Year in Review- Updates on the Top Stories from 2016

Crime Stoppers Launches Gun Bounty Program, Offers $1,000 Rewards

By Tamas Mondovics

A partnership formed last month between Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay, the county’s law enforcement agencies, including Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and Tampa and Temple Terrace Police Departments, has led to the launch of a new reward program designed specifically to help curb gun violence.

The new initiative named Gun Bounty Program was recently announced during a press conference led by Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida State Attorney Mark Ober, who serves Hillsborough County.

“Sadly, we hear almost every day of tragic events that needlessly snuff out a life or injure our families, children or friends,” Ober said as he stood in front of a panel of County government and law enforcement officials, among them Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay Executive Director Lisa Haber, Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay President Debbie Carter, City of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and HCSO Colonel Donna Lusczynski,
“These events are perpetrated by criminals with illegal firearms,” Ober continued.

Haber explained that the program is based on a simple formula of one gun, one arrest, equals a reward of $1,000, all promoted under the motto: see it, say it, stop it. The $1,000 cash reward is given when an anonymous tip is called into Crime Stoppers that results in at least one arrest on a fire arm related charge with the recovery of at least one illegal firearm.

“Combating gun violence in Hillsborough County is a priority for Crime Stoppers and its law enforcement partners,” Haber said.

In 2015, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office investigated 687 criminal offenses involving a firearm, including 18 homicides.

Unlike a gun-buy-back program, Gun Bounty specifically focuses on illegal guns in the hands of a criminal that may use the weapon in future crimes.

Tampa Police Department’s $20,000 donation toward the cause joined HCSO’s $15,000 and the city of Tampa’s $10,000—none of it taxpayer money.

“Community support and funding is key to the effort,” Haber said.

Anonymous tips regarding illegal firearms can be given to Crime Stoppers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 1 (800) 873-TIPS (8477), submitting a tip at www.crimestopperstb.com ,or a tip via the free P3Tips mobile app. Visit www.crimestopperstb.com.

Sheriff’s Office Celebrates Law Enforcement History 170 Years In The Making 

By Tamas Mondovics

Standing in front of a large crowd with a giant pair of scissors at hand, Sheriff David Gee officially cut the ribbon on the front doors of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) History Center, located at 2001 N. 19th St. on the corner of Ninth Avenue and 19th Street in Ybor City.

The opening of the History Center earlier this month was more than just an outlet to display the various aspects of sheriff’s office history. To those that worked on the project, making the museum a reality was also a celebration of 170 years of law enforcement excellence.

The facility will now showcase the evolution of the Department of Detention Services, historical uniforms, law enforcement technologies and equipment, and a Fallen Heroes room, in addition to an extensive badge collection and hundreds of photographs.

“We’ve been diligently working to make this a reality,” Deputy Jerry Carey said just before Gee cut the ribbon.

Carey emphasized that the History Center is an opportunity to interact with the community when he said, “It is a great place for people to visit and to share their experiences.”

First inside the renovated and tastefully decorated building, Gee spoke proudly about the making and seeing the project become a reality as he welcomed local residents, friends, and fellow officers along with members of the media.

“It is neat to see this project now ready to be enjoyed by the community as it is a great reflection on the history of Hillsborough County,” Gee said, adding that over the years artifacts and photographs, old uniforms, equipment, badges and jail logs have just been laying around or being collected, but are now on display.

To gather 170 years of history and pack them into an approximately 1,200 sq. ft. museum was not an easy task, but thanks to a dedicated team of retired and current deputies led by HCSO Captain Jim Bradford, it is now a part of HCSO’s history.

“The project took five years and everyone who had something to share was more than willing to contribute,” Bradford said. “We are very pleased with how the center turned out and are looking forward to adding to the collection and to our County’s law enforcement history.”
The opening celebration would not have been complete without the presence of many who have been making history including former HCSO Major Ron Hartley, who worked for the Sheriff’s Office for four decades.

As he made his way through the Center, Hartley, 64, visibly took delight in recognizing old friends and recalling various incidents triggered by the photographs scattered throughout the various rooms.

“Things were a bit different back then,” Hartley said, adding, “Times have sure changed, over the years.”

Perhaps one of the most sobering display was the Fallen Heroes room, featuring Sergeant Ben P. Wilder, Jr., who was killed while making an arrest in July, 1962. Sgt. Wilder’s uniform—donated to the museum by his widow 87-year-old Dorothy Wilder Alster,—is now on display behind glass. Wilder was 39 years old.

“I am glad that I was able to donate this uniform to the museum,” Dorothy said. “The Sheriff’s Office has done a wonderful job of making sure that Ben is remembered.”
HCSO hopes to continue collecting artifacts and to bring new displays to the center in the future.

The history center is open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. For more information about the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.

Hillsborough County Commission Approves Animal Abuse Registry Ordinance

By Tamas Mondovics

Individuals convicted of animal abuse will no longer have a chance to adopt dogs or cats, thanks to a new ordinance recently approved by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

According to County officials the new ordinance will help to identify as well as prevent convicted animal abusers from acquiring and owning animals, by means of a County Animal Abuser Registry.

The effort, spearheaded by Commissioner Kevin Beckner, will require registration of individuals who have been convicted of certain misdemeanor or felony animal abuse offenses in Hillsborough County.

“Most owners consider their pets to be family members,” Beckner said, adding that the registry not only protects animals, but it can identify and will hopefully prevent violence against humans, too. “I’m very proud of the new law.”   

According to the ordinance, convicted offenders may not own, possess, live in the same home or on the same property, or work with a service animal unless otherwise provided in a court order.  If a pet is to be adopted, pet retailers and shelters must require the person to sign an affidavit attesting that he or she is not listed on the Registry, County official said in a recent press release.  

While the only ‘no’ vote for the registry came from Commissioner Stacy White, it was not for his unwillingness to support the its purpose.
White said that he wanted the draft ordinance that the board was considering to be further vetted by the Animal Advisory Committee.

“I actually support an animal abuser registry,” White said. “The board, however, decided to move forward with ordinance exactly as written.
White added that his vote against the draft ordinance amounted to a procedural issue. “I’m glad we have an animal abuser registry in place I just wanted the ordinance language vetted a bit more.” The new Registry can now be accessed by the public to prevent ownership by convicted abusers, and is also accessible by law enforcement agencies to keep tabs on violent individuals. 

The Registry will contain the names, residence, photo and other related information of Abusers living in the county who are convicted of an Abuse Offense on or after November 1, 2016, the effective date of the ordinance. Visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org.


MADD Dedicates Walk To Valrico Deputy Killed By Wrong-Way Drunk Driver

By Tamas Mondovics

More than 800 walkers, along with many who could not physically participate but gave financial support, took part in the Ninth Annual Walk Like MADD fundraising walk. The signature, victim-tribute and community awareness event hosted by West Central Florida Affiliate and Hillsborough Advisory Board of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD WCF) was dedicated to fallen Deputy John R. Kotfila Jr., of Valrico, whose watch ended on Saturday, March 12 when he was killed by a wrong-way drunk driver on the Crosstown Expressway.

According to Event Manager Bianca Kendall, the community has responded to this year’s walk more then ever before.

“The event has not only met, but exceeded its goal of $75,000, which was the most money it has raised since MADD was founded in 1980,” Kendall said, adding that the walk is held annually to finish the job that was started by a grieving mother 36 years ago.

Kendall emphasized that Walk Like MADD Tampa raises mission-critical funds to help save lives in Hillsborough County and provides the opportunity to educate the community about the dangers of impaired driving and underage drinking. In addition, local victims and survivors come together with law enforcement and other community partners to pay tribute to those lost to and affected by impaired driving crashes.
“All funds raised stay in our community and support MADD’s victim services, underage drinking prevention programs and our campaign to eliminate drunk driving, throughout West Central Florida,” she said. “Our goal is to bring the community together to remember victims and survivors, while we inspire change and commit to end drunk driving.”

By being dedicated to Deputy John R. Kotfila Jr., the timing of Tampa’s 2016 Walk Like MADD was also significant as it took place at a time when law enforcement, community partners and coalition partners are seeking solutions to the plague of wrong-way drunk drivers in the community.

In a recent press release, MADD reported that despite a nearly 50 percent decline in drunk driving deaths since MADD was founded, almost 10,000 people are killed by drunk drivers and another 290,000 are injured in drunk driving crashes every year.

Walk Like MADD events are taking place in more than 100 cities across the country this year. Events will take place in Pasco and Pinellas counties in the fall. Visit www.WalkLikeMADD.org/Tampa to register, donate or get more information.

Pepin Academies Purchases Building, Plans Move

By Bonnie Mentel

Pepin Academies, announced last summer the purchase of a new, much larger academic facility in Riverview.

School officials were pleased to also announce that as planned the not-for-profit, tuition-free, public charter school that cares for children with learning and learning related disabilities received its Certificate of Occupancy for the school’s new Riverview campus, allowing more students to be served starting in 2017.

The transition to the new facility took place throughout the month of December, with students enjoying the new space following 2016 winter break.

An official ribbon cutting is scheduled for January, 2017. Pepin Academies currently has three schools – two in Hillsborough County and one in Pasco County – that serve hundreds of students.

Original Story printed June 2016

On Tuesday, June 7, Pepin Academies will meet for a zoning hearing to discuss the building they are purchasing in Riverview. Once that has been approved by the Board of County Commissioners, Pepin will be able to move forward with the public bond financing to buy the building and finance the construction of the classrooms.

“Pepin Academies is a public, charter school that serves kids with learning and learning-related disabilities. It’s been around since 1999. It’s a school that really allows kids to come and be a part of something special and participate in activities that they likely would not have had the opportunity to participate in if they were in a large, typical campus,” said Principal, Dr. Craig Butz.

The new building is 16,000 sq. ft. and will house next year’s ninth and tenth grades. The plans are to keep the third through eighth grade students at the temporary Riverview campus at 10530 Lake St. Charles Blvd. during construction and move during the winter break.

“The new campus has space that is already built that can accommodate a number of our students. The other portion of the building will need major modifications that will include building out additional classrooms, offices and several shared student spaces. These modifications require permits from local government entities before major construction can take place,” Butz said in an email update.

The new campus is located at 9304 Camden Field in Riverview. It will have the capacity to hold 325 students; the temporary campus holds 300 students. Call 677-6700 or complete an application at pepinacademies.com.

New Senior Living Community Breaks Ground Near River Springs Plaza

By Morgan Lamphere

One of the years most anticipated and largest construction projects in Riverview, benefiting senior residents began with a traditional the groundbreaking of Twin Creeks Senior Living.

The promised 11-month long project is clearly on schedule as the two story building located adjacent to the River Springs Plaza at the corner of FishHawk Blvd. and Boyette Rd., is quickly taking shape with a scheduled opening in early 2017.

Offering a wide variety of amenities within a welcoming neighborhood, the new facility is promising to become a great addition to the growing Riverview community.

Original Story printed June 2016

Twin Creeks Senior Living broke ground recently at the rear of the River Springs Plaza at the corner of FishHawk Blvd. and Boyette Rd. and is expected to open in early spring of 2017.

The two-story building will include 80 assisted living and memory care apartments in addition to generous common area spaces and outdoor living areas for residents.
Builders, architects, community members and the finance team gathered to mark the occasion.

“It is not every day that a new community like Twin Creeks begins construction,” said David Ammons, founder and partner of Enriched Community Development, LLC. “We are honored to mark this occasion and grateful to the partners and friends that joined us today.”

Enriched Community Development, LLC, a Tampa-based developer of senior living communities, closed on the construction financing in March. ECD is a partnership between local senior living developer, Tom Dentinger, and North Carolina-based Retirement Living Associates, Inc. RLA, Inc. manages and develops several different types of senior living communities throughout the Southeast. An investment group headed by Robert D. Gries, Jr., founder and managing director of Gries Investment Funds is an equity partner in the project. RLA, Inc. will oversee management of the community once Twin Creeks is complete.

Residents also will enjoy exercise areas and beautifully landscaped outdoor spaces. Home choices will include companion suites, studios, and one-bedroom apartments.
Beverly-Grant, Inc., an award winning design-build firm that specializes in health care construction, is the general contractor. Call 919-783-0735 ext. 5 or email morgan@rlainc.com.

County Begins $1.2M Bryan/Brooker & Durant/Valrico Intersection Traffic Signal Projects

By Tamas Mondovics

As one of the busiest intersections needing improvement in Hillsborough County brings four major roads together.

For years, County officials have been promising to start the improvement project of the Lithia Pinecrest/Lumsden/Bell Shoals/Durant, intersection with the latest starting date now scheduled for mid-2017, The construction is said to be 34 months.

Residents have a chance to comment and examine local land use and transportation plans by visiting www.planhillsborough.org.

Original Story printed May 2016

It is safe to say that when it comes to traffic improvements there is no shortage of trouble spots throughout Hillsborough County. Aside from some of the roadway improvements and intersection projects in Valrico, such as the much-needed culvert and drainage upgrade just south of Valrico Road and State Road 60 intersection, County officials have scheduled two new intersection traffic signal installation projects south of East Lumsden Road.

To improve safety, motorists will soon see the installation of the first new traffic signal at the intersection of Durant and Valrico roads. The $590,000 project was scheduled to begin this month, including construction of enhanced pedestrian features and drainage improvements at the intersection.

The second new traffic signal and improvement project at the intersection of Bryan and Brooker roads near Burns Middle School is to begin once the school year ends. The project cost is $565,000.

The Durant and Valrico intersection project and the Bryan and Brooker Intersection project are both funded through the Public Works Capital Transportation Program.

Construction work for both projects is expected to take place on weekdays between 8 a.m.-5 p.m., but officials are promising the work will generate only standard construction noise. While temporary traffic lane closures may be necessary and traffic delays may occur, access to businesses will be maintained throughout construction.Drivers are cautioned to observe all traffic control measures for the safety of workers, pedestrians, and other motorists.

For more on the above projects, visit www.HillsboroughCounty.org, under the Transportation Projects link.

Developer To Install New Traffic Light At Bloomingdale Square Plaza

By Tamas Mondovics

Motorist routinely traveling on Bloomingdale Ave. were not surprised last June, to see the start of a new traffic light installation project at the north entrance of the Bloomingdale Square Plaza, located at 889 East Bloomingdale Ave, in Brandon.

County officials estimated the duration of the project between four to six months and were not disappointing as the new signal became fully operational in late November.

Original Story printed July 2016

Hillsborough County traffic engineering officials recently approved the installation of a new signal to ease traffic flow in and out of Bloomingdale Square Plaza at 889 E. Bloomingdale Ave. in Brandon.

With the now infamously heavy traffic on Bloomingdale Avenue between Lithia Pinecrest Road and U.S. 301 as the norm—especially during rush hour, which officially renders the avenue a failed road—the installation of additional signals comes as no surprise for motorists routinely making use of the accident-prone, congested roadway.

According to Hillsborough County Transportation Program Manager and Traffic Engineer, Robert Campbell, installation of the new signal located at the second entrance to the plaza approximately 900 feet west of Bell Shoals Road in front of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Dunkin Doughnuts restaurants on the south and north side of Bloomingdale Avenue, respectively, is scheduled to begin this summer.

The private project is initiated, financed and organized by Bloomingdale Square Plaza owner and developer Regency Centers Corporation, a real estate investment trust based in Jacksonville. Regency Centers LP is one of the largest operators of grocery-anchored shopping centers.

Boasting of more than three dozen stores, the Bloomingdale Square Plaza has seen some major changes in recent times including the closing of Walmart, which has anchored the shopping center since it opened nearly 30 years ago.

More recent additions to the plaza’s roster of stores and retailers includes Burger Monger, Title Boxing and Jeremiah’s Italian Ice, to name a few.

From start to finish, county engineers are estimating the duration of the project between four to six months. Visit bit.ly/29zXUAU.

Randall & Barrington Middle Schools Offer Counseling To Military Kids & Families

By Tamas Mondovics

Military families who have recently moved to the area were pleased to see an article last year about a provision to help them cope with the demands posed on them by military life.

Most vulnerable are the children who have to adjust not just to a new home but also a new school.

To assist the challenges, the Department of Defense (DoD), provides a Child and Youth Behavioral Military and Family Life Counselor (CYB-MFLC) program, giving military children the support they may need.

Barrington and Randall Middle Schools have been enjoying the federally funded services of one such counselors, Tammy Alsing.

Hillsborough County Public Schools officials said that the program has been enjoying great success and will likely expand to more schools in the future.

Original Story printed Oct 2016

Every member of a military family knows all too well the wide variety of issues imposed on them by military life. But coping with these demands may be most difficult for the family’s children and to help, the Department of Defense (DoD) funds the Child and Youth Behavioral Military and Family Life Counselor (CYB-MFLC) program, which plays a key role in giving military children the support they may need during some of the more challenging periods.

Contracted by the Hillsborough County Public Schools, children of military families who attend Barrington and Randall Middle Schools have been enjoying the federally funded services of one such counselor, Tammy Alsing.

Specializing in child and behavioral issues, Alsing brings years of experience at no cost to the more than 100 military children at Barrington. Randall currently boasts of 150 military children.

“We cover a wide variety of issues the students are dealing with at school or at home, both on and off campus,” Alsing said. “My hope is that parents and the students are aware of the support that are provided for them exclusively.”

Each week, Barrington Middle School military children and families may take advantage of Alsing’s expertise on Mondays and Tuesdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, Alsing’s services are utilized at Randall. For more information, about Hillsborough County Public Schools, please visit www. sdhc.k12.fl.us.

District Proposes Boundary Changes For Stowers, Bevis And Pinecrest Elementary Schools For 2016-2017 Season

By Tamas Mondovics

Surprising no one, Hillsborough County Public School officials announced a number of boundary changes, in hopes of offering some relief to the overcrowding in area schools.

On the elementary school level, changes involved local schools such as Stowers, Bevis, Pinecrest, forcing parents to make some adjustments. HCPS also sought changes for Boyette Springs Elementary Schools at a later date.

While in the middle of one of the most ambitious cost saving effort, and continued countywide population growth, school officials said that the changes are far from over.

For information parents are asked to visit the District’s website at www.sdhc.k12.fl.us.

Original Story printed Feb 2016

Given the continued growth in the southeastern part of Hillsborough County, boundary changes offering relief to the overcrowding in area schools is inevitable.

The last time Hillsborough County Public Schools officials addressed the topic was ahead of the 2015-2016 school year affecting area high school students.

According to school officials, it was now time to propose an attendance boundary change on the elementary school level, involving Stowers, Bevis, Pinecrest and at a later date, Boyette Springs Elementary Schools.

To reach parents locally and get some input, school officials scheduled an open house, public meeting last month at Stowers Elementary School.

According to County Schools Growth Management and Planning, General Manager Lorraine Duffy-Suarez, the proposal has focused on providing relief to Stowers, which currently has a student count of 1,058 with a seating capacity of 972.

“While balancing enrollments, the proposed reassignment of Stowers Elementary students to Bevis and Pinecrest will provide a temporary relief to Stowers,” Suarez said, adding that the change will not impact students currently assigned to Bevis, or Pinecrest Elementary Schools but will make room for future growth at the Stowers campus.

The reassignment from Stowers to Bevis and Pinecrest will be recommended to the School Board for the 2016-17 season, later this year.

Students residing within the areas of change shown on the map are proposed to be reassigned for the school year beginning August 2016.

After public comment and additional research, district officials have also decided to recommend to the School Board that the area proposed to be reassigned from Stowers to Boyette Springs be placed on hold and reevaluated next school year due to a of number factors, including the launch of the Center for Gifted Studies which will increase enrollment at the Boyette Springs campus.

HCPS officials have also announced the opening of a brand new elementary school “C,” which has not been named yet, but is slated to open in the Triple Creek area in 2017.

“This new school is to relieve Summerfield, Summerfield Crossings and Collins Elementary Schools,” said HCPS Spokesperson Tanya Arja. “We will discuss the boundaries for that school and may look at a small part of the existing Stowers boundaries.”

Student reassignments from Stowers to Boyette Springs Elementary (including those areas contained within the original staff proposal) will continue to be reevaluated during the drafting of the new attendance boundaries for elementary “C.”

Decreasing enrollments at Stowers during the redistricting plan for the 2017-2018 school year will also be monitored.

Students attending another school through a Choice, Magnet, or Charter School can continue at their currently enrolled school.

Exceptional Student Education (ESE) services and the HOST program currently offered at each of the schools will continue to be offered.

The district’s transportation department will determine those neighborhoods that will be eligible for bus transportation and those neighborhoods where students will walk to school.

For more information and updates visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us. To submit questions and comments, email to boundaries@sdhc.k12.fl.us.To receive a return phone call, include phone number in the email message or call 272-4608.

FishHawk CDD 2 Board Says Yes To Blue Wave Swim Team Addition

By Tamas Mondovics

One of the first stories in 2016 covered by the Osprey Observer dealt with a battle between two aquatic based organizations, each vying for the possible use of Aquatic Club swimming pool facility FishHawk Ranch.

Team Velocity a Lutz based swim program, proposed a year-round competitive swimming oriented use of the facility, while the Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center’s Blue Wave swim program had a spring/summer swim lessons oriented approach.

Both organizations stood before the FishHawk Community Development District 2 Board, but it took three meetings before the CDDII made its decision to vote in BSAC’s favor.

According to BSAC officials the swim program was well attended and with plans to return to the Aquatic Club again in the summer of 2017.

Original Story printed Jan 2016

During its last monthly meeting for the year, normally held at The Palmetto Club at 17004 Dorman Rd. in Lithia, members of the FishHawk Community Development District 2 Board have finally voted on two proposed uses of the community’s Aquatic Club brought before them by competitive swim programs Team Velocity and Brandon Sports and Aquatic Center’s Blue Wave.

It was the third time since October that the requests of the two programs were addressed by the Board, which at the end said no to Team Velocity, a Lutz based competitive swim program, while unanimously voting in Blue Wave’s favor.

Representatives of Team Velocity requested a year-round use of the facility located in the heart of FishHawk’s Garden District. Team Head Coach Gary Goodner told the CDD Board that the organization was prepared to pay for the complete installation of a permanent water heating and cooling system along with lights for after dark use by the team and community.

“We are here asking for a great partnership with the community,” said Goodner. “We know competitive swimming, we are aware of the need here and are well prepared to offer a great program with many additional benefits to the community.”

Also vying for the use of the Aquatic Club, Blue Wave’s Swim Coach Todd Foley expressed interest in using the facility only to accommodate summer swim programs such as offering swim lessons from April through September. Foley made clear to the Board that Blue Wave had no desire or plans to be installing any heaters or lights while using the Club.

That sounded much more feasible to the members of the Board, whose decision to turn down Team Velocity came as a great disappointment for some.

Several residents said that they were very much looking forward to joining a new competitive swim team so close to home especially one that was to be led by U.S. Olympic swim coach and 2008 ASCA’s Hall of Fame inductee, Don LaMont.

“Aside from the swim team and the fact that a great coach is ready to lead the program, the Board should consider the longterm benefits such as a heated pool in the winter months and lights that would allow the pool to stay open until later in the evening, all of which Team Velocity is ready to bring to the community,” FishHawk resident Troy Seibert said prior to the Board’s decision.

While one local resident was against any swim team or scheduled program using the facility, a number of Board members expressed their concerns, including Marisa Radley, who said, “I am concerned about the scheduling issues as the facility is already booked and very busy.”

Board vice Chairman, Ruth Brown added, “I am just concerned that the proposal changes the way our pools have been designed and built.”

However, FishHawk resident Karena Caputo added that in the wintertime the facility is hardly used and she would have liked a little more research on the part of the Board which she feels would have gone a long way.

The next FishHawk CDD 2 meeting will be held Tuesday, January 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Fishhawk Palmetto Club located at 17004 Dorman Rd. For more information about the FishHawk CDD 2, visit fishhawkcdd2.org.

County Delays Bloomingdale, Culbreath Intersection Improvements Until After Holidays

By Tamas Mondovics

As anticipated, 2016 saw a wide range of traffic related improvements with many more to come. One of such projects was the Culbreath Rd. and Bloomingdale Ave. intersection improvements, which took place earlier in the year, after years of delay.

The project focused on signalization improvements, as well as adding an eastbound right turn lane and a second westbound left turn lane on Bloomingdale Ave.; northbound dedicated left and right turn lanes and southbound right turn lane on Culbreath Road into the Campo YMCA located South of Bloomingdale Ave.

Motorists are generally pleased with the improvements although some expressed the need to pay close attention to the consistent and at time heavier traffic flow in and out of the YMCA facility, and the nearby baseball and softball fields.

Original Story printed Jan 2016

Area residents recently had a chance to meet with County public works officials, engineers and project managers to get an update on the status of the project to improve traffic flow for the Bloomingdale Avenue and Culbreath Road intersection.

The public information meeting held early December was in an open house format at the Bloomingdale Regional Library’s brand new meeting room at 1906 Bloomingdale Ave. in Valrico, and explained the specifics of the $1.4 million construction as well as the reason for the County’s decision to delay the project start until the beginning of the new year.

“We have decided to wait with construction until after the holidays,” said Bayside Engineering Transportation Project Manager, Jordan Caviggia.

Caviggia added that it seemed best to hold off the project for another month due to the extra traffic during the holidays along with the current construction on Bloomingdale Avenue in connection with the Walmart Supercenter just west of the Bloomingdale and Culbreath intersection.

“This job has been under design and consideration for the past five years,” he said. “We are looking at starting construction in the second week of January 2016.”
Officials ensured residents that traffic flow will remain open during construction in both directions on Bloomingdale Avenue, but that closing of one-lane in each direction will be necessary for workers’ safety.

Work is expected to be completed in mid-2016. Information presented at the meeting is also available at www.Hillsborough County.org.

$3.1M FishHawk Sports Complex Expansion Slated For June Completion

By Tamas Mondovics

Since its completion in 2008, the FishHawk Sports Complex has seen a steady growth of use, becoming one of the largest and most congested athletic facilities in the County.
In 2011, FishHawk area residents began planning to expand the complex which then boasted of 12 total fields, concession stand, restrooms and parking.

After five years of planning and a land swap deal between Hillsborough County and local developer, Newland Communities, the addition of four new multi-purpose fields, along with new lighting, 200 additional parking, new concession, and much more was finally completed this past summer.

The land swap cost Newland $150,000 due to necessary work to prepare the new tortoise habitat.

County officials are promising to hold an official opening ceremony in January or early February, 2017.

For more information visit www.hillsborough county.org.

Original Story printed June 2016

After years of planning and months of construction, FishHawk and surrounding area residents are only days away from witnessing the completion of FishHawk Sports Complex expansion project. County officials presented their expansion plans in connection with the complex, located at 16120 FishHawk Blvd. in Lithia, nearly five years ago. The existing complex was built in 2008 with eight ball fields, four multi-purpose fields, concession stand, restrooms and parking.

By 2012, the facility was facing a problem of overcrowding with teams fighting for fields and often playing late into the night.

“We are 95 percent done with the project, opening in June,” said Project Manager Chris Postiglione.

The construction by QGS Development Inc., totaling $3.1 million, included several elements including the expansion of the existing sports complex with four additional multi-purpose Bermuda grass practice fields.

The initial planning phase of the expansion raised some concerns among Starling residents, just west of the complex. Newland worked with the county and residents to develop a gopher tortoise habitat to satisfy concerns. Visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org.

14-Screen Goodrich Theater To Anchor New Shopping, Entertainment Center In Riverview

By Tamas Mondovics

One of the most exciting projects of 2016 is the much anticipated Riverview 14 Shopping and Entertainment Center, located between the Gibsonton Walmart Supercenter and Interstate 75.

The 30-acre entertainment, retail and restaurant development, will be anchored by Riverview 14 GDX, a state of the art 14-screen movie theater, operated by Goodrich Quality Theaters based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Although, completion of the new theater was scheduled for the fall of 2016, construction related delays forced the theater’s opening day to spill over to the new year.

The plaza itself also saw the groundbreaking for Zaxby’s Chicken restaurant, and is on target to see the opening of Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin Robbins, Little Caesars and a T-Mobile.

Original Story printed Jan 2016

Dozens of local government officials, community leaders and residents gathered last month for the formal ground breaking of the Riverview 14 Shopping and Entertainment Center, located between the Gibsonton Walmart Supercenter and Interstate 75.

The 30-acre entertainment, retail and restaurant development scheduled for opening in the summer of 2016, will be anchored by Riverview 14 GDX, a state of the art 14-screen movie theater, operated by Goodrich Quality Theaters based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

According to Goodrich Chief Operations Officer Martin Betz, the theater will feature “GDX” (Giant Digital eXperience), the company’s cutting-edge large format auditorium, with a giant 80-ft.-wide screen allowing floor-to-ceiling viewing. The screens will range in size from 40-ft. to more than 70-ft. wide in a nearly 70,000 sq.-ft. upscale building.

Betz said that the all-digital projection theater will feature recliners and reserved seating in every auditorium, along with the latest technology and amenities including premium Dolby Atmos sound systems, a spacious lobby, multiple box offices, plus self-serve ticket counters and a massive concession stand with self-serve drink refill stations.
The theater will also include a 100-seat restaurant off the lobby with food, beer and wine options.

“We’ve really worked hard to make it a wonderful family experience with something for everyone,” said Betz.

Theatre goers will also have a chance to take advantage of several businesses joining the project, including Zaxby’s Chicken restaurant, Dunkin’ Donuts and a T-Mobile store.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White also praised the project.

“The developers have clearly seen a need here, and believed that this was a great location and venture,” White said. “I wish them the best.”

For information, visit www.strathmore.com.

New Walmart Supercenter On Bloomingdale Avenue Opens On March 9

By Tamas Mondovics

The once, hard fought battle against the Bloomingdale Walmart Supercenter, in Valrico is not much more today, than a faded memory for most local residents.

The 153,000 sq., ft, store opened last spring with a traditional celebratory ribbon cutting ceremony, while festive back round music was provided by the Bloomingdale High School marching band.

While, the new store anchoring the 43-acre Crest Pointe Towne Shoppes gets busier and busier, several already confirmed businesses to occupy the frontage of the plaza such as Starbucks and Chick-fil-A, are nearing completion.

Wendy’s restaurant has quietly opened its doors in September, while Tijuana Flats and Mattress Firm are yet to get started.

There remains nearly 2.89 acres still available for additional businesses to be built. The property also has 14 acres apportioned for a residential development.

Original Story printed March 2016

Three years after its first rumored construction in the heart of the Bloomingdale community, the new Walmart Supercenter is ready to open its doors on Wednesday, March 9 at 7:30 a.m., bringing a broad assortment of fresh groceries and general merchandise at its signature value.

“This is a store with the same low prices and a new address,” said Store Manager Peter Peck, a 20-year Walmart veteran, who is leading the more than 400 full and part-time associates in welcoming the community. (Peck has since retired from Walmart).

The new 153,000 sq., ft, Supercenter, located at 2140 Bloomingdale Ave. just west of Lithia Pinecrest Road, will anchor Crest Pointe Towne Shoppes, a 43-acre mixed use development project by Redstone Investments.

On opening day, the new store will officially replace its much smaller predecessor just down the road inside the Bloomingdale Square Plaza, which has served the community for the past 30 years and was managed by Peck for the past 10.

The new store is promising a larger assortment of merchandise in electronics, furniture, sporting goods, home improvement, apparel, toys along with a full line of fabrics and a pet department to name a few.

Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Supercenter is a full grocery store with fresh produce, meat and pantry staples, a full-service deli and in-store bakery offering custom cakes and fresh baked breads.

“We will also carry local products like Plant City Strawberries,” Peck proudly said.
According to officials, the store has no outside leased vendors such as restaurants, banks or a nail salon inside the building, but utilizes the space to feature a number of convenient on-site services such as full service vision and pharmacy with a free store pickup service providing an easy way to shop millions of products on Walmart.com, with many items available for pickup the same day.

Automotive products will also be offered, minus the traditional tire center. Peck said that the additional space is utilized by the extended garden center and a much larger seasonal department.

While on the surface the new store appears pretty much the same as all the rest, with one important element that Peck and his associates worked hard to provide to local customers over the years.

“We are serving the same community, including many of our customers we call by name, who rely on low prices as well as a quick and friendly service they were used to at the old store,” Peck said. “We intend to continue that tradition. This is not just another big box store, but a place with a family atmosphere. I want our customers to be happy and to receive the same service they have enjoyed at the old store.”

Peck rests his confidence in a solid line of longtime associates including Gerri Kanahan, who was there to open the Bloomingdale Square Plaza store in 1986, and now has a chance to welcome her friends, family and area residents for another grand opening celebration.

“I am so excited to be going to the new store,” Kanahan said. “I opened this store 30 years ago and now I get to open our new Supercenter.”

Opening day festivities will include a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 9 followed by a family fun day on Saturday, March 12, giving customers a chance to meet Peck, and his management team as well as enjoy activities and free food samples while supplies last. The celebration is scheduled from 12 Noon-3 p.m.
Demonstrating commitment to the community, a presentation of $8,000 in grants from the Walmart Foundation to local community groups are also scheduled prior to official opening.

Additional information about Walmart can be found at corporate.walmart.com on Facebook at facebook.com/walmart and on Twitter at twitter.com/walmart. www.walmart.com, www.samsclub.com.

County Presents Four Potential Sites For New Riverview Library Replacement: Final Choice Is Balm River Road, Across From Camp Cristina

By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County officials turned their focus on expanding or replacing the existing the more than 35-year old 8,000 square feet library in Riverview, located at 10509 Riverview Drive.

After a series of public meetings and community input four new sites were selected for consideration. County officials eventually chose the site located on Balm River Road just south of Boyette Road, across from the Y’s Camp Cristina, just east of U.S. 301, near Riverview High School. The new facility is a $7 million a 25,000 sq ft, one story building with plenty of parking.

Construction of the new library is currently expected to begin sometime in early spring of 2017 with completion in late 2018 or early 2019.

For more information or to send input residents may call 273-3652 or email libraryinformation@hillsboroughcounty.org.

Original Story printed May 2016

Hillsborough County Public Library officials have been working diligently with the community to gain input as to the location, size, as well as amenities they want to see in a future expanded library in Riverview. For the past few months residents had a chance to attend a number of public meetings to voice their concerns, which have confirmed patrons’ desires to see a much larger updated facility, and has prompted County officials to offer a list of potential locations for a brand new building within the borders of the Riverview community.

The list was narrowed down to four potential sites with the majority of responses—mainly for its convenient location—favoring a little more than seven-acre site on Hackney Drive, just east of U.S. 301 and north of the Alafia River, which is nearly eight miles from the current library at 10509 Riverview Dr.

The other three locations for consideration include two potential sites on Mathog Road, and west of U.S. 301 and south of the Alafia, close to the Kid’s Community College charter school. The fourth location is on Balm Riverview Road, south of the Alafia and east of U.S. 301, within walking distance of Riverview High School.

A new location is the first step in the process as the 8,000 sq. ft. and 35 year-old current building is outdated and too small for the increased customer use accompanied by new development in the area in recent years. Library officials said the new site will accommodate a new possibly 20-25,000 sq, ft., facility, with room to expand, featuring plenty of room for technology instruction, public meetings and a children’s library.

“The entire board of county commissioners are supporting this project and we want you to determine the services, the characteristics and amenities that are befitting the Riverview community,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan.

The estimated total cost of the project is $7 million. While county officials estimate the new building completion date for mid to late 2018, library project manager Janet Marnatti would not speculate on when to expect a decision on the site.

Officials are promising to hold more meetings once a site is chosen to offer input on what the new library will look like and how it will function. Call 273-3652 or email libraryinformation@hillsboroughcounty.org. Visit www.hcplc.org.

FishHawk Pinch-A-Penny Donates $4,000 To Newsome Band March To Macy’s

By Marie Gilmore

After a lengthy fundraising campaign to cover its travel expenses, the Newsome High School Wolfpack, had its moment of fame during the 90th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The main performance that featured the band in front of nearly 50 million people across the nation may have been brief, but is something that the band will not forget anytime soon.

Original Story printed April 2016

For nine years, Pinch-A-Penny Owner Larry Rutledge and his staff have been able to hear the beating of the Newsome drum line every afternoon and even during the summer from his store located in the Winn Dixie anchored Shops at FishHawk. He understands the commitment and the dedication of the band and its practice schedule.

So, when he and his wife, Kathy, and son, Jimmy, were approached this year and asked to make a donation to the Newsome Marching Band March to Macy’s fundraiser helping to get the band to the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this fall, he didn’t hesitate. In fact, he made his Sixth Annual Big Green Egg Fest a benefit for the band and invited the band to perform for the community outside his store.

The fest was a success and Larry, wife and son, also a Newsome graduate, were invited to a recent practice at the school and introduced to the band. Band Director Michael Miller and school Principal Carla Bruning were also in attendance to present a plaque of appreciation to the band and to accept the donation of $4,000 from Pinch-A-Penny.

The Newsome Band will open the Free Friday Extra Concert Series concert at Water Works Park on Friday, April 8 at 7 p.m. The series is presented by Friends of Tampa Recreation.

“This is not just a trip,” Larry explained to the students.

“This is an opportunity that will have lasting effects on you for years to come and will have benefits you can’t even imagine yet.”

Larry is proud of his family-owned business and proud to be a part of the Newsome Marching Band effort. “It is truly our pleasure to contribute to this opportunity for the students.”

FishHawk Pinch-A-Penny is located at 16715 FishHawk Blvd. Call 655-3700.

County to Begin $1M Greenhills Drive Drainage Improvements

By Tamas Mondovics

The construction has already begun on the retention pond at the SE corner of Valrico Rd. and Lithia Pinecrest Rd. Completion is still scheduled for Spring.

Original Story printed October 2016

Hillsborough County Public Works department has announced its plans to improve storm water drainage on and around Greenhills Drive in Valrico.

County officials and Public Works representatives presented the details of the planned $1 million Capital Improvement project during a public information meeting held late last month at the Bloomingdale Regional Public Library, 1906 Bloomingdale Ave. in Valrico.

The open house format meeting, which saw about a dozen residents, gave attendees a chance to review and comment on the proposed plans including the replacing the Greenhills Drive drainage pump station as well as the construction of a new 2-acre retention pond at the corner of South Valrico Road and Lithia-Pinecrest Road.

Officials said that the project will also connect the Golf Heights Circle pump station to the new pond and create an outfall from the pond to the existing drainage system at South Valrico.

Work is expected to begin in October 2016 and should be completed within 140 days or spring 2017.

According to project manager, David Vogel, construction handled by Bun Construction Company, will generally take place on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and, will involve heavy equipment and excavation.
Vogel emphasized that the most intrusive portion of the project is the replacement of the drainage pump station located at the back of the pond within the Greenhills neighborhood, which he said will generate normal construction noise.

As a word of caution, Vogel emphasized that excavation work can sometimes cause an accidental water pipeline break or similar problem.
Should any water service interruption occur, instructions for a precautionary boil water notice will be issued,” he said. “All areas affected by the construction will be restored.”

InfO presented at this meeting will also be available on the Greenhills Drive Drainage Improvements project webpage www.hcflgov.net.


Sheriff’s Office To Add Additional New District To Meet Future Growth

By Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County has seen a wide range of proposed projects in 2016, addressing land use and transportation issues, but one proposed project was equally well received by residents, especially those living within the boundary of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office District 4.

In September, the Sheriff’s Office announced the addition of a fifth district to accommodate future growth.

Specific details about location off the new office and staff is still being refined but residents can expect the official operation of the new district office in early spring of 2017.

Original Story printed September 2016

To meet the current needs and in order to accommodate future growth, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) has made preparations to add a fifth district to its service.

The addition of a new district, which will specifically affect and reshape District IV, the department’s largest district is scheduled to begin serving residents in April or May 2017 is hardly a surprise.

Within its more than 400 square miles, District IV, serves nearly 300,000 residents in the communities of Ruskin, Riverview, Apollo Beach, Progress Village, Lithia, FishHawk and Bloomingdale.

“The change is necessary due to what is going on in District IV,” said Major Robert Bullara, who replaced retiring former District IV commander Major Ron Hartley in 2015. “We have nearly 1,000 people moving to Hillsborough County each month, most of them to communities in District IV. Currently we have 34 active subdivisions.”

When ready, the new district led by its new commander, Major Kyle Robinson, will border communities north of the Alafia River, such as Progress Village, Bloomingdale and northern Riverview along with its substations.

District IV will continue to serve communities south of the river, Lithia, FishHawk, Gibsonton, Apollo Beach, Ruskin, and southern Riverview including Balm, Wimauma and Sun City Center.

During a recent neighborhood meeting, which is held monthly at the Bloomingdale Community Substation, Bullara put things into perspective when he emphasized the effects of the growth within his district and what needs to be done.

“Traffic issues are the future,” he said adding, “Big Bend Road is like State Road 60, and is just tough to get around. New schools and the constriction of new schools and subdivisions, not to mention two new theaters currently under construction in Gibsonton and Progress Village, will draw even more people to the area. Now is the time to get ahead of this.”

Bullara said that since last year, 2,500 new single-family home permits have been pulled, showing no signs of slowing down.

While promising a smooth transition, Bullara, said that the department is working on hiring 100 deputies by the end of the year to fill all necessary positions for the new district office, which will be located across from HCSO’s District II facility on Falkenburg Road.

The major anticipates losing some of his deputies to the new district, while the rest of the staff will come from patrol districts I,II, and III.

As to the future of the Bloomingdale Community Substation following the opening of the new district office, Bullara could not say for sure, but was confident it will remain open to serve its residents when he said, “I don’t think this station will be closed, at least not for another year.”

For more information, visit www.hcso.tampa.fl.us.