2015 Year In Review: Top Local Story Updates

One of the first major news stories of 2015 involved the Bloomingdale Big Box development. What residents have already known for some time was officially confirmed early this year, that the development fought by local residents will indeed be anchored by a Walmart Supercenter.

By Tamas Mondovics

Since the January announcement, Red Cast Bloomingdale LLC, a development company formed by Redstone Investments, has also revealed Crest Pointe Towne Shoppes as the name of project 43-acre project located on Bloomingdale Avenue, just west of Lithia-Pinecrest Road.

The new store will replace the current Walmart located at 949 East Bloomingdale Ave., inside the Bloomingdale Square Plaza. Walmart also announced the start of a hiring process for its new store, which will result in about 200 additional jobs. A hiring kiosk has opened inside the current store. The new store is slated to open this spring.

Several additional businesses to occupy the frontage of the property were also confirmed by the developer including Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Tijuana Flats, Mattress Firm and Wendy’s, with another 2.89 acres yet available for additional businesses.

Original story, printed February 2015:

It took two years for Bloomingdale area residents to finally hear solid confirmation on something many of them have known, loathed and desperately fought against right from the start.

Last month, Walmart Director of Communications, Public Affairs & Government Relations, Amanda Henneberg confirmed the construction of a brand new 152,000 sq. ft. supercenter to be located on Bloomingdale Ave., just west of Lithia Pinecrest Rd. adjacent to the Bloomingdale Regional Library.

The news left no more doubt about the future of the controversial Bloomingdale Big Box Development project, the developer of which is the now household name Red Cast Bloomingdale LLC.

“Yes this will be a new supercenter,” Henneberg said. “The new store will have general merchandise such as apparel, electronics, home and garden as well as fresh groceries.”

Though it put to rest the long list of rumors of what is to happen on the 42-acre lot, the latest confirmation is by no means unexpected or pleasant to swallow for many living in the community who have fought the County, its local representatives and the developer itself since the project was first reported in the local community newspaper in February 2013.

By replacing the Walmart currently located just west of Bell Shoals Rd. at 949 E. Bloomingdale Ave. in Valrico, the new store will anchor the development, which includes several out parcels as well as a residential complex in the form of apartments and condominiums.

“It’s a relocation from our other store,” Henneberg said. “So the current store and associates will transfer to the new supercenter once it is constructed.”

As part of its claim to support the community, Bloomingdale Big Box Development project developer, Red Cast Bloomingdale LLC, gave $560,000 to Hillsborough County last spring to be spent toward road improvements.

According to Bloomingdale Homeowners Association officials and President George May, the County agreed to use the funds to salvage what it can in connection with the upcoming changes the project will have on the local roadways near the new development.

“We have proposed four specific projects,” May said.

The four projects include improved lighting on Bloomingdale Ave. between Bell Shoals Rd. and Lithia Pinecrest Rd.; traffic light synchronization (once the new development is completed); sidewalk improvements within the community and, warning crossing lights at Bloomingdale High School.

The Bloomingdale Development project is now visibly well underway.

The new Walmart Supercenter is scheduled to be completed in spring 2016.

HART To Install WiFi On All Buses

By Tamas Mondovics 

The news about Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), adding on-board WiFi access on all its busses was much welcomed early last year. While exciting, the new feature promising riders a chance to enjoy browsing the internet while traveling is yet to come, and has an estimated cost close to $1 million.

HART officials said that the new service is still in the works and will be great addition showing a clear effort to position HART as a better and more enjoyable way to travel around Hillsborough County.

Original story, printed February 2015:

To maintain its long-time clients and to attract new ones, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART), continues to add new routes as well as on-board features including the agency’s newest addition; WiFi access on all its busses.

In recent years, the company has been enjoying a steady increase of ridership, many from within the FishHawk and Bloomingdale area communities.

Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Seward told the board last month that riders could soon enjoy browsing the internet while traveling thanks to the new service, which he said is in its early stages with an estimated cost between $800,000 and $1 million.

“In addition to allowing passengers to connect with their phones, tablets and other devices, the WiFi would also provide connectivity for the automated vehicle locator, security video streaming and necessary information for the new fare boxes,” Seward said.

In its efforts to better serve the community, HART has made a number of changes as well as updates to its services, including the implementation of new and improved service enhancements along Route 46, benefitting residents living on S.R. 60 E. of Brandon.

The change came in March as Route 46 was extended by six miles from Westfield Brandon Mall to Dover Rd. via S.R. 60.

HART Public Information Officer Sandra Morrison said the company is doing very well as ridership is up 147 percent for the first three months of FY 2015 and was up 49.5 percent for FY 2014.

With all of its current numbers, HART is actually on track to exceed over 15 million boardings in 2015 alone. The most recent ridership report shows total passenger trips for December 2014 reached1,272,735.

“Just as our current passengers are using our service more, we continue to attract new passengers with service and amenities that are increasingly relevant and attractive,” said HART Chief Executive Officer Katharine Eagan.

Visit www.goHART.org.

County Approves $2.1M In Incentives To Attract Johnson & Johnson To Bring 700 New Jobs To Area

By Tamas Mondovics

An incentive reaching up to $2.1 million approved by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners to attract large companies to the region has paid off last year. In August, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC) celebrated the announcement of Johnson & Johnson’s selection of Hillsborough County for its North American shared services headquarters.

The world’s largest healthcare company is promising to create 500 jobs and invest $23.5 million in the community over the next three years, with jobs paying an average annual wage of $75,000.

Original story, printed March 2015:

Proving their continued support of large companies finding their home within the County’s boarders, Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) recently approved an agreement to provide up to $2.1 million in incentive payments to attract a known company.

The BOCC’s decision to approve the incentive came during its regular meeting earlier this month to induce Johnson & Johnson, the world’s sixth-largest consumer health company, to undertake a $23.5 million capital investment to create jobs while establishing a North American shared services headquarters operation.

Johnson & Johnson’s worldwide headquarters is located in New Brunswick, N.J., and has more than 275 operating companies in more than 60 countries employing approximately 128,700 people.

According to Hillsborough County Corporate Business Development Manager Jaksa Petrovic, Hillsborough County is on the top of a small list of locations to fulfill the company’s plan to choose from, which would also create 700 new higher-wage quality jobs with average wages of at least $75,000, or at least 175 percent of the state average wage.

“Johnson & Johnson, Inc. is evaluating several locations across the country,” Petrovic said adding, “This is a big deal for the County. Besides the hundreds of new jobs, the development would also create other service jobs associated with the project.”

Petrovic confirmed that County incentives are provided as a required match to the state’s $7 million for the project under the Quick Action Closing Fund (QACF) Program and other state appropriations.

If the company chooses to site the project in Hillsborough County, the County’s incentive payments will be paid on a per job basis spread over four years beginning in fiscal year 2017. Visit www.HillsboroughCounty.org/EconDev.

Bloomingdale Fire Station Opening May, Groundbreaking Of Operations Headquarters

By Tamas Mondovics 

Bloomingdale area residents were anxiously awaiting the opening of a brand new fire station in the neighborhood. The officials ribbon cutting and opening ceremony of the new station No.7 was originally scheduled for a late October ceremony.

At 9,300 sq. ft., the new facility is more than twice the size of the old station and includes modern living quarters and workspace designed to meet current fire station standards.

Original story, printed May 2015:

Hillsborough County’s newest 9,300 sq. ft., three-bay fire station located on Bloomingdale Ave., is only weeks away.

According to Fire Rescue spokesman Ronnie Rivera, the construction of the new $2.3 million station, located at 1292 Bloomingdale Ave. just east of Bell Shoals Rd., between the intersections of Springvale Dr. and Hurley Rd., is all but complete and is poised to open to the public.

“Residents can expect the new station to begin operation by the middle of May,” Rivera said.

The new station is replacing the existing South Brandon Fire Station (#7) currently located at 122 W. Bloomingdale Ave., just west of John Moore Rd.

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue (HCFR) has considered the question of whether to rebuild at the original location, but determined it would be best to relocate the facility to a new site.

The station will be operated by full time firefighters with a minimum of a three-member crew per shift around the clock.

As the department’s last original station that has not been renovated, or rebuilt, the old station is now being considered by HCFR to perhaps be used as a historical community outreach facility, with specific details about its future and use yet to come.

HCFR also was pleased to schedule a groundbreaking ceremony for its long anticipated Public Safety Operations Complex slated to house the County’s Fire Rescue Headquarters and the Emergency Operations Center, both currently located on Hanna Ave. in Tampa.

The new complex will be a $26.5 million facility located on 20 acres on Columbus Dr., between Falkenburg Rd. and U.S. Hwy. 301 in the Brandon area.

“The 52,000-sq.-ft. main building will house Fire Rescue’s administrative staff and training center, the Emergency Dispatch Center, and the Office of Emergency Management,” said Michelle Van Dyke with Hillsborough County Communications and Digital Media.

The project is being funded by General Revenue and Public Safety Improvement Bond Project Funds with a competition by September 2016. Visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org.

Lithia Body Farm Proposal Put On Hold After Public Meeting

By Tamas Mondovics

A proposed University of South Florida (USF) initiated project called Facility for Outdoor Experimental Research and Training, or FORT, to be built in Lithia quickly stirred the up the community last summer.
Upon hearing the proposal to bring the media dubbed “Body Farm” facility to the area, residents showed up in force to protest, filling the Lithia Pinecrest Elementary School cafeteria to its limit.
There was little doubt about the outcome, which came only days following the public meeting to put the project on hold.
Original story, printed May 2015:

“We do not want a body farm in Lithia,” said Lithia resident Terry Holden representing the majority of a large crowd that recently gathered for a public meeting to discuss a proposed Facility for Outdoor Experimental Research and Training (FORT).

Dubbed by the media as a “body farm,” the University of South Florida (USF) project raised plenty of concerns and questions prompting hundreds of residents to voice their thoughts in front of USF representatives at Pinecrest Elementary School in Lithia.

The program between USF and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) is said to provide a research and training opportunity in applied forensic sciences as the facility would sit on two acres of County-owned and HCSO-controlled land located at the Walter C. Heinrich Practical Training Center at 14063 S. County Road 39 in Lithia, and would utilize USF’s After Life Body Donation Program for research in forensic anthropology and legal medicine.

It is understood that FORT, the open-air facility, would allow space for bodies to naturally decay for researchers and law enforcement agencies to better understand how the local climate affects decomposition.

The already controversial program is a hard sell anywhere, but when Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, who represents the communities in and around Lithia, heard about the project, things came to a halt.

“I’ve learned of this initiative by a professor at USF in the newspapers at the same time as the constituents that I represent,” White said. “I was shocked that USF has apparently not engaged in dialogue with any local elected officials. How in the world would someone think people are going to react when they hear that a ‘body farm’ might be coming into the community? This is an ivory tower academia mindset at its finest.”

In response to White’s comments as well as to the mainly negative reactions of many local residents, Eric Eisenberg, dean of USF College of Arts and Sciences, began the discussion by taking one step back.

“This is no way a done deal,” he said. “USF has worked with the county for more than a year, but we must admit that we should have done a better job of communicating as we did not engage the county commissioner.”

Eisenberg made clear of USF’s next step in connection with its project when he said, “We will not move forward with the project until we meet with Commissioner Stacey White.”

Eisenberg also told the roomful of residents that USF did not approach the Sheriff’s Office but that HCSO offered the space as the work and the research also benefits law enforcement through training in identifying crime scenes, locating clandestine burials and human identification just to name a few.

Taking a turn to voice their concerns, residents one by one acknowledged the facilities importance, as long as it was not in their back yard.

“We seem to be the dumping ground for anything that people don’t want,” Holden said, while her husband Scott told USF officials, “This is the first public meeting about this project. You have missed the important step of talking to residents a year ago.”

Just prior to the meeting, Commissioner White said that his office has received dozens of calls from residents living near the proposed site saying, “No thanks,” and added that citizens of this area have always felt that they have been dealt the things that no one else wants in their back yards.

“Residents are saying, ‘here we go again,” White said. “This body farm will be pushed upon the residents of east Hillsborough County.”

With other forensic anthropology research sites located on university property, White said, “I think USF needs to go back to the drawing board and reconsider its proposed location.”

At least for now, it seems USF will do just that, giving many Lithia area residents some hope that FORT will find its home somewhere else.

For more information, visit www.forensics.usf.edu.

Newsome Reacts to Macy’s Invitation; “Let’s Have A Parade”

By Tamas Mondovics 

One of the most exciting announcements of 2015 reached the Newsome High School Wolfpack Marching Band when Macy’s officials, led by Wesley Whatley, told the band that it has been selected to perform in the 2016 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

To help cover the cost, Newsome parents and students are working together to organize and take part in fundraisers throughout the season.

Anyone interested in supporting the band’s efforts in raising money to cover the expenses can visit www.newsomeband.com.

Original story, printed May 2015:

Newsome High School students and staff, more specifically members of the Wolfpack Marching Band, got a surprise announcement that will be hard to beat.

By paying a visit last month to the school, Macy’s officials, led by Wesley Whatley, stood in front of the students and announced that the Newsome Wolfpack Marching Band had been selected to perform in the 2016 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“My job is to look across the country and to find the best marching band,” Whatley told the excited crowd in the school’s auditorium. “I am happy to announce that you are just one of ten schools that were chosen to perform in the annual parade.”

Whatley emphasized that Newsome High School, located at 16550 Fishhawk Blvd., in Lithia, was picked out of 175 nationwide and that Macy’s Parade officials had been working in secret with Newsome administrators and the band director, Michael Miller, to surprise members of the band.

Adding to the intensity of the announcement, Whatley put things in perspective when he said that the band will perform in front of more than 3 million spectators on the streets of New York City and more than 50 million people that will be watching the parade on television.

“Your participation will bring honor to your school, community and the state of Florida,” he said.

Miller agreed when he told his students, “This is about as great of an honor as it gets. You guys have worked hard and it paid off.”

Whatley’s emphasis on the parade’s popularity along with a chosen marching band’s chance to shine while representing its state or community is by no means without merit.

Since 1924 the annual, three-hour Macy’s event has become one of the nation’s oldest and most recognized festivals.

Each year, the well-known balloons and floats, accompany live music and other performances such as college and high school marching bands from across the country, all which all perform live music.

Sharing her excitement with the students, Newsome Principal Carla Bruning, reminded the band of the reason for their recognition.

“Your hard work has been rewarded and you deserve it,” she said, while adding,“This has been a difficult secret to keep and I am just so proud of you.”

Newsome’s chance to take part in the annual Macy’s parade is the first for the school and according to Hillsborough County Public Schools Supervisor of Music, Ted Hope, its also the first for any school in the county.

Newsome sophomores, Grace Vaughan and Mikaela Granados, could hardly believe their ears as they heard the news, saying without hesitation what the announcement and traveling to the city for the festivities meant for them.

“It’s pure excitement,” Vaughan said while Granados added, “We wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

For more information about Newsome High School, visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us.

Propelled By Public Support High-Speed Ferry Project Gains Momentum

By Tamas Mondovics 

The effort to launch a high-speed ferry that would connect south Hillsborough County with MacDill Air Force Base has been on the news for some time. Last year was no different as areawide supporters of the project continued to gain momentum, while hoping to put the project in high gear.

Supporters were pleased to announce last month, that the City of St. Petersburg is now taking the lead to establish a St. Pete to Tampa seasonal service, using BP spill funds toward the cost.

Officials hope that a seasonal ferry service running on weekends and evenings by the end of 2016 would be a big boost to getting the MacDill-South County commuter project back in the fast lane. Original story, printed September 2015:

Support for the now much-talked about high-speed ferry that would connect south Hillsborough County with MacDill Air Force Base continues to gain momentum, especially among MAFB employees, many of whom feel that the project’s proposed 2018 completion date can’t come soon enough.

Voicing a desire to see an alternate form of transportation to and from work and ultimately ending their currently lengthy commute, while cutting the monthly costs, many are urging more public support.

“This project is a low cost, possible alternative to take thousands of cars off the road, reduce congestion and speed up commutes,” said Joe Kilgore president of Southshore Outdoor Adventures LLC of Apollo Beach in a recent Facebook post. “Get out and support this effort.”

Other similar comments such as “All members that I know who live in the Apollo Beach, Riverview area would absolutely use this service,” only gives added testimony to the support the project has gained in recent months including a growing popularity on the County’s, ‘Go Hillsborough’ transportation improvement initiative.

To start with, the proposed project spearheaded by Ed Turanchik, a lawyer with the Akerman law firm, and his client, HMS Global Maritime of New Albany, Ind. would deliver MacDill Air Force Base employees to their jobs and returning them to their south Hillsborough homes at night.

Promising to accommodate multiple vessels, the proposed terminal is an 18-acre portion of the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve, just north of the TECO power plant.

According to Ken Roberts, Vice President and Board member, Tampa Bay Citizens for High Speed Ferries, Inc. a 501(c)(4) not-for-profit corporation, the Schultz Ferry Park would be able to accommodate at least 1,200 fenced, lighted and secure parking spaces and result in the creation of a new waterfront recreational park in South Shore.

To put things in perspective, project supporters estimate that there are over 7,800 families living in the Southshore area around the proposed terminal that have a MAFB employee in their household. The first phase of the plan would take nearly 2,400 service member trips off the roads each day, which is the equivalent of adding about half a lane lane of highway between South County and MacDill.

Commuters reportedly travel between 45 and 70 miles each day, taking as much as 75 minutes each way for travel. The ferry service would only take about 13 minutes to get to MacDill, cutting daily travel time by 30 minutes or more each day, as well as cutting costs.

“While increasing the quality and productivity of the commute, this is the lowest cost way to move people around the bay area,” Roberts said, adding, “And it’s fun.”

Project advocates emphasized that HMS could also deliver off-peak recreational and tourist trips to downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Tampa, with possible terminals in the Vinoy Yacht Basis, in St. Petersburg as well as in Tampa likely located in Channelside on the route of the Tampa-Ybor trolley and within a short walking distance to the Amalie Arena.

While support is undoubtedly available, such endeavors always boil down to cost and funds, which in this case is propelled by public support for the project.

The first phase of the project is $25 million to fund the terminal facilities, access roadways, ferries and trams. In contrast, expanding one mile of county roadway costs about $20 million per mile. Advocates say that the project could be funded by $10 million from Hillsborough County spread over 15 years as concession payments, or about $800,000 per year out of its multi-billion dollar annual budget; $10 million in Florida Department of Transportation funds over a five year period to match the county’s funds, and another $5.3 million in federal funds which they said have already been awarded by the government.

For more information on the Tampa Bay High Speed Ferry, contact Ed Turanchik at 813-209-5020 or Ken Roberts at 407-461-3619 or visit www.tampabayhighspeedferry.com.

Residents Urged To Volunteer For Annual Hillsborough River And Coastal Cleanup

By Tamas Mondovics

Each fall, the Hillsborough River and Coastal Cleanup event brings thousands of volunteers together for a day of community service. Part of the International Coastal Cleanup, the event specifically focuses on various sites along the Hillsborough River, Alafia River, Little Manatee River, Lake Thonotosassa and other waterways throughout Hillsborough County.

Last year’s event was a success. The nearly 5,000 volunteers cleaned more than 80 locations and removed more than 90,000 pounds of litter and debris from local waterways. Original story, printed September 2015:
Tampa Bay area residents are once again called on to take part in the biggest annual clean-up effort along the Hillsborough River, Alafia River and other waterways.

Scheduled for Saturday, September 19, and organized by Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful (KTBB), the event is dubbed as one gigantic day of service, environmental education, friendly competition and family fun.

Evenson emphasized that last year more than 4,000 volunteers participated in the cleanup throughout Hillsborough County and have removed well over 60,500 pounds of litter and debris from more than 75 locations.

“We are expecting the same turnout again this year and are urging residents to come out and join us,” she said. “We love our volunteers who are the backbone of our organization. It is only with their help that we can enjoy the environmental health of our community.”

The campaign’s activities includes litter removal, recycling, park cleanup, painting and renewal programs, clothing collections, graffiti removal, beautification and refurbishing projects, and river, lake and seashore cleanups.

Participants will join nearly 2.5 million others in more than 15,000 communities just within this country to make their neighborhoods cleaner and more beautiful places to live in.

KTBB officials said that as part of the effort, volunteers collect data to identify the number and type of littered items, the overall tonnage removed from each site and the amount of recyclable materials diverted. Visit www.KeepTampaBayBeautiful.org.

Pet Resource Center To Begin $2 Million Construction Projects

By Tamas Mondovics


Over the past couple years, the County’s Pet Resource Center has been making great strides to improve community relations and customer service. With things looking up for the department, a $2 million construction and renovation project also began behind the scenes with little impact on service, on Monday, August, 24, 2015. County officials said that construction is going well and is on time. Original story, printed September 2015:

Hillsborough County began the first of two major renovation and construction projects last month at its Pet Resource Center, The First Place for Pets and the County animal shelter.

The first project budgeted at $500,000 with a completion date scheduled for the end of the year, will transform the shelter’s front entrance areas at the facility at 440 N. Falkenburg Rd. in Tampa, into one, unified customer service lobby.

County officials said that when completed the new lobby area will help to better serve residents for pet adoptions, lost pet searches and license tag sales, just to name a few.

“We are truly changing the Center’s approachability factor,” said Pet Resource Center Director Scott Trebatoski. “The reconstruction project will brighten and modernize the reception area, improve customer service, and modernize housing standards for cat adoption to current best-practices in the animal care industry.”

During lobby construction, the public entrance to the shelter will be temporarily relocated to the side of the building.

The second and more costly construction project budgeted at $1.7 million is said to replace portions of the facility’s roof beginning in mid-September.

“Work is said to be performed in quadrants across the kennel areas over a one-year period,” Ryan said, adding that the roof replacement will also be in compliance with hurricane standards to improve safety and ensure integrity for the department as first-responders for animals in Hillsborough County.

Construction at the Pet Resource Center, which is the county’s only “open-admission” facility, is expected to have little to no impact on operations or citizens.

For more information, call 744-5660 or visit HillsboroughCounty.org/Pets.

Tampa Bay Readies for 2015 Hurricane Season With Annual Hurricane Exercise

By Tamas Mondovics

The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida was Wilma on October 24, 2005. That was 10 years ago, a fact that is now causing many residents to lose their sense of urgency. But, considering what actually took place during the 2015 hurricane season may prompt some to sit up and take notice.

According to NOAA, the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season ended with a below-normal 11 named storms, but four them, Danny, Fred, Joaquin and Kate, became hurricanes. Danny and Joaquin managed to become major hurricanes.

No hurricanes actually made landfall in the United States this year, but two tropical storms – Ana and Bill – struck the northeastern coast of South Carolina and Texas, respectively.

The season, however, proved to be very busy and above normal on the eastern and central Pacific region, claiming the strongest, Hurricane Patricia, since 1970, based on sustained wind speeds.

Coming out of nowhere, Patricia quickly reached a top wind speed of 201 mph on Friday, October 23, 2015, as the storm took aim at Mexico’s western coast, enough for many to wake up and reconsider the need to be prepared.

Original story, printed June 2015:

June 1 to November 30, is a period considered by experts most likely for tropical activity in the ocean basin, so it’s no surprise that early tropical storm Ana made many in the southeastern portion of the country sit up and take notice as it made its appearance weeks ahead of the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

With or without Ana, and ahead of the annual hurricane preparedness week (May 24-30), local officials and representatives of more than 40 agencies from County departments; cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City; critical infrastructure representatives, such as TECO; and local community agencies involved in disaster response, gathered to test the readiness of Hillsborough County’s Office of Emergency Management last month during its annual hurricane exercise.

Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management, director Preston D. Cook explained that the exercise, which is part of a statewide effort, gave representatives from various organizations and agencies that would actually work in the facility during an activation, the opportunity to rehearse their roles.

“This is a big day for us as we prepare to serve the county in an emergency event,”Cook said, adding that the day of the exercise was actually the culmination of a week-long project, which allowed all agencies involved to go through the necessary steps and make sure everyone will be ready for the real thing.

This year’s statewide exercise was a hypothetical storm named “Hurricane Gibson,” based on a 1928 storm that devastated the Lake Okeechobee area before sweeping north through the Florida peninsula.

The exercise’s scenario began 48 hours after the storm passed, testing responders’ efforts to provide widespread humanitarian relief and clean up damage, giving participants the chance to practice the Emergency Operations Center’s messaging and tracking system that allows tasks and action requests to be sent quickly from one agency to another.

During the event, Cook spoke highly of all those gathered at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operations Center, 2711 E. Hanna Ave., in Tampa, calling the large group a “very seasoned team” who are able to find a way to work together, as well as find any shortfalls that need to be fixed.

Motivated by the slogan “Be Ready Tampa Bay!” the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County supported by a throng of volunteers also the Bay area’s annual Tampa Bay Hurricane Expo at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), 4801 E. Fowler Ave. in Tampa.

Expo organizers said that as it has been the case in the past, the event’s goal and mission is simple, but bold: to educate residents on the importance of knowing their evacuation zone and on making adequate survival plans for any emergency.

“The Tampa Bay area is extremely vulnerable to many hazards, particularly hurricanes,” said Senior Program Coordinator at Hillsborough County Emergency Management Ted Williams prior to the Expo.

“Safeguarding lives and providing critical services are Hillsborough County government’s most important responsibilities during a natural or manmade disaster,” said Michelle Van Dyke with Hillsborough County Communications. “County employees are required to designate the roles they will take to help residents before, during, and after a disaster, which means employees must have personal plans in place long before the first warning signs.”

Residents can find disaster preparedness information, evacuation zones, supply lists, and tips at www.HillsboroughCounty.org/Emergency, or by calling 236-3800.

New $3.5M County Line Road Project Hopes To Attract More Big Business

The construction of Amazon’s first Florida fulfillment center on 1760 County Line Rd. last year drew attention to the massive growth planned for the corridor.

Officials approved the founding and construction of more than three miles of water and sewer lines along the southern segment of County Line Road to Medulla Road, in preparation for new businesses, manufacturing operations of major corporations thus creating new jobs and capital investments in Plant City.

Plans for the area included a County Line Commerce Center, a 28-acre development featuring a 100,000 sq, ft. spec building, parking for cars and trucks, three additional buildings totaling 165,000 sq. ft., and two parcels for retail or restaurant use.

By July 2015 the project was completed, at which point Central Florida Development, a full service real estate development and property management company, announced plans for the construction of a second 100,000 sq. ft. speculative building in County Line Commerce Center.

The two spec buildings at County Line Commerce Center are the first to be built in Plant City in many years.

Original story, printed April 2015:

The opening of Amazon’s first Florida fulfillment center on 1760 County Line Rd. last year left little doubt about the economic growth in the area, while drawing attention to businesses favoring the corridor, which has emerged as a key location for the distribution, logistics and manufacturing operations of major corporations.

Wasting no time to support development potential and site competitiveness along County Line Rd., the Plant City Commission unanimously approved to extend water and sewer utilities to County Line Rd., a move that will likely attract jobs and capital investment to the area.

“The decision made by our City Commission to invest $3.5 million for engineering and construction of 3.2 miles of water and sewer lines along the southern segment of County Line Rd. to Medulla Rd. is a bold move toward creating new jobs and capital investments in Plant City,” said City Manager of Plant City Michael Herr. “County Line Rd. is one of the hottest corridors in Central Florida, and our city stands to benefit greatly by this decision.”

County Line Rd. provides convenient access to major roadways such as the I-4 corridor, rail and Port Tampa Bay, which is the largest port in Florida.

For more information, visit www.plantcitygov.com.

Tampa Electric Announces Plans For Largest Solar Project In Tampa Area

Tampa Electric is currently in negotiations on the Big Bend Solar project and hopes to begin construction in spring 2016.

Original story, printed September 2015:

Tampa Electric, subsidiary of TECO Energy, recently announced that the utility will build the largest solar project in the Tampa Bay area. The 25-megawatt (MW) facility will feature more than 70,000 solar panels on 125 acres of company-owned land at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. The project is scheduled to be completed sometime in 2016 and will be the largest ever solar project built by Tampa Electric with the capacity to power more than 3,500 homes.

The new solar panels will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

“Here is another opportunity that we’ve taken to build something that’s actually going to reduce our emissions even further because when you’re generating power from a solar power plant, you don’t have to produce as much from a traditional coal plant,” said Sylvia Vega, public relations specialist at Tampa Electric. “There will also be a slight reduction in the fuel portion of the customer bill which will happen immediately as soon as this is operational next year.”

The Big Bend installation is the second large-scale solar project being built by Tampa Electric. The first, a 2-MW facility at Tampa International Airport, is under construction on the top floor of the airport’s south economy parking garage. Scheduled to be completed and online by the end of the year, it will be able to produce enough electricity to power up to 250 homes, or roughly the equivalent of the airport’s new 1.4-mile automated people mover.

“Tampa Electric has a long history of pursuing and supporting solar power,” said Gordon Gillette, president of Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas. “With this project, we will have invested more than $50 million in solar since 2000. We’re pleased to be able to demonstrate our commitment to providing our customers with more renewable energy by taking advantage of declining solar system prices and the land we own at Big Bend.”

For more information, visit www.tampaelectric.com.