problems to their bikes without having to leave the trail. The city plans to install six more stations along the trails by the beginning of the summer.

Tampa Bay area private schools grow, invest in new buildings

Tampa Bay area private schools serving students in kindergarten through high school are investing in their campuses as a way to enrich the educational experience for students.
 
Academy of the Holy Names
 
Located on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, The Academy of the Holy Names recently announced its groundbreaking on a new center for the arts. The $11 million facility will include a 350-seat theater, interior and exterior learning spaces, 2- and 3-D art labs as well as band, choral and dance classrooms.
 
“In addition to classes, the center will be used for full-run drama productions,” says Emily Wise of The Academy of the Holy Names.The arts are a central part of the Academy's curriculum and a critical factor in educating the whole child, mind, body and spirit.”  

Construction is expected to run approximately 13 months. While the center will be ready for use in spring 2017, classes will start in fall 2017.
 
Berkeley Prep
 
With a generous donation from the Gries Investment Fund to the tune of $4 million, last fall Berkeley Prep opened the Gries Center for Arts and Sciences. The 75,000-square-foot facility is home to the middle and upper division fine and visual arts departments, as well as upper division for math and science.
 
Other features of the center include multimedia labs, digital-ready study rooms, eight professional potter’s wheels, two outdoor kilns and a covered patio space.
 
One of the more innovative features of the building is the multimedia room, which includes a green screen, industry-editing software for film class and a whisper box that allows students to record voice-overs of sound studio quality for films and animation.
 
Jesuit High School
 
The historic all-male K-12 private school located on Himes Avenue in Tampa is planning a $35-million renovation and expansion project. Plans include adding four new buildings to the campus, as well as renovating others. Also, a full renovation of the chapel is planned.
 
“The refurbishment of the campus will begin with a full renovation of the chapel, which is the heart of the school,” says Pete Young of Jesuit High School. “The students gather every morning for Convocation, and we are maxed out on the number of students we can fit in the sanctuary, there is just no room for growth, so we need a larger chapel so we can accommodate more students.”

Golfers tee up at newly renovated courses around Tampa Bay

As the weather cools, and snowbirds and year-long residents alike get ready to hit the tees, Tampa Bay area golf courses are sprucing up their greens for tee time.
 
Rocky Point Golf Course
 
Golfers are now able to enjoy the newly renovated Rocky Point golf course in Tampa, as it reopened last week, after a seven-month renovation to the course.
 
“The major renovation includes all new TiFEagle greens, new tee boxes, Celebration Bermuda grass that surrounds the new greenside and fairway bunkers,” says Bobby Silvest of the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA), which operates the course for the city. “The renovation also includes enhanced features, such as new retaining walls and landscaping.”
 
Silvest says these renovation plans have been years in the making. The $700,000 investment to the course is expected to bring in more traffic.
 
“All of these changes combine to make Rocky Point a course that is challenging and enjoyable, as well as very aesthetically pleasing.”
 
Copperhead at Innisbrook

The PGA golf course in Palm Harbor, best known for hosting the annual Valspar Championship, is scrambling to complete its $4.5-million restoration project before the big event in March 2016.

Renovations to Copperhead golf course include replacing all 18 greens and fairways with new grass, as well as a new drainage system, and improvements to sand traps. Wadsworth Golf Construction Company was brought in to do the mammoth project and is also installing a state-of-the-art sprinkler system that will conserve water usage.

Twin Brooks Golf Course

Located in St. Petersburg, south of downtown, Twin Brooks reopened recently after its $1.5 million-renovation. The course, which has been under city ownership for more than 40 years, had its grand opening celebration in November.

Through its renovations, the design went from an 18-hole course, to a 9-hole, par three course, which offers golfers more yardage and larger putting space. A new drainage system was installed, as well as a 7,000-square-foot platinum Paspalum putting green and a covered driving range.  

“The goal was to create a more open course that is playable and enjoyable for golfers of all levels, with quality putting surfaces, for a great value,” stated Jeff Hollis, St. Petersburg Golf Courses director in a news release from the city. “An improved practice area, along with a covered driving range tee will make for one of the finest practice facilities in Pinellas County.”

SPC receives funding for Bay Pines STEM Learning Center

With funding from the state in the amount of $2.5 million, St. Petersburg College (SPC) is building a new learning center for students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

Last year, SPC received money to fund the new building from the Florida Legislature Public Education Capital Outlay to complete the college's Bay Pines STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Learning Center in the Madiera Beach area. It is close to both the Bay Pines VA Hospital and Madiera Beach Fundamental School.

The $4.7 million building will serve many purposes for the community.

“The center will have SPC classes, professional development activities for Pinellas County school teachers and others, community group activities, marine and environmental independent research being carried out by SPC students, secondary school students, and students from other colleges around the area,” says John Chapin, Dean of natural sciences at SPC. “It will also be the site for summer camps for various groups underserved in the STEM areas, and a site to partner with other colleges/universities in the area on STEM related projects.”

According to Chapin, SPC's Bay Pines STEM Learning Center will be 10,000-square-feet. It will have two multipurpose lab rooms each holding 24 students, three independent research areas and one large multipurpose room that will seat up to 100 people.

“The lab rooms are very flexible and will support both lab-based and classroom-based activities.”

The building is scheduled to undergo construction in December and is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

First pop-up store in Hyde Park Village opens in time for holidays

As the holiday season draws near, Hyde Park Village, will open its very first pop-up store selling toffee treats to customers.

Tampa Bay-based, Toffee to Go, a specialty holiday shop exclusively at Hyde Park Village, will open on Thursday, Nov. 19, is best known for being one of Oprah's Favorite Things in 2013.

“We wanted to bring in a pop-up store that would be a perfect fit for the holidays, and felt that Toffee to Go would be a perfect holiday gift for everyone to enjoy,” says Gabby Soriano of WS Development, which manages Hyde Park Village. “They have an incredible reputation in Tampa, they are locally owned and their product is absolutely delicious.”

Toffee to Go will be located at 1607 West Snow Circle next door to Color Me Mine and Carlton Ward Photography.

The pop-up store will open "just in time for our annual Enchanted Tree Lighting event on November 21st," says Soriano. “Their last day will be on Thursday, December 31st.”

Soriano goes on to explain the Enchanted Tree Lighting event, is free to the public and includes craft brews, food trucks, kids fun zone, in-store events, live music from Late Night Brass, visit with Santa and the lighting of the tree.

There will also be other holiday events at the Village including National Shop Small Business Day.

“On Saturday, November 28th, we will be celebrating National Shop Small Saturday with a 'Show Your Love for Local' event with live music in the village circle, in-store events and special promotions and giveaways all day," Soriano says.

There will also be visits with Santa throughout the month of December, for a calendar of events, visit Hyde Park Village's website.
 
While Toffee to Go will only be temporary, it joins permanent stores that recently opened at Hyde Park Village, including make-up store Bluemercury, furniture store Blue Moon Trading Company and clothing store J. McLaughlin.

Revolution Ice Cream Company plans move to Seminole Heights, Tampa

Fans of Revolution Ice Cream Company will no longer have to drive to Brandon to buy a scoop or two of their favorite flavors. 

The local, independent ice cream parlor that is popular for its unique flavor blends (such as pumpkin-spiced RumChata) is opening its second store in the trendy Tampa neighborhood of Seminole Heights. 

The new store is slated to open at 6701 North Florida Avenue in Tampa in mid-December. 

“Seminole Heights seems to be the place for food,” says Bill Workman, owner of Revolution Ice Cream. “It’s a neat, tightly knit community.”
 
Workman opened the innovative ice cream parlor at 220 W. Brandon Boulevard during March 2013 with his wife, Leslee, after growing a thriving ice cream business from their home. 

“I started making different flavors of ice cream in our kitchen using a Cuisinart, and soon we were filling orders for friends’ parties. We had people pulling up into our driveway, leaving their cars with cash in hand, and walking out of our house carrying brown paper bags five minutes later.” He laughs, “It’s a good thing the cops were never called on us!”
 
Revolution Ice Cream, which carries about 20 flavors – roughly a dozen regulars and eight seasonal flavors – would seem to be the brainchild of a master chef with training in a multitude of confectionary cooking disciplines. Not so. Revolution Ice Cream represents Workman’s first foray in the restaurant business. 

“People ask me how I come up with these flavors, but I don’t know. It just happens – it’s a God-given talent.” 

Workman mentions his mom was a dietician and prepared meals for him when he was growing up that none of his friends ate. 

“I guess you could say I was a foodie before ‘foodie’ was even a term,” says Workman, who is in his early 40s.
 
For Workman, running an ice cream parlor is just one of the many hats he’s worn in his eclectic career. 

“I’ve worked in insurance, mortgage lending, and big box retail,” he says. “I took a few college classes but didn’t graduate, so I guess you could say I went to the School of Hard Knocks.”
 
So how did he venture into making a smorgasbord of ice cream concoctions with names like “Pomegranate Rosemary,” “Eurotrash” (Nutella ice cream and Biscoff cookie crumbles), and “Porky’s Delight” (vanilla with bacon and bacon brittle)? 

“I get inspired when I walk through the grocery store and say ‘I want to make an ice cream flavor out of that.’” 

Meanwhile, the concept for the hip ice cream hangout came from a trip the Workmans made to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

“I came across a store called Oh Yeah! Ice Cream & Coffee. I thought it had a cool vibe and neat flavors of ice cream,” he recalls. “When we came back to Florida, we couldn’t find anything like it here.” 

The couple launched a Kickstarter campaign and later took a chance by offering free ice cream for the first four days the new store was opened. “On Day 5, we started charging, and people still came.”
 
In addition to the Brandon storefront location, Workman also operates a Revolution Ice Cream food truck, which draws a crowd wherever it stops. Revolution Ice Cream has more than 5,500 followers on Facebook and a Yelp* rating of 4.5 with over 100 ratings. It’s therefore no surprise that Workman expects good things for the new location in Tampa. “I think Seminole Heights will blow Brandon out of the water!”

Clearwater Beach's Pier 60 Park undergoes renovation

Visit Clearwater Beach, and chances are you will see Pier 60 Park as it greets visitors arriving off the Memorial Bridge. The city of Clearwater is expanding the popular tourist destination in an effort to improve the flow of pedestrians and visitors, as well as maintain the continuity of the completed Beach Walk.

“We wanted to improve the aesthetics of the area so the look and feel of Beach Walk continued throughout the park area,” says Anna Hancock of the City of Clearwater. “The team also seeks to open up the recreational space giving more space for visitors to enjoy the park and improve the pedestrian traffic in the area.”

Specific plans include extending Beach Walk beyond Pier 60, removing nearby retaining walls, and installing benches around the playground area. Construction is expected to be completed by February 2016.

“The total cost of the project is $500,000, with this being the last phase of the overall project,” Hancock says.

The overall project included constructing a flag plaza featuring each branch of the military in the park, as well as improved lighting and construction of a new welcome sign.

Future plans for Clearwater Beach are also in the works, including renovating and increasing the number of restroom stalls in the Barefoot Beach House, which is expected to be completed by March 2016.

Heritage Village in Pinellas upgrades its paths with innovative, sustainable pavement

The pathway through yesteryear that winds in and around Heritage Village is now environmentally friendly, thanks to a company based out of Pinellas and its trademarked product.
 
KB Industries (KBI), recently installed its signature product known as Flexi®-Pave, a porous pavement made of recycled tires that allow for water to flow through the material. This process eliminates standing water, which reduces pollution from storm water run-off while also controlling erosion.
 
KBI Founder and CEO Kevin Bagnall explains just how well the product can process water.
 
“We allow water to go through our materials at a rate of 3,000-gallons-per-square-foot-per-hour, and we make sure the water does not come back up or crack, it is very stable,” he says.
 
Bagnall, who moved to this country from England in 1992, has been in the industry for nearly 30 years. His company, which is headquartered in Pinellas Park, employs 15 full-time employees at the corporate office, and over 150 employees worldwide, with more growth to come.
 
“This year we expect to add six more employees at our corporate headquarters, as well as contracting positions around the country to install our products,” Bagnall says. “We plan to add a chief mechanical officer, national sales director, an internal sales position and some technical sales positions as well.”
 
He goes on to say that the need to create more jobs is related to more projects including plans to do work at Yellowstone National Park, and other projects out West. There are also plans to open an office on the west coast.
 
As for Heritage Village, the park that attracts tourists, students and families, the sustainable pavement provides a solution for their need to meet ADA requirements, while blending in with the historic landscape.
 
“The Pinellas County chief engineer contacted me because the pavement they had before was cracking and did not meet the ADA requirements,” Bagnall says. “With our product not cracking, and also being sustainable and flexible for use around trees, we fit the bill.”
 
To see Flexi®-Pave at Heritage Village, you can visit the park at 11909 125th Street North in Largo. For park hours, visit their website.

Oldsmar builds professional BMX supercross facility

The new BMX Supercross Facility under construction in Oldsmar is not for the faint of heart. With its titled “Elite Ramp” nearly three stories high, this hair-raising track is sure to draw crowds when it opens.

“We expect the project to be completed by late July,” says Ahmad Erchid, President of Tampa Bay Construction and Engineering, Inc, whose team is working on the $2 million project.

The completion of the project is timed for hosting "Gator Nationals'' in October, the inaugural North American BMX Supercross series by USA BMX. Oldsmar is one of only four American cities selected to host the event October 16-17th.

Funding for the quarter-mile track and facility was obtained through a $1.2 million grant to the city of Oldsmar from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The rest of the funding for the project is coming from the city itself.

For those driving or walking by the track, located at 3120 Tampa Road, it is hard not to notice the gargantuan size of the ramps as construction moves along.

"This is completely unlike any other project we’ve done, but it’s been really exciting so far,” says Erchid.  “This is definitely one of the most engaging projects we have ever tackled, and it’s awesome to think that the national supercross tournament will be held in it in just a few months. We’re just as excited as the rest of Oldsmar to finish the track and look forward to serving our community with our best product.”

For more information on the supercross series you can visit the USA BMX website

New Montessori School to open in Trinity, Pasco County

Parents looking for a Montessori School in the Trinity area of Pasco County will be pleased to know that one is currently under construction and set to open this fall.

Ground broke four months ago on The Montessori at Trinity Oaks, after one mother, a former Montessori student herself, saw a need in the community.

“I was a Montessori child as were my two younger siblings. Montessori was a big part of our lives,’’ says Anisha Patel, President of The Montessori at Trinity Oaks. “I have two young children of my own now, and it’s time for them to go to school. I wanted to bring the Montessori curriculum into the community. There is not a Montessori school nearby. I decided that would be a good location to open a school and bring the Montessori curriculum here.’’
 
The school will feature three classrooms, an activity room and administration offices, and will serve children ages 2 to 6. Offering two, three and five-day programs, The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will offer both part-time and fulltime schedules depending on the needs of your child.
 
Construction is being completed by Spartan Builders Design & Contract of Tampa.

“We should complete construction in June, and at that time we will begin parent tours,’’ says Patel. “In the fall we will be ready to take in students for the academic school year.’’ 

The Montessori at Trinity Oaks will be located at 9941 Trinity Blvd. in Trinity.

Big Brothers Big Sisters moves national headquarters to Tampa

The welcome mat is out for former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio. But Iorio is the one bearing a welcome home gift for the Tampa Bay region -- the national corporate headquarters for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

In April 2014 Iorio took on the top job at the 110-year-old nonprofit headquartered in Irving, TX. She was Tampa's mayor from 2003 to 2011. As chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters, she spent her weeks in Texas and weekends at home in Tampa.

Effective March 31, the commuting ends and Big Brothers Big Sisters moves into 6,900-square-feet of office space at Corporate Center One at International Plaza in the Westshore Business District. The rent is free for five years courtesy of Parkway Properties.

The Beck Group is donating the carpets, paint and other materials to make the offices move-in ready. Bill Adams of ROF is providing furniture and design services. And an anonymous Tampa donor is paying moving expenses.

"From a civic stand point, I couldn't be more proud that Big Brothers Big Sisters is calling Tampa home," says Iorio. "I couldn't be more optimistic about the future of the organization in Tampa."

A corporate headquarters in Tampa comes as a plum prize in a city, and a region, that is awash in on-going and soon-to-happen construction for residential towers, shops and restaurants in the urban cores of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

"Wow. This is a really a big deal," says Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman. "We are getting ready to explode in this community. I'm glad, Pam, you and your organization have decided to spark the fire. They are going to bring their company here. There is such a spillover for that."

Iorio and Murman spoke at a gathering at the Tampa Convention Center to announce the relocation. About 150 people attended, including Joseph Lopano, chief executive officer of Tampa International Airport and Kanika Tomalin, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. 

The move from Texas is expected to bring 20 jobs to the community. While a few employees from Texas might opt to re-locate, Iorio says most jobs will be filled locally.

As national headquarters, Tampa will host board members and staff from 331 affiliate organizations across the country for meetings and conferences. That translates, city leaders say, to more hotel beds filled and more money flowing into the local economy from dollars spent at area restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.

"This is how you become known as a headquarters community," says Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (THEDC).

Iorio says she had committed to two years as chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters. A request that she consider a longer commitment led to the decision to relocate.

The THEDC served as facilitator, pulling together a business plan in about two months to sell Tampa and the Bay area as a good move. Iorio says she told her organization, "Even if you take me out of the equation, Tampa Bay is a great place."

Dallas had been corporate headquarters for the organization for only about a year following a move from Philadelphia.

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have merged their Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations into one of the largest affiliates in the country. Iorio says 3,500 children are served in the Bay area and about 1,000 are on a waiting list to have a Big Brother or Big Sister as a mentor.

IBM retiree Alan Cohen is a Big Brother to 13-year-old Sir.Giogio (last name unavailable) who is the middle child of a single mother. For the past six years, Cohen has taken Sir.Giorgio to sports venues, Busch Gardens and tutors him once a week.

"I know I am able to make a difference in one person's life," says Cohen. "I have a friend in Sir. Giorgio."

YMCA plans 3-pool aquatics center in South Tampa

South Tampa swimmers of all ages can get ready for a new aquatic experience with a choice of three swimming pools for fun and wellness.

The Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA will begin construction in November on the Carol Kennedy Aquatic Center at the South Tampa Family YMCA at 4411 S. Himes Ave. The center is named in memory of the daughter of David and Liz Kennedy who died in 1984. The Kennedys are long-time supporters of the YMCA and its mission.

The center's current pool, which is old and out-dated, will stay open during construction. Pending a capital fund-raising campaign, plans are to fill in the existing pool and expand the YMCA building.

The Carol Kennedy Aquatic Center will have a therapy pool, an activity pool with a focus on children, and a lap pool for families and training purposes. Construction costs are about $3.5 million. The center is expected to open in May 2015.

The YMCA offers a variety of aquatic fitness programs as well as swimming classes for adults and infants as young as six months. A 6-week IRS Self-Rescue course on survival swimming skills also is available for children age six months to four years.

One of the agency's priorities is drowning prevention. Florida annually has the highest number of drownings of children under the age of five.

The therapy pool will feature aquatic fitness classes and swim opportunities for seniors or people with disabilities, says Lalita Llerena, YMCA spokeswoman.

"(Aquatic exercise) is one of the softer opportunities for fitness," she says. "We're hoping to reach more active seniors with that."

For the YMCA 2014 has been an expansion year. Earlier this year a new, 11,500 square-foot gymnastics center opened on Ragg Road in Carrollwood as part of the Bob Sierra YMCA Youth & Family Center. Construction is under way on the first of three phases for the South Shore YMCA at Interstate 75 and Big Bend Road. The second phase is expected to include an aquatics center.

Lake Mirror Park in Lakeland ranks among nation's top 10 public spaces

In the 1920s Lake Mirror Park was little more than its description -- a lake with a promenade.

But what New York landscape architect Charles Wellford Leavitt designed in Lakeland nearly 100 years ago is today one of the country's "10 Great Public Spaces" for 2014.

The American Planning Association recently announced its annual top 10 list of great public spaces. It is a designation Lakeland's planning department has been pursuing for at least two years, says Kevin Cook, the city's director of communications.

"It's a big honor," Cook says. "We pride ourselves on quality public spaces."

The park's ornate promenade was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. A master plan to restore the park and some of its original elements was completed nearly four years ago.

The park and lake are at the center of Lakeland's historic downtown. Among its landmarks are the Barnett Family Park, the Peggy Brown Center, Magnolia Building and the Hollis Gardens.

About 900 events are held at Lake Mirror Park annually including the Christmas parade and the Red, White and Kaboom celebration of Independence Day. Cook estimates as many as 20,000 to 30,000 people fill the park for some events.

Lake Mirror Park competed against more than 100 sites reviewed by an APA panel, says Jason Jordan, the APA's director of policy. 

"It is one of the best examples in the entire state, really nationally, of the 'city beautification' movement of the 1920s," Jordan says. "This is a prime example of a place that is physically beautiful but also has social and cultural elements as well."

In whittling down the list of great public spaces, Jordan says the planning agency's panel considers aesthetics, social, culture and economic factors.

"By highlighting some places that are successful it can be a spur to other communities," Jordan says.
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