Florida celebrates Literacy Week from January 23-27, and I visited the Sandy Lane Elementary School and the pre-school program sponsored by the United Methodist Cooperative Ministries at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to read to the students. This year’s theme is “Literacy Changes Our World,” and I stressed the importance of reading no matter what one’s age is.
The City of Clearwater along with Pinellas County and Southport Financial Services dedicated the Garden Trail Apartments this week. The 76-unit affordable rental complex is located on Seminole Street. The county provided Penny for Pinellas sales tax funds to purchase the land, and the city contributed $350,000 in grant funds for infrastructure. The gated community will provides housing to residents who earn no more than 60% of the area median income. There is a playground and splash pad for children, a community room, and other amenities for residents.
Recently the Tampa Bay Rowdies launched a campaign to garner local support for the team to join Major League Soccer (MLS) during the league’s next round of expansion. At that press conference, Rowdies Chairman and CEO Bill Edwards also explained his plans to privately fund the renovation and expansion of Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. Sports and recreational tourism play an important role in Pinellas County and throughout the Tampa Bay area. Like Clearwater’s sugar sand beaches which are recognized internationally, I am confident that the Rowdies pitch at Al Lang Field will rank among the league’s best. Let’s support the Rowdies’ bid to join the MLS!
On Friday, December 30th, the Outback Bowl will have its annual “Beach Day” on Clearwater’s sugar sand beach near the Hilton Hotel and Pier 60. The Florida Gators and Iowa Hawkeyes will play in Raymond James Stadium on Monday, January 2, 2017, in the Outback Bowl, and the annual “Beach Day” is one the bowl’s most favorite pre-game event. There will be pep rallies for both teams, visits by both head coaches, a pie-eating contest, a cheerleaders tug-of-war, and other activities, all of which will begin at 11:00am. Outback Steakhouse became the title sponsor of the game in 1995 and is now the longest continuous title sponsor of any bowl game. Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the City of Clearwater, the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Hilton Hotel on Clearwater Beach coordinate the “Beach Day” which is free and open to the public.
The 21st annual meeting of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce was held this morning at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort. David Downing, executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, gave the keynote address prior to the Hilton Hotel on Clearwater Beach’s Mary Reischmann being installed as chairman of the Board of Directors. She succeeds Frank Dame of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The chamber enjoyed a most successful year, and as I reported my address, 2017 is anticipated to be another most successful year for Clearwater and the beach.
The New York Yankees and the Steinbrenner Family have hosted a special holiday concert featuring the Florida Orchestra and John and Mary Kay Wilson for the last 27 years. The 28th annual event in Clearwater was held on December 6th at Ruth Eckerd Hall. The Steinbrenner family and the Yankees also host similar concerts in Tampa and St. Petersburg for children in elementary schools throughout Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. A special guest at the Clearwater concert was Yankee legend Tino Martinez who spoke to students and then read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” For the conclusion, Santa Claus and Tampa Yankee mascot Blue joined the Florida Orchestra, the Wilsons, and dancers from Ballet International for caroling. As they were dismissed, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office helped distribute Yankee souvenir bags to all the students.
The Albanian Heritage Foundation of Tampa Bay was honored by the visit of Ambassador Floreta Luli-Faber this week to celebrate the 104th anniversary of Albanian independence. It was on November 28, 1912 when delegates from all over Albania gathered in Vlora under the leadership of Ismail Qemali to declare independence from the Ottoman Turks who had ruled Albania for more than 400 years. Rovena Kasilaj of the Albanian Heritage Foundation of Tampa Bay and I welcomed Ambassador Luli-Faber at a reception, which included traditional dances and songs and was held on Saturday, November 26th.