Main Street Winter Haven Internal Inquiry Finds No Conflict of Interest

WINTER HAVEN | While Main Street Winter Haven has officially denied conflict of interest allegations involving its executive director in an internal investigation report sent in to the state, a claim in the report has stirred new controversy.

The 12-page report not only denies the claims made to the state in January by Jessie Skubna, co-owner of Jessie’s Lounge, but it also says the board reached out to her to expand on her complaint about Main Street Executive Director Anita Strang having a conflict of interest.

Skubna, however, said she never heard from the committee conducting the investigation.

“(Skubna) declined to respond to our request for additional information,” the committee wrote in the report sent July 17 to the Florida Division of Historic Resources, which oversees the Main Street operation.

The report, issued nearly six months after the complaint was filed, said Skubna did not reply to a letter that was sent to her seeking her comments.

But the letter was sent to the wrong address for Jessie’s Lounge. Jessie’s is located on Third Street Southwest, but, according to the report, the letter went sent to Third Street Northwest.

“I was actually really surprised the board never contacted me,” Skubna said. “I don’t get that. They could have emailed to see if I got (the letter). They could have called. Nothing.”

You can read the rest of this article here as it originally appeared on page B1 of The Ledger.

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Courses turn to footgolf to raise revenue

My A1 feature about footgolf, a new sport designed to bring younger players and more revenue to golf courses, was picked up by the A.P. Here’s the story (with great photo from Ernst Peters):

ZACK SHRIVER KICKS A BALL off the tee box while playing footgolf at the largo golf course on Wednesday. the sport, which is akin to golf but played with soccer balls, has brought in a new demographic and more revenue. (Ernst Peters)

ZACK SHRIVER KICKS A BALL off the tee box while playing footgolf at the largo golf course on Wednesday. the sport, which is akin to golf but played with soccer balls, has brought in a new demographic and more revenue. (Ernst Peters/The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | Zack Shriver looked out of place.

In a land of bland polos and tan khakis, the 21-year-old sported a red, white and blue jersey and a tattoo sleeve.

He jogged up to his tee in shorts. The noon sun glinted off the grass at Largo Golf Course, but it looked dim compared with Shriver’s neon cleats.

A Budweiser perspired in his right hand as he readied for his first shot. Shriver stepped back, placed the beer on the ground, and then:

BOOM!

A beauty.

He kicked his ball straight down the fairway.

Shriver and his two buddies, Hunter Maricle and Danny George, are soccer players. Shriver plays for Louisberg College in North Carolina, George plays at Florida Gulf Coast University, and Maricle played the last three seasons at Virginia Tech.

The three headed out to the Largo course at about noon Wednesday, at a time when the course would have been empty, said Jason Wilson, the course’s golf supervisor. The three brought their own soccer balls.

In October, Largo began offering a new sport, footgolf, at its city golf course. Footgolf has brought in a new demographic as well as a new revenue stream.

The sport is coming to Polk County and Winter Haven’s Willowbrook Golf Course in August.

“Right now we are the only course in Tampa Bay offering this, but soon we won’t be,” Wilson said. “And that’s almost a good thing, to help the sport grow.”

When asked if he was sure other courses were going to begin offering the sport soon, he said he didn’t have any proof but had a hunch.

“It would be foolish not to,” he said.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 of The Ledger.

Critics Still Targeting Winter Haven’s Lake Howard Trail Project

WINTER HAVEN | The bold, red-lettered signs are more sparse. City Commission meetings these days see no congregations of angry residents. The second phase of the Lake Howard Trail is coming soon, but groans have grown quieter.

“Is it a foregone conclusion? Maybe,” said Dennis Krueger, a Lake Howard homeowner who has been one of the loudest voices against the city’s proposed project.

He hasn’t completely given up hope the city won’t go through with building the 8-foot-wide asphalt trail scheduled on city right of way, right in front of his home, at 1335 Lake Howard Drive.

“Maybe someday they’ll have to come in and rip it out after a lawsuit,” Krueger added.

Residents have expressed concern about a number of issues with the trail, including how the increased pedestrian traffic will affect litter in the lake, how eliminating a parking lane on Lake Howard Drive will affect traffic safety, and how much money the city is going to actually spend to complete the project.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page B1 of The Ledger.

Winter Haven Apartment Complex is Seeking Refunds From The City

The Abbey Lane Apartments in Winter Haven. (Paul Crate/ The Ledger)

The Abbey Lane Apartments in Winter Haven. (Paul Crate/ The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | The owners of an apartment complex in southwest Winter Haven are suing the city, requesting tens of thousands of dollars in water bill refunds because of overbilling.

Although the suit was filed June 4 in Polk County Circuit Court, according to records acquired by The Ledger, city officials said Friday they had not received notification.

Abbey Lane Apartments consists of more than 100 low-income housing units near Lake Shipp at 100 Evergreen Place SW.

The owner, Abbey Lane Associates, says the city grossly overbilled it for water service to the office building.

According to the lawsuit, the overbilling occurred for 31 months from 2009 to 2012, possibly because of a faulty water meter. The suit says the city refuses to refund any of the money that was paid.

The office building for the apartment complex houses four faucets, one toilet and eight residential washing machines.

Prior to June 2009, water bills for the building were for between 10,000 and 19,000 gallons per month, the lawsuit says. Beginning June 4, 2009, things changed.

“During the period from or about June 4, 2009, to Jan. 4, 2012, (the city) billed Abbey Lane for incredible amounts of water consumption at the office building,” J. Frazier Carraway of Saxon Gilmore, Carraway & Gibbons law firm in Tampa contends.

The rest of this article can be found here as it originally appeared on page B1 of The Ledger.

Sinkhole Develops In Winter Haven Publix Parking Lot

Winter Haven officials and shoppers look over the sink hole that developed in the parking lot in front of a Publix Thursday. (Calvin Knight/ The Ledger)

Winter Haven officials and shoppers look over the sink hole that developed in the parking lot in front of a Publix Thursday. (Calvin Knight/ The Ledger)

Written by: Miles Parks and Cody Dulaney

WINTER HAVEN | Clare Barroso stared at the spot where at 5:45 a.m. she had parked her gold Jeep.

“All my life,” she said, gently touching the yellow police tape, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

What was once a section of a large parking lot was now a pond of black concrete that seemed to be slowly rippling from the center of the earth.

Barroso moved her car before all that though, when the sinkhole at 6031 Cypress Gardens Blvd. was showing itself only as lumps in the lot. Barroso is an employee at Kmart in the shopping center known as Winter Haven Square, which is across the street from Legoland.

A still-expanding sinkhole closed three shops at the plaza Thursday, and was estimated at 70 feet wide and 15 feet deep in the afternoon

“I was scared to even go move (the car),” Barroso said pointing across the lot. “I moved it way over there.”

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page B1 of The Ledger.

Winter Haven Legal Fees Skyrocket

The old fertilizer plant site had been scheduled to be part of The Landings redevelopment in Winter Haven before plans fell apart. (Pierre DuCharme/ The Ledger)

The old fertilizer plant site had been scheduled to be part of The Landings redevelopment in Winter Haven before plans fell apart. (Pierre DuCharme/ The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | The city’s legal bills for the failed Landings development have exceeded original expectations and now eclipse $600,000, according to records obtained by The Ledger.

As of the week of May 15, the city’s total bill for legal fees related to a lawsuit over The Landings was $609,478, city records show.

A small fraction of that amount is being reimbursed by the city’s insurance policy. A larger percentage of future bills will be covered, said Donna Sheehan, a city spokeswoman.

Just over a year ago, when the city was pondering whether to settle the lawsuit, estimates of potential legal fees were $300,000 to $350,000.

The Landings was a mixed-use development proposed for the city-owned Chain of Lakes Complex. After the first phase of the planned project, which included adding three restaurants on Cypress Gardens Boulevard, things fell apart.

The City Commission cancelled its contract with financier Taylor Pursell, citing his failure to close on one-third of an acre and submit a list of covenants, conditions and restrictions by a May 5, 2012, deadline.

In his lawsuit against the city, Pursell alleged the city’s attorney, John Murphy, verbally agreed to extend that deadline when Pursell signed an agreement that allowed a college baseball tournament to be played at the Chain of Lakes Complex before Pursell began the next phase of the development.

Murphy has said he made no such verbal agreement.

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page A1 in The Ledger.

Polk Aviation Alliance President Jamie Beckett Resigns

Jamie Beckett (The Ledger)

Jamie Beckett (The Ledger)

WINTER HAVEN | Jamie Beckett, the city of Winter Haven’s former “airport commissioner,” has resigned as CEO and president of the Polk Aviation Alliance, an organization he started.

His resignation letter, sent via email to the alliance board of directors Sunday evening, cited an inability to bring board members to work together and eliminate selfishness.

“At a recent meeting that included three board members other than myself, I was profoundly disappointed and quite embarrassed to find our member organizations and board members not only made no attempt to work collaboratively to support one another, they displayed a disquieting level of ego-centric turf protection,” Beckett wrote in the letter, “to the detriment of the process at hand and the players at the table.”

The rest of this article can be found here as it appeared on page B1 of The Ledger.