Remember when Church Street Station used to be all about quick-sketched giant-head caricatures, nickel beers, copped feels, penny-crushing machines and bused-in British tourists? Remember how locals would scurry around the midway past old-style apothecaries to find refuge for a toke back behind the railroad relics?

Well, that's not happening now.

In fact, for the past couple of years since somebody popped developer Cameron Kuhn's incentivized real estate bubble, the glory days of Church Street past have faded into sepia-toned memory, leaving what could best be described as a very bricky ghost town with just a few tenants hanging on for dear life. (We won't even mention the momentary lapse of boy-band reason that had the thoroughfare transforming into a soundstage for 13-chinned federal prisoner Lou Pearlman, except we just did.)

Anyway, the fate of downtown's rough diamond has been ascending to "issue" status with the approach of the October 2010 opening of the shiny new Amway Center, and we've been hearing rumors! Things are looking up for historic Church Street! And the future doesn't involve a megalomaniacal fat person!

The property is currently held by Tremont Realty Capital LLC, which foreclosed on Kuhn back in January. According to the city's economic development director, Frank Billingsley, the city has been encouraging Tremont to do the right thing with the property. And Tremont has been in talks with an "experienced urban entertainment developer" in order to ensure that Church Street's future tenants match the intended splendor of its adjacent Amway Center and hypothetical performing arts center.

"Amway Center has an architectural detail that a lot of people don't know about," reveals Billingsley. "The sort of point that comes out that you can see at the corner of Hughey Avenue and Church Street will eventually have a large tower to it, which will become iconic. So when you're on either end of Church Street, you'll sort of see the stake in the ground, and it will eventually connect the events center to the rest of downtown."

A tower! And that's not even the best of it. Other ideas currently floating around include covering the street with some kind of canopy to attract large convention-style events, unconfirmed speculation about a national sports-bar chain looking to fill the Cheyenne Saloon's spacious boots, and some serious retail and restaurant space up in the arena itself. Add to that the precarious notion of retail actually under I-4 (that fun idea is being mulled over by University of Florida architecture students) and steady growth from 55 West and you get the sense that maybe, just maybe, Church Street could actually happen again. Or fail again.

"This is a real good example of how civic investment at the right location can be leveraged to accomplish more than one goal," says Billingsley, referring to all the city's money tied up in the venues. In this case, at least one of the goals is "walking and energized people." They can be pricey.

All that recent chatter about crime decreasing in the City Beautiful because of our amazing police force and the grants that keep them in the finest of technology was blown out of the dyed water last week when Congressional Quarterly released its 2009 City Crime Rankings. There on the list of 400 cities, compiled from statistics provided by the FBI, Orlando sits uncomfortably high and mighty at No. 17 with a score of 200.5. That's worse than any other city in Florida, worse than Philadelphia, worse than Atlanta, worse than, uh, Tulsa.

The numbers are fed through some kind of prismatic algorithm involving the major six crime types (but excluding larceny theft and arson, because: boring) committed per 100,000 people as they compare to national statistics. In the end, Camden, N.J., ruled the roost with a score of 466.5. Never heard of Camden? That's because everybody there was murdered last year.

Speaking of dying, the holidays have always been about the purchase of useless and tiny items made of lead to be wedged into the esophagus of a small child. To assist parents in killing their children — or, rather, the opposite — Florida Public Interest Research Group held its annual "Trouble in Toyland" press conference Nov. 24 in St. Petersburg and announced this year's bevy of murderous tools of recreation. More important, the consumer group launched an online and smart-phone component (www.toysafety.net and toysafety.mobi, respectively) to make shopping that much more paranoia-inducing for mothers.

"Now parents can shop safely and avoid purchasing potentially dangerous toys for their kids," Florida PIRG spokesman Brad Ashwell says in the event's press release.

"With this new interactive tool, parents and other consumers can report toys they think are hazardous so we can investigate them and report them to the federal government," adds St. Petersburg state Sen. Charlie Justice.

The "Trouble in Toyland" report — complete with babies sucking on toys on its cover — reveals that in the past 18 years "at least 196 children died after choking or asphyxiating on a toy or toy part; three children died in 2008 alone." And it's not just choking that's going to ruin your yule: Toys with noise levels over 85 decibels help contribute to 15 percent of kids ages 6 to 17 showing signs of hearing loss, illegal levels of phthalates are still prevalent, and regular lead restrictions aren't keeping the poisonous metal off toy shelves.

Some fun examples include the irony of "My First Baby Learn," a doll that includes a spoon that is "slightly longer than a choke tube," and a toy cell phone, the "Bright Lights Phone," which registered noise up to 89 decibels. That'll teach 'em how to talk on the phone.

the phone.

Who wants kids anyway? Well, Martin Gill and his partner do, but the state of Florida — where gay adoption is illegal (see "Florida's case against gay adoption," Dec. 18, 2008) — and its Department of Children and Families still can't seem to figure out how to handle the case.

Back in late 2008, the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami handed Gill a victory in his attempt to adopt the two children he and his partner had already been foster-parenting. The state immediately promised to challenge the ruling. Now, because none of this has ever been done before and Florida is full of idiots, the fate of the two children remains in limbo, to the degree that Gill might lose guardianship altogether.

According to a story last week in the Palm Beach Post, the bureaucratic chess game as it stands pits DCF against its own attorney: attorney general and gubernatorial hopeful Bill McCollum. In August of this year, McCollum's solicitor general, Tim Osterhaus, presented an oral argument to the same appeals court in which he asked a three-judge panel to reverse the court's original decision and "make the children available for adoption."

Meaning, take them away from Gill.

Even though it has already sunk $400,000 into McCollum's pockets to cover the case, DCF is balking at the current suggestion. "It's a contradiction," DCF spokeswoman Flora Beal told the Post. "We have no intention of removing the children from Gill's custody."

Nor does McCollum's office have any intention of resolving the matter — ultimately, arguing it before the state's supreme court — any time soon. He's stalling the case at the appeals level and in no hurry; there's a campaign to be run and bigots to fleece for contributions. The best interest of the kids wouldn't be nearly so politically advantageous.



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