Real Estate News for North Pinellas County

Archive for May, 2009

The great North Pinellas County roadside barbecue tour

I am from northern New England, home of pine trees, good seafood and plenty of snow.

Eli's, a Dunedin barbecue institution

Eli's, a Dunedin barbecue institution

What northern New England DOESN’T have is barbecue. And that’s enough to keep me here for the rest of my life. That, and the lack of snow.

When we lived up Maine and got a hankering for barbecue, we had to pile into the car and head south to South Portland, home to the only barbecue restaurant in the entire state of Maine.

(Now, before my old Maine friends get on here and attack me for my incredible lack of modern Maine barbecue awareness, I do have to acknowledge that, in my absence over the past 16 years, there is now something called the “Mainely Grillin’ and Chillin’ Country BBQ State Competition” that takes place in Eliot, Maine in August. Also, a Google search does reveal a few new barbecue restaurants scattered around the state. Wish they were there when we lived there…)

Anyway, there is no lack of barbecue in Florida, or throughout the entire South. Around here, there’s a barbecue joint on every other corner, and we go to most of them.

One thing that I really enjoy, though, are the little roadside pit barbecue places. Usually, these operate out in the open with not much more than a big black smoker and perhaps a couple of picnic tables. The more grandly financed outfits may operate out of a trailer of some kind.

Anyway, there’s enough of them around here that I thought I’d do a little blog tour of North Pinellas County’s outdoor roadside barbecue places. Here are three of them:

Eli’s

Now that I’ve just gotten through describing roadside BBQ joints as not having any permanent real estate, I start off with Eli’s, s which actually does. But here is why I’m including it: It’s a Dunedin institution; it’s only open on Friday and Saturday; and while it does have a small permanent building, only the help can go inside — customers must order through a window, and then have to take the food home or eat it outside on a strange collection of picnic tables and old restaurant booths.

One order of ribs -- to go!

One order of ribs -- to go!

There’s a big ol’ smoker out back that has a name of its own — “Bigfoot.” And it turns out very good barbecue that Eli sells at very good prices — a chopped pork sandwich with beans and cole slaw was just $6 on a recent visit.

The parking lot at Eli’s is often full or nearly so on Friday’s and Saturday’s, the only days that Eli’s is open. And on the day I was there, one customer actually rode in on a riding lawn mower, got his order of ribs and rode out, balancing his white bag of food on his lap.

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Downtown Tarpon Springs lamp posts

Lamp post in downton Tarpon Springs

Lamp post in downtown Tarpon Springs

Time for another lamp post.

Just to refresh your memory, I posted a picture of a lamp post from downtown Dunedin not too long ago. It was a pretty fancy one, and it went well with the overall charm of the downtown area of Dunedin, which has been fancied up quite a bit in recent years.

Next up was a lamp post from Disney World’s Boardwalk area. Not a real local lamp post, to be sure, but a nice one that illustrated how antique-looking lamp posts can be used to lend an authetic touch to a restored downtown area.

This one was taken in downtown Tarpon Springs just this morning.

Apparently Tarpon Springs one-ups the other local downtowns by adding fresh flowers to their lamp posts. Other local communities may do the same thing, but I haven’t seen any.

You can see more of the Tarpon Springs downtown area here.

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Don: One of 23,952 vets at Pinellas County’s Bay Pines National Cemetery

This is my husband Bill’s story, so I’ll turn it over to him.
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By BILL FREDERICK

On Memorial Day, I visited my old friend, Don.

I had searched for Don on the Internet a number of times, but I never could find him. The last I heard, he was working as a reporter for the Bradenton Herald, but that was back in the 1970s – so long ago that no one at the newspaper had any memory of him. It was like he had sort of evaporated.

mcsheffrey-2-small1Then one day I tried something different on Google. Instead of searching for “Donald McSheffrey,” I tried a search for “McSheffrey, Donald.” And there he was – buried in Plot 55 45-10 at Bay Pines National Cemetery, right here in Pinellas County.
* * *

On Jan. 6, 1968, I started my first newspaper reporting job at the Holyoke (Mass.) Transcript-Telegram. After getting the tour of the building and meeting the other staff members, I was handed over to Don; he was the Transcript’s police reporter, and I was going to be handling his beat on his days off.

Soon we were walking through the cold January air to the Holyoke police station, where Don introduced me around. He showed me the booking sheet, introduced me to the right people, and explained how to get information from the cops without getting in their way.

I was 21; I never really knew how old Don was. His perennially red eyes and the broken blood vessels in his cheeks made it hard to tell. To me, he was a veteran newsman who knew his way around. To him, I was young and teachable. In spite of the difference in our ages, we became buddies.

We drank too much and had a hell of a time.

One day, sparks from a passing freight train set off a grass fire in town, and Don and I went to cover it. The fire had spread up a steep embankment and we couldn’t see whether it was endangering the houses that lined the road above us. We decided to climb the embankment and have a look.

The climb nearly killed us. By the time we got to the top we were so out of breath we couldn’t even speak, so we collapsed in the tall grass, gasping for air. Almost immediately, water started pouring on us, and I picked my head up to see where it was coming from. A woman had come out of her back door and was soaking the tall grass – and us — with a garden hose, and we were too breathless to yell at her to stop. So we just lay in the grass, wet, gasping and laughing our butts off

*  *  *

As well as I got to know Don, he wouldn’t tell me much about himself. I knew that he had two little girls, and I knew that his wife was dead. Other than that, he said little – he wouldn’t even tell me where he lived.

It wasn’t long before I heard the story from some of our co-workers, but I knew Don for several months before he told me about it himself. We were sitting in a bar one night, half-drunk, when he said, “It’s time I told you about it.”

Don and his wife had befriended a man who worked as a writer for a national news magazine. Don said he looked up to the guy, who was very successful and talented. Don and this man drank a lot of beer together. I knew from my own experience that if you knew Don, you were going to be drinking a lot of beer.

One day the man stopped by the McSheffrey apartment when Don wasn’t home. Don’s wife invited him inside and offered him a glass of iced tea. They went into the kitchen, and Mrs. McSheffrey turned toward the refrigerator. When she did, the man grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and stabbed her repeatedly. She fell to the floor and died.

Don came home that night and found her. The two babies were still in their cribs, unhurt. The police found the man sitting on a doorstep a block away, where he had been sitting since the murder. He told them that he had always wanted to stab a woman to death, but that he had always managed to fend off the urge and figured it would never actually happen.

*  *  *

About a year after I joined the Transcript, Don decided to quit and move to Florida. He got a job at the Bradenton Herald, and he said he was pleased that there was a bar just a few steps from the newspaper’s front door. He had already met the owner/bartender, who he said was a nice guy.

We promised to stay in touch, but we didn’t.

*  *  *

mcsheffrey-4

Don is one of 23,952 veterans buried at Bay Pines National Cemetery in mid-Pinellas County

There isn’t much to learn from Don’s gravestone at Bay Pines. He was born in 1934, which solved a small mystery – he was 34 when I met him. He died in 1990, which would have made him 56 years old.  I wonder if the alcohol got him, but I guess I’ll never know. I wonder if his daughters live close enough to visit his grave.

The gravestone also noted that he served in the Air Force, and was an Airman 2nd Class. I remember that he talked about that a little. I think he served in Korea as an airplane mechanic, and I seem to remember that he said he liked the military.

Standing by Don’s grave on Memorial Day, small American flags flutter next to each grave stone for as far as you can see. Besides Don’s, there are 23,952 of them at Bay Pines.

Each one of those stones represents a person who lived and breathed and served in the U.S. military. And there is a story to tell about each one of them.

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Downtown Clearwater

Around 25 years ago, the city of Biddeford, Maine decided to try to bring some attention to its old downtown area.

Biddeford was an old mill town, and its brick mill buildings no longer housed the textile companies and other businesses that had depended on the water power that was provided by the adjacant river. In its heyday, enough money flowed through Biddeford to pay for a pretty nice downtown commercial area, with brick office and retail buildings as well as attractive municipal buildings.

Those buildings had once featured very nice architectural details, but many of them had been covered up or removed as the buildings had gone through a series of renovations.

The old Peninsular Telephone Co. building in Clearwater

The old Peninsular Telephone Co. building in Clearwater

But those renovations seldom extended up to the upper floors and the rooflines. If you looked up there, you could see some very fancy and attractive brick designs, windows and eaves. The city wanted to draw attention to those high-up fancy old touches and details rather than the decidely unattractive street-level renovations.

So they came up with this slogan: “Look Up, Biddeford!” They used that slogan on the cover of brochures and posters that featured details of Biddeford’s best top-story architectural work.

All of which is a long way of getting around to an old brick building in downtown Clearwater that houses a Dunkin’ Donuts shop. If you walk down Cleveland Street you may only notice the donut shop facade, but if you walk on the other side of the street and happen to look up, you will see a very beautiful three-story brick building with some nice architectural touches not unlike the ones 1,500 miles to the north in Biddeford.

I was in downtown Clearwater late Friday and I spent a little time admiring the building. In the middle of the brick facade above the second-story front windows is a granite square with a single carved word: “Telephone.” That got my curiousity stirred up, so I did some research when I got home.

This Cleveland Street building was built in the early 1920s for the Peninsular Telephone Co., Pinellas County’s first real telephone company which was granted a franchise to operate in Clearwater 1901. The company was actually formed in Bradenton by a couple of brothers who got into the telephone business when they installed a telephone in their grocery store so customers could phone in their food orders.

That idea worked so well that they opened other food stores, all with telephones. Soon, they found that the telephone business had more profit potential than the grocery business. before long, they were operating telephone companies in a number of Florida Counties.

In this particular building, Peninsular Telephone ran a commercial office in the rear of the first floor, while the switchboards and phone operators toiled away on the second floor. A Rexall drug store occupied the front of the first floor.

Later, Peninsular Telephone sold out to General Telephone, which became GTE, which became Verizon.

Later, the 9,000-square-foot building fell into disrepair, as did all of the downtown Clearwater area. At some point, the beautiful windows and brick work were covered with a slick slathering of stucco. For a number of years, the first floor was occupied by a commercial blood bank facility which paid for blood donations, mostly from local homeless people.

Around 2003, the stucco was stripped away and the building was restored. It now is a proud component of downtown Clearwater’s re-emergence.

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The Pinellas Trail

The Pinellas Trail

The Pinellas Trail

I’ve written about the Pinellas Trail before. It’s a great recreational asset in Pinellas County that runs all the way from the northern tip of Pinellas County in Tarpon Springs to the southern tip in St. Pete. 

The trail was originally a railroad line that fell into disuse. Rather than just let the right-of-way decay from disuse, the county developed it into a well-kept walking and biking trail that is heavily used and enjoyed.

I have a friend who had let his weight get up close to 400 pounds before he did something about it. He lives in Dunedin, and his weight loss program involved exercising on the trail. Now he weights about 275, and he bikes from Dunedin all the way up to Tarpon Springs and back — every day.

The trail goes right through downtown Dunedin and is one of the assets that makes Dunedin’s downtown area such a pleasure. Also, there are little micro-businesses there and elsewhere along the trail — bicycle rental shops, ice cream shops and so forth.

This sign is on the trail in Dunedin, right where the trail crosses Main Street. There’s another one just like it near downtown Palm Harbor, and probably others along the trail as well.

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More FBI agents will investigate mortgage fraud

fbi-imageHere’s something I hear all the time:

“Those lenders who made all those bad loans just to line their own pockets ought to be in jail.  Why haven’t those people been prosecuted for fraud?”

Well, thanks to the U.S. Congress, you may finally get your wish.

Congress has provided the funding to double the number of mortgage fraud task forces from 26 to 50 and perhaps more. The bill contains $75 million to hire almost 200 special agents as well as another 200 forensic analysts and support staffers.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office received another $90 million to pay for the prosecutions of those that the FBI arrests.

The bill contains new language that extends the law to cover mortgage lenders who are not directly regulated by the federal government. Those lenders were responsible for nearly half the residential mortgage market before the economy collapsed.

The bill is also designed to protect the economic stimulus package as well as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) from fraudulent schemes.

The funding provided by Congress also will fund a new 10-member Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which will examine the current economic crisis and provide Congress with advice as to how it may come up with additional reforms.

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Old lamp posts aren’t just in Pinellas County

Disney Boardwalk lamppost

Disney Boardwalk lamp post

About three weeks ago I posted a picture of an old-style lamp post that I noticed on Main Street in Dunedin.

I know there are some pretty fine examples of other old-style lamp posts in places like downtown Clearwater and downtown Tarpon Springs, too. Next time I’m in those places and I think of it,  I’ll snap pictures of those old lights and post them here.

Meantime, take a look at this example of an old-style lamp post at Disney’s BoardWalk. When I was on my walk around the boardwalk I noticed these neat old lamps and snapped a few pictures so I could share one with you.

These aren’t old lamp posts — they are reproductions. But they sure look great, and they add a nice touch of style to the boardwalk area.

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Disney less than two hours from Pinellas County

Disney's BoardWalk

Disney's BoardWalk

We spent a few days at Disney World near Orlando last week. You may feel that a discussion of the Mouse House has no business on a blog that talks mostly about North Pinellas real estate, but if you live in Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Clearwater or any other community in or around Pinellas County, sooner or later you are going to spend some time at Disney.

What to do at Disney used to be a simple decision, because when you visited Disney World you visited the Magic Kingdom. Then came Epcot not long afterward.

Yacht Club hotel

Yacht Club hotel

But now you have to be much more specific than that because there are so many nooks and crannies at Disney World — besides Epcot and Magic Kingdom, there is Downtown Disney, the Animal Kingdom Park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and a bunch of other offerings, including Disney’s BoardWalk.

Disney’s BoardWalk is where we spent our time on this visit. It’s an area modeled after Coney Island and other great boardwalk attractions of the Northeast of years gone by. There are several big hotels, two of which are based on the old rambling clapboard hotels of the the late 1800s- early 1900s. Between these two huge hotels, the Yacht Club and the Beach Club, is a big convention center facility.

Dance Club

Dance Club

We stayed in the Yacht Club Hotel and attended a three-day event in the convention center.

In front of these two hotels is a good-sized man-made lake, Crescent Lake. Beyond the lake is a boardwalk which hosts all kinds of restaurants, shops and clubs, all housed in about 9,000 square feet of buildings of different shapes and sizes. Walking along that boardwalk is reminiscent of the old beachfront boardwalks of years gone by.

We didn’t get as much of a chance as we would have liked to make good use of the food and entertainment that the boardwalk area offers, but we did take a nice walk around the boardwalk early on Thursday morning. The only people out at that hour (around 6:30 a.m.) were joggers and power-walkers, plus a number of Disney staff people and groundskeepers. We got some good pictures of the area, and a few of them are posted here.

It’s hard to beat Disney on a number of levels. Everything is always perfectly kept and maintained. You NEVER see so much as a cookie wrapper or a peanut shell on the grounds, the grass and shrubs are perfectly manicured and everything looks as though it was just painted or polished. If you pass a chambermaid in the hotel hallway, she will unfailingly smile and say hello.

Is there a downside to all that? Not really, although I always find myself thinking that everything is just too perfect for my liking. Sometimes I feel as though I’d like to see just one little imperfection to remind me that we’re all human beings. But I know I’m just being crabby — no one does it like Disney.

Disney World is not next door to Pinellas County, but it’s only about 90 miles away, all of it on interstates. It takes less than two hours to get over there, and Disney occasionally offers some very attractive Magic Kingdom and Epcot passes at low rates for Florida residents. 

If you move here from up north, you can be sure your friends and relatives from back home will be writing and calling, looking for an invitation so they can come visit when the air turns cold. The first question they will ask is, “Can we come visit?” The second question will be: “How far away is Disney?” Tell them it’s just a quick hop away.

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Water restrictions tighten in Pinellas County

lawn-waterThis has been a tough year in these parts water-wise.

We just haven’t had as much rain as we usually do, and that has caused some concerns about the availability of drinking water. So in March the Southwest Florida Water Management District decided on a series of water restrictions. It’s called Modified Phase IV Water Shortage restrictions, but what it means is the highest level of water use restrictions.

You can only water your lawn once a week. There are also restrictions on car washing, power washing, hand water, use of fountains and other decorative water devices, and a whole slate of other things.

Just exactly what those restrictions are vary according to where you actually get your water. For example, We get our water from the county, so that means no car washing at all, no fountains at all, and no power washing at all (unless it is done by a power washing company.) The actual restrictions may be a bit different if you get your water from a municipality, for example.

New lawns can be watered more than one day a week, but only for 30 days. And homeowner associations can’t force home owners to install new lawns, even if the old lawns are completely dead.

conserve-waterWater is always an issue here in Florida and will be an increasing source of concern as more and more homes and businesses are built here. Most of Florida sits on a massive aquifer, but even that is becoming over-taxed. And Pinellas County is oneof the few places in the state that can’t draw on the water under it’s own ground. As a peninsula, Pinellas County does not sit atop useable water and must pipe it in from elsewhere — most if not all of Pinellas’ water comes from Pasco County, to the north.

To learn more about water use restrictions in Pinellas County, visit the Pinellas County Utilities wesbite at http://www.pinellascounty.org/uTilities/water-restrict.htm

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Fort De Soto is Pinellas County gem

North Beach, Fort DeSoto

North Beach, Fort DeSoto

Q — What is the very best beach in America, according to TripAdvisor, the world’s largest online travel community?

A — Fort DeSoto Park, right here in Pinellas County.

Fort De Soto is at the very southern tip of Pinellas County, within sight of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which connects Pinellas County with Manatee County (home of Sarasota) to the south.

And TripAdvisor isn’t the only outfit that thinks so. In 2005, Dr. Beach (who rates beaches around the country, too) named Fort De Soto’s North Beach the best beach in the U.S.

Pinellas County maintains a number of parks, and Fort De Soto is the largest by far. It is made up of five separate islands and covers 1,130 acres. It was first opened in 1962, and almost 3 million visitors come by every year to sunbathe, swim, boat, kayak and fish.

Shore birds at Fort De Soto

Shore birds at Fort De Soto

The county bought the property from the federal government for just $12,500 in 1938. But then war broke out a few years later, and the property was sold back to the federal government (for a profit — $18,404) which used it as a bombing and gunnery range during World War II. After the war ended, the federal government sold it once again to Pinellas County, this time for $26,500.

We had some free time on Sunday afternoon and we visited Fort De Soto with our two grand-daughters. A lot of people were there enjoying the day, but the sheer size of the park made it feel sparsely populated. There is a 35-cent toll on the road that leads to the park, but Fort De Soto itself is free — not even a parking charge. But that may change soon, so this summer is a great time to explore the park for free.

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