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Clearwater Continues Greening Efforts With LED Streetlights

Residents of Clearwater will soon have softer streetlights and fewer outages as a result of the City’s latest efforts to go green.

The City is replacing the standard incandescent light bulbs in all 11,290 streetlights with LED bulbs. The new bulbs will produce the same amount of light, but use less energy and last longer.

"In light of the city’s green policy, we wanted to say the whole city is green and reduce the carbon footprint," says Paul Bertels, traffic operations manager for the City of Clearwater. "It’s important to the City Council and to the residents that we try to do everything we can to reduce our impact on the environment."

The major benefit from the move will be less outages. Standard bulbs typically have to be replaced every 18 months. The new LED bulbs will last an average of seven years before outage problems are experienced.

The decision was made by the City of Clearwater and Duke Energy, which currently provides maintenance for the streetlights. In a true public-private partnership, the bulbs will be funded by Duke Energy, so the replacement will be at no cost to citizens. Duke’s costs will be reduced due to less frequent maintenance.

Residents will mainly notice the white color of the lights vs. the orange color of the current bulbs. They will also notice a lot more stability with the less frequent outages.

The move is part of the city’s overall efforts to go green, which include a full service citywide recycling program, streetscaping, and water management.

"Clearwater has always been a very progressive place, and I think this policy on being green fits right in line with that thinking," says Bertels.

The project will begin in the Northeast quadrant of the city, with an estimated citywide completion in 18 months.   

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Paul Bertels, City of Clearwater

Bike-Share Program Gets Ready To Roll In Tampa

Bicycle wheels are almost ready to roll on Tampa streets. Some assembly is required.
 
Beginning in late August, 300 rent-able bicycles scattered across more than 30 locations in downtown, Channelside, Ybor City, Hyde Park and Davis Islands will kick-start Coast Bike Share, the city's long-anticipated "bike share" program.
 
Mayor Bob Buckhorn hopped aboard one of the blue bicycles for a short spin down the sidewalk by City Hall.
 
"I think it is one more amenity that will allow the city to take its place as a great American city," he says. "I couldn't be more excited. We want them to succeed. I want to see blue bikes all over downtown. We're going to paint the town blue with these bikes."
 
Before residents get their pedal time, Coast Bike Share  will assemble more blue bicycles at a warehouse on Franklin Street. But ahead of the August launch, memberships are available for purchase.
 
They include a special $99 annual membership that comes with 90 minutes of ride time per day instead of the standard 60 minute ride, and a free helmet.
 
Daily ride costs will be $5, monthly memberships, $30, and annual memberships, $79. Reservations will be available on the spot via a keypad on the bicycle, online or by phone.
 
The bicycles weigh in at a relatively light 39 pounds, well below the industry standard of 51 pounds. Cruising speed is 11 miles per hour. They have baskets in the front and operate with a shaft drive rather than greasy chains. "They are very easy to ride," says Eric Trull, Coast's program manager.
 
The bike share system, and its tech savvy bicycles, are from New York City-based Social Bicycles which also has programs in Phoenix, Orlando and San Francisco. Tampa's program is managed by Miami-based Cyclehop which has 20 years experience in the cycling industry.
 
Residents can keep their eyes peeled for "coming soon" signs that will be placed at rental hubs including Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and City Hall. As the program expands, Coast officials anticipate adding kiosks in the SoHo district, Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and Westshore. The University of South Florida plans to launch its own bike-share program, Trull says.
 
Advertising opportunities also are available for small businesses and other organizations that want to sponsor a bicycle kiosk. For information send an email to this address.
 
Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Ping Pong, Anyone? Urban Conga Wants You To Play In Downtown Tampa

Residents and visitors in downtown Tampa will soon have another reason to get social.

Ping pong tables will be installed in parks in downtown, starting with Lykes Gaslight.

The project is the latest from Urban Conga, a group of Tampa Bay creatives who use play to encourage the community to utilize urban spaces with interactive installations such as the Wall of Creativity at the recent Sunset Music Festival.

"We wanted to figure out a way to bring this idea of play in a more permanent way to the city of Tampa," says Ryan Swanson, Urban Conga co-founder.

The idea came about when Swanson backpacked around Europe and noticed ping pong tables everywhere in large cities like Berlin, Paris and Barcelona, as well as in U.S. cities like New York and Boston. He wondered why there are none in our local cities. After discovering how expensive and bulky typical public ping pong tables are, Swanson decided to design a table himself for a fraction of the price.

As an added benefit, local businesses will hold on to paddles and balls, driving people into their space. For a small deposit, people will rent the equipment and then receive their money back upon return.

"Bringing these tables to downtown will be a small but large impact on creating more street level activity in downtown Tampa," says Swanson.

Urban Conga recently received $1,000 from Awesome Tampa Bay to build the first tables.

"We really like this project because it’s big, fun and really creative," says Rafaela Amador, Dean of Awesomeness for Awesome Tampa Bay. "We like what Urgan Conga is trying to do. We want to support that kind of creative infrastructure in people in Tampa."

Plans are to install tables in downtown St. Petersburg after the Tampa tables are complete.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Rafaela Amador, Awesome Tampa Bay; Ryan Swanson, Urban Conga

Bright House, City Of Tampa Partner To Provide Free WiFi In Downtown Parks

People who live, work and play in downtown Tampa parks will now have a way to access the Internet for free on their laptop, tablet or smartphone thanks to a partnership between the City of Tampa and Bright House Networks.

The project is the latest in a series of technology-focused initiatives started by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, which includes hack-a-thons and mobile payments for parking meters. The effort will make it easier for people to use the parks on a more regular basis, as well as allow people who work downtown to work in the parks.

"It’s one more factor that makes downtown even more attractive and more exciting for the intellectual capital that we’re trying to attract," says Buckhorn. "If people want to live, work and play in the urban core, then you’ve got to have urban amenities to facilitate that."

The WiFi will also be available the entire length of the Tampa Riverwalk, which spans from the Florida Aquarium to the Heights and Water Works Park north of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. It is free for the first two hours, up to 1 GB per month. Bright House customers will be able to use complimentary WiFi in other parts of downtown as well.

The WiFi is funded by Bright House Networks and part of a larger agreement that allows Bright House access to city infrastructure to place hot spots elsewhere in the city. It’s scheduled to be complete by the end of 2014.

Free WiFi is offered in other cities including New York, Paris and Hong Kong.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Tampa Startup Helps U.S. Travelers Find Parking Across Nation

Transportation reservation services like Discount Park and Ride intend to streamline your travel experience, whether you’re heading out of town for a business trip or a vacation cruise.

The Tampa startup launched in March 2014 to offer travelers a tailored parking solution -- and is quickly picking up speed in the national transportation sector.

Discount Park and Ride already has 35 partners across major U.S. markets, including San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami, and, of course, Tampa.  

How does it work? DPR partners with local parking lots to help travelers search for a safe place to park their cars. Partner facilities offer shuttles services and guaranteed reservations in off-site locations.

Concerned about just where these “off-site” locations may be? Discount Park and Ride has thought of that. Browse each location in advance and compare with other parking options through an interactive map on the DPR website. Local parking partners in Tampa, for example, include Memorial Airport Parking and Embassy Suites Tampa Airport/Westshore.

Consumers can search the Discount Park and Ride website by filters like price, location, service offerings, and distance from the airport/seaport; reviews and detailed information like shuttle frequency and payment methods are also available.

“Our goal is to provide value for the consumer and a prime customer experience,” says Discount Park and Ride President and co-Founder Alex Miningham.

Miningham attended Florida State University and holds an MBA in Business. A serial entrepreneur, he co-founded software technology startup inDegree as well as Capital Parking, a former parking company in Tampa. The company quickly expanded from a valet parking business servicing local high-end restaurants into a surface lot management company with a focus on airport and seaport parking in Tampa.

In 2013, HEPdata Inc. acquired inDegree. Shortly after, Miningham left his role at Capital Parking to found Discount Park and Ride.

 DPR plans to spread out into other sectors of parking, from special events at sports and concert venues to off-street and garage parking in large metropolitan areas of the country.

Miningham cites problems in the parking industry between “brick-and-mortar facilities and third-party reservation companies” as part of the inspiration for founding Discount Park and Ride. DPR aims to eliminate some of the industry’s problems by offering parking partners a host of tools to manage and modify data, from listings to pricing to sales reports.

So far, feedback from industry partners has been positive. In fact, Discount Park and Ride is expanding much more rapidly than originally anticipated, says Miningham, with partners in major markets nationwide after only one month of operation. 

Discount Park and Ride isn’t the first company to offer parking and shuttle service to and from facilities like airports; Park N’ Fly  also operates in the Tampa Bay area. The difference, according to Miningham, is scale. 

“Park N’ Fly is a nationally branded parking company with brick-and-mortar locations nationwide who have struck partnerships on a very small scale with strategic partners in certain markets. DPR, on the other hand, doesn’t operate any brick and mortar facilities; rather, we strike partnerships with facilities across the nation on a much larger scale,” Miningham explains. 

Discount Park and Ride currently employs 15 people in the Tampa Bay region. The company, which raised over $1 million in a seed round of financing through a private equity firm, is currently closing in on its second round of funding.

“We’re excited to continue our expansion with a focus on innovation along the way,” Miningham says. “Our ultimate goal is to be the go-to reservation company for consumers when they’re looking to reserve parking across any sector.”

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Alex Miningham, Discount Park and Ride

Un-Tourist Guides Feature Hidden Gems In Tampa, St. Pete

Tampa and St. Petersburg are the latest cities featured in the Un-Tourist Guide series, which helps those new to the area make their home in the Tampa Bay region.  

The concept was originally launched in 2013 by Florida-based publisher Voyager Media, Inc. with the first title: “Moving to Naples: The Un-Tourist Guide.” The Sarasota title was added the same year, as well as Charlotte, NC. Cities were selected strategically based on a high potential for growth, jobs and housing activity.

In the Tampa guide you’ll learn about the legacy of the old Tampa Bay hotel that now houses the University of Tampa. The guide also features the world class educational system from pre-K through post graduate study and the diversity that can be experienced through festivals, parades and ethnic restaurants. Tampa's rich history and modern culture are used to show why it’s a great place to live and work for people in all stages of life.

"For me, the great thing about Tampa is the fact that it is so diverse. I really wanted the book to share that," says the Mary Lou Janson, the guide’s author and publicist.

Janson says the easiest chapter to write was how to assimilate into the community by volunteering, noting the ample opportunities Tampa nonprofits have to offer for all ages and interests.

The St. Petersburg guide focuses on the area’s low cost of living, excellent healthcare, vibrant arts and enterainment, and frequent dolphin sightings. Other hidden gems can be discovered through the guide, including dog-friendly beaches, year-round fruits and flowers and citywide pride in the "burg."

Both Janson and the St. Petersburg Guide’s author, Cindy Dobyns of AboveWater Public Relations and Marketing, grew up in the Tampa Bay area. Each of them lived in one or more other states as an adult, but eventually found their way back, vowing never to leave again.

"Once you move here and find out how much this area has to offer, you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t move here sooner," says Janson.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Mary Lou Janson, The Un-Tourist Guide

New City Of Tampa Mobile App Makes Services More Accessible

Have you ever driven through a pot hole or seen a street light out and wanted to report it to the city, only to forget about it later? 
 
A new mobile app from the City of Tampa makes it easier to report issues that require the City’s attention in real time, as well as to connect with City government. 

"The goal is to give residents and visitors another way to interact with the city," says Ali Glisson, public affairs director for the City of Tampa.

The most popular feature is the “service requests” area, which allows you to report malfunctioning street lights, water department issues, code enforcement inquiries, parking issues and other needs. Citizens can now be the city’s eyes and ears and give them a better view of what’s going on in neighborhoods through the immediate accessibility. There is also a way to send a picture of the incident, which provides GPS coordinates and allows for a quicker response.

Additional features include a full list of city events, including public meetings and special events, instant access to news and press releases, job openings and ways to connect with Mayor Buckhorn via social media. 

The app was developed in-house by city staff and is available free of charge for Android and iOS-based smart phones and tablets. 

"Mayor Buckhorn has been very focused on upgrading the city’s technology infrastructure, so we’ve been trying to make progress in improving technology across the city," says Glisson. 

Future plans for the city’s technology initiatives include integrating a billing system into the app that allows residents to pay water and utility bills through their smart phone. There are also plans to place Wi-Fi in riverfront parks. 

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ali Glisson, City of Tampa

USF Entrepreneurship Alumni Crowdfund Youth Community Center

Alumni from USF are on a mission to “Turn on the Lights” at the yet to be opened Youth Development Center in Tampa Heights.

The USF Alumni Society of Entrepreneurs, an organization of Masters of Science in Entrepreneurship and Applied Technologies graduates from USF, has developed Tampa Heights Unite. The project is using the crowd funding platform Indiegogo to raise funds for lighting a the new youth community center. Donors can contribute any amount toward their goal of $5,000, which they hope to raise by December 31.

The center is a project of the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association, a community-based nonprofit that provides leadership and civic development for youth in Tampa Heights through mentoring and support. The group is renovating an abandoned church at 2005 N. Lamar Ave., built in 1905, to turn it into a thriving, inviting place for at-risk youth and families.

"I walked into the church and could see the vision they had for the center," says Mit Patel, USF Masters in Entrepreneurship graduate and board member for the Tampa Heights Civic Association. "I fell in love with the project."

Patel’s company, MIT Computers is donating a computer lab, and Columbia Restaurant Group is providing a kitchen.

"We’re getting a lot of support from the community," says Patel. "It’s really a community-based, grassroots movement."

The renovation is part of a larger project, which includes a community garden, entrepreneurial garden club and playground that are already in existence.

The 9,055-square-foot center will include a Learning Center, Teen Center, Center for Creativity and rental space for meetings and events. Programs to be offered include: leadership skills, business and entrepreneurship, financial literacy, workforce preparation and technology training.

Completion of the renovation is expected for summer 2014.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Mit Patel, USF Alumni Society of Entrepreneurs

Sun Boxes Emit Music, Light For Art Center Sarasota

From the concrete rooftop of the downtown Palm Avenue parking garage to the sandy shores of Siesta and Lido Key beaches, Sarasota is humming with “good vibrations’’ this week, as the melodious, portable “Sun Box’’ sound installations created by artist and musician, Craig Colorusso, travel around the city, launching Art Center Sarasota’s 2013-2014 season.

Presented in collaboration by Art Center Sarasota and the City of Sarasota, Arkansas-based Colorusso’s Sun Boxes make their first tour of the city this week, from November 4-7, and will return on January 1-3, 2014 to appear at city parks and beaches.

The portable outdoor installation is comprised of 20 solar-powered wooden speaker boxes that emit different sounds, each composed on guitar and recorded with looping pedals by Colorusso. When exposed to sunlight, the Sun Boxes produce a melodious hum. Some people simply lay down and linger in the boxes’ meditative drone, while others prefer to interact with the symphony by moving around and in front of the solar panels to adjust the hum.

“Sometimes When I do a gig somewhere and I have a really long drive, I can still hear the sounds for a few days rumbling underneath my thoughts,”  Colorusso says.

“I’ve been hearing the sounds of the Sun Boxes all my life, and for a long time, I didn’t know what to to with them. I think they sound familiar, and yet I never grow tired of hearing them,“ he adds.

Colorusso says he created the first Sun Boxes in 2009, in response to a call for art that incorporates sustainability at the Goldwell Open Air Museum in Nevada.

The Sun Boxes are an outgrowth of Colorusso’s “CUBEMUSIC,” an electric-powered installation of six aluminum cubes that emanate light and musical tones. “CUBEMUSIC” will be on display through January 3 at Art Center Sarasota.

“As a musician, I was always so envious of my friends who were painters and sculptors because they would make these amazing objects. Music doesn’t really exist as an ‘object.’ Our ears are interpreting vibrations in the air. I make environments,” Colorusso says.

The Sun Box tour schedule for November 4-7, 2013 and January 1-3, 2014 is available here.

Writer: Jessi Smith
Sources: Craig Colorusso; Emma Thurgood, Art Center Sarasota

Amazon Deal Brings 1,000+ Jobs To Tampa Bay

Signed, sealed and delivered.

Amazon is set to open its newest fulfillment center in Ruskin, creating 375 new quality jobs having at least 115 percent of the state’s average wage. The new operation will bring more than 1,000 permanent jobs to Tampa Bay.

The expansion of Amazon into Florida will additionally create several hundred seasonal temporary employment opportunities as well as construction jobs.

"This is bigger than landing the Super Bowl, a national convention or the Olympics. It’s a mega-storm of growth that’s hitting our county with feeder bands that will create economic growth all over this area," says Commissioner Sandy Murman.

USAA Real Estate Co., a company that works with Amazon on the development of its distribution centers, and Ryan Companies US, Inc. reached an agreement late Wednesday, closing on the sale of land for the South Hillsborough County property that will house Amazon’s new distribution facility.

Amazon has signed a long-term lease with USAA for the South Shore Corporate Park property near Interstate 75 and State Road 674 in Ruskin. Construction of the fulfillment center will begin immediately.

The deal comes nearly four months after Amazon’s proposal to expand and create more than 3,000 jobs in Florida.

The company’s expansion project for the development of the center in Ruskin also includes a 3rd party investment of $200 million toward improvements and equipment, further increasing Amazon’s stock in the Tampa Bay market.

For additional information, visit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Commissioner Sandy Murman, Hillsborough County

Tampa Bay Arts Summit Promotes Regional Collaboration

A first-of-its-kind regional arts summit will take place Oct. 25, 2013 at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront, bringing together arts organizations, arts advocates, legislators and administrators from the five counties surrounding Tampa Bay. 

The Regional Arts Summit: Return on Investment aims to promote collaboration between arts organizations of all disciplines to better leverage advertising and marketing dollars, avoid scheduling conflicts and to build and share audiences.  Through interactive presentations and breakout sessions, participants will discuss topics such as cooperative programming, advocacy, regional funding, cultural tourism, and arts in healthcare. 

“To be successful, the arts have to be regionalized,” says attorney Peter Zinober, Chairman of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County and shareholder at the law firm Greenberg Traurig, who came up with the idea of the summit. He envisions the event as a powerful brainstorming and networking session, “Putting people in the same room to develop strategies and ideas, develop more revenue while spending less.”

Presented by the Hillsborough County Arts Council, the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and Creative Pinellas, the full-day event will feature keynote speaker Randy Cohen, VP of Research and Policy for Americans for the Arts from Washington DC. Cohen who will speak on the future of the arts in America -- “Where will we be in 10 Years?” He is a noted expert in the field of arts funding, research, policy, and using the arts to address community development issues.

Registration is available online through the Hillsborough Arts, Inc. website

Writer: Kendra Langlie
Source: Peter Zinober, Arts Council of Hillsborough County

CGHJ Architects Grows, Adds 4+ Jobs In Tampa

For more than 30 years, Curts Gaines Hall Jones Architects, Inc. has built and followed a value system of innovation and trust relationships among staff and clients. The company is now experiencing significant market growth and is adding new architects to its 11-member team.

Between 2007 and 2009, private sector development of multifamily and high-end condominiums began to slip away -- hit hard during the economic climate shift -- significantly swaying the architectural and development community and forcing CGHJ to reduce the size of its staff of 55 team members by nearly 90 percent.

"That market practically disappeared, but that’s a market we see coming back strongly. Things are changing." says Bob Hall, Executive VP of CGHJ.

By Christmas 2012, new projects began to emerge and existing projects began further developments, indicating positive change and the call for additional team members. The firm has more than doubled its staff size in recent months.

"The beginning of 2013 was when the doors started to open. By the end of the first quarter, we started looking at each other realizing that the light of the end of the tunnel was getting brighter and it seemed like it was going to stay lit. All we’ve had since then has been more indication of that," says Hall.

CGHJ attributes much of the market growth to the resurgence and community interest in urban living. Developers and residents alike are moving to pre-recession lifestyle habits, seeking out properties that place them in the heart of the city.

"It’s happening in St. Petersburg very strongly and happening in Tampa more, where people are moving out of the suburbs and close to the city core. That’s a very exciting type of project," says Gerry Curts, President & CEO.

As the firm continues to identify additional market opportunities, staff will be added to accommodate project needs.

"We have a terrific staff of seasoned, experienced architects that are coming back on board. We focus on doing things right, and have a great reputation as a result," says Hall.

For additional information on hiring opportunities, visit CGHJ online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Gerry Curts and Bob Hall, CGHJ Architects, Inc.

ODC Construction Acquires Farro Construction, Adds 50 Jobs In Tampa

Orlando-based shell construction contractor ODC Construction recently expanded its service market and acquired Tampa-based Farro Construction. The expansion brings about an integrated team of more than 500 construction experts, with plans to add 50 more skilled construction laborers by December 2013.

"This was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for both companies,'' says CEO Isaac Lidsky. "Integrating Farro Construction into ODC Tampa will guarantee ODC’s industry-leading service and quality as we continue to grow in that market.''

In June 2011, Lidsky and a team of partners acquired ODC Construction and began to set an ambitious expansion plan in motion -- including developing new projects and strengthening business relationships in Tampa Bay.

By mid-2012, ODC had launched its Tampa division which quickly grew from 2 employees to more than 100.

After developing a successful business partnership with Mike Farro, founder of Farro Construction, ODC saw a unique opportunity to further develop the Tampa market while integrating the expertise of Farro Construction’s team to continue ODC’s rapid growth.

"Farro Construction has a great reputation as a shell contractor in Tampa -- they’ve been doing it for years. We got to talking with Mike, and it was a remarkable situation. I think it was meant to be," says Lidsky.

With home prices having risen 15 percent in Tampa -- 11 percent over the last year -- ODC’s expansion plans include further cultivating the Tampa market to produce continual solid company-wide growth.

"Construction is really leading a broader economic recovery. The new home market in Tampa is a phenomenal and obvious place to be," says Lidsky.

The company additionally recently launched a new Carolina office based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Farro’s previous experience in the Charlotte market will only add value to ODC as the company continues to move forward in its growth strategy. Farro is now ODC Charlotte’s construction manager.

"I know we will do great things together. We’re just getting started," says Lidsky.

For more information on career opportunities or unique business partnerships, visit ODC’s website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Isaac Lidsky, ODC Construction

Computer Mentors: Youth Helping Youth Bridge Digital Divide

Computer Mentors is increasing the skills of Tampa’s workforce while making an impact on local youth.  

The mission of the nonprofit, grassroots organization is to put technology in the hands of underprivileged youth while encouraging them to consider information technology as a career path.  

The group's main program, the STEM Corps High School Program, is a service learning model. After earning a certification, teens perform technology projects for other nonprofit organizations. Past projects include a website for Green ARTery, a neighborhood-based initiative to connect walkways and other green space in Hillsborough County, and a video for Positive Spin, which provides family support systems.

According to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, home computer and Internet use are strongly associated with household income. Almost half of households in the lowest income category did not have a computer, compared to 4 percent of those in the highest income category.

"There really still is a digital divide," says Ralph Smith, founder and executive director for Computer Mentors. "It hurts the country and hurts our area. Internet and computer power are very important to help kids have access to education."

Computer Mentors’ civic justice corps (CJC) program helps former juvenile offenders complete their GED and enter into a computer technology field. Participants recently worked with Community Stepping Stones, an afterschool learning center for at-risk teens based in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood of Tampa, to refurbish computers donated by the Patel Foundation. They also installed software and provided basic computer training.

"Tampa is becoming a well-known technology hub," says Smith. "Computer Mentors is trying to enlarge the talent pool for our companies to be able to grow here in our area."

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Ralph Smith, Computer Mentors

Metropolitan Ministries Grows, Adds 20 Jobs

Metropolitan Ministries plans to open the doors to MiraclePlace on North Florida Avenue in Tampa in August, and is expanding staff to accommodate growing outreach initiatives.

Listed as one of the Top Places to Work in 2013, the organization has increased its staff by 20 percent over the past year and is now adding 20 new client services team members, including social workers, resident services assistants, counselors and administration.

"We look for what we call four C’s: confidence, character, chemistry and calling. It’s critical that our team believes in what we do and believes in recovery and self-sufficiency for our clients," says Keri Howard, director of human resources.

For more than 40 years, Metropolitan Ministries has served the Tampa Bay region, providing special care for at-risk and homeless individuals and alleviating suffering through resources that instill hope, love and reconciliation.

"Over the last six years, we’ve seen a great recession take hold of many families in our community that are living paycheck to paycheck. The needs of the community have really expanded, and we’ve expanded to meet that need," says President Tim Marks.

Two years ago, Metropolitan Ministries presented a value proposition to its board that would stir local economic change and stimulate sustainability for families in crisis:

Double the organization’s capacity, serving twice as many families at just a 25 percent increase in overall expenses.

Thus, MiraclePlace was born, an initiative to stamp out homelessness while offering transitional housing, crisis counseling, life skills, and educational and career development.

Prior to MiraclePlace, more than 50 families in crisis were on the waiting list to receive housing -- a number that did not sit well with Marks.

"We just thought it was wrong. We were just disturbed that many that were on the waiting list -- 25 percent or so -- were children," says Marks.

The first phase of MiraclePlace will open in August, featuring 52 new units of housing, an early childcare education center, an expanded dining room and a new welcome center. The opening allows Metropolitan Ministries to increase capacity to serve a 20 percent growth in families living on campus.

The final phase of MiraclePlace is expected to open by March 2014, adding another 47 units of housing and leading to a transition plan for 99 additional families. As the organization meets the needs of the initiative, forward growth includes a new K through 5 school, a new gymnasium, an assembly hall, a youth activity center and additional warehousing.

"We expect to be in construction for another 24 months at the main campus. We are also trying to put together a capital campaign for Pasco County to build out a new kitchen and 24 units of housing," says Marks.

The construction of MiraclePlace will add more than 115 construction jobs as well as additional subcontract positions. As developments continue, Metropolitan Ministries will continue to engage partners, staff and volunteers.

"Our civil engineer teams will continue to be engaged with us at the main campus and some additional resources will be involved in construction in Pasco. We have a very vibrant volunteer program, and we’d like to provide more volunteers and mentors that can be involved with the day to day activities," says Marks.

For information on hiring or volunteer opportunities, unique business partnerships, or the donation process, visit Metropolitan Ministries’ website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Tim Marks and Keri Howard, Metropolitan Ministries
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