Terry Roen, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 3

Terry Roen

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

Aerial survey shows increasing manatee count

Florida manatees are thriving during this warm, sunny winter.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) count found the highest number of sea cows since 1991 and the third straight year of a minimum count greater than 6,000 during its annual flyover of popular manatee spots.

A team of 15 observers from 10 organizations counted 3,488 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 3,132 on the west coast of the state during the aerial survey. That top’s last year’s county by 370 manatees.

And while the Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 survey is not a population count, it’s a good indicator that Florida manatees are using the state’s springs, power plant discharge areas and warm water tributaries as their winter refuge.

The survey is done every winter following a cold front, said Holly Edwards, FWC biologist and assistant research scientist, who stressed that aerial counts are not accurate population counts because they can often miss manatees. Warm, sunny weather aided this year’s counts with low winds and good visibility.

“We did have every nice weather conditions this year, and it was cold enough to move the animals into our survey areas,” Edwards said. “This is not a record; this is a minimum count.”

Numbers vary depending on whether it is warm or cold, sunny or cloudy, calm or windy. Manatees are more easily counted a few days after a cold front when it is slightly warmer, clear and windless. A warming trend with sunny, windless conditions following cold weather increases the likelihood that manatees will be resting at the water’s surface, where they can easily be spotted. 

The survey is conducted to meet a Florida state statute, which requires an annual, impartial, scientific census of the manatee population. The counts have been made 31 times from 1991 through 2017.

“The relatively high counts we have seen for the past three years underscore the importance of warm-water habitat to manatees in Florida,” according to Gil McRae, FWC biologist and head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in a statement released Monday.

Valentine’s Day not as sweet for Florida retailers; spending expected to decrease

Valentine’s Day spending is expected to be a little less sweet this year, dipping for the first time in a decade, according to an annual consumer survey.

Consumers plan to keep their budgets in check as they spend $10 less on gifts. Also, fewer people say they will celebrate the holiday this year.

“The slight decrease in spending is understandable given the record-breaking pace Valentine’s Day spending had reached the previous ten years,” said Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, the trade association that represents retailers. “This day is still expected to mean significant revenues for Florida’s retailers as consumers shower their loved ones with gifts, flowers, candy, tickets to events and dinners at local restaurants.”

The average consumer will spend $136.57 on gifts, down from last year’s record high of $146.84 but total spending nationally is still expected to reach a robust $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation‘s annual survey.

Back in 2007, consumers spent an average $119.67 for a total of $16.9 billion. Valentine’s spending grew most years over the past decade before hitting last year’s record. But the number of people surveyed who plan to celebrate the holiday has dropped from 63 percent in 2007 to 54 percent this year.

The most popular gifts are candy, cards, an evening out and flowers, in that order. Consumers plan to spend $4.3 billion on jewelry, $3.8 billion on an evening out, $2 billion on flowers, $1.9 billion on clothing, $1.7 billion on candy, $1.4 billion on gift cards/gift certificates and $1 billion on greeting cards.

Also popular this year are “gifts of experience” such as tickets to a concert or sporting event, a gym membership or an outdoor adventure. While 40 percent of consumers want an experience gift, only 24 percent plan to give one.

This year’s survey found consumers plan to spend an average $85.21 on their significant other/spouse, $26.59 on other family members such as children or parents, $6.56 on children’s classmates and teachers, $6.51 on friends, $4.27 on co-workers and $4.44 on pets.

The survey, which asked 7,591 consumers about their Valentine’s Day plans, was conducted January 4-11.

Donald Trump wax figure debuts before inauguration

Madame Tussauds locations in Orlando, Washington, D.C., New York, and London unveiled wax figures of President-elect Donald Trump ahead of Friday’s inauguration.

A team of 20 artists worked around the clock for six months to create the wax figures. It took five weeks just to fashion Trump’s famous hairstyle with each individual hair inserted by hand.

This isn’t the first time Trump has been immortalized in wax. He’s actually the first president to already have a Madame Tussauds wax figure. Artists took hundreds of photos and measurements of Trump in 1997 for his first figure. After he won the 2016 election, the original was updated to match his current look.

“Mr. Trump was the most-searched person globally on Google in 2016 so the pressure was on to perfect his iconic features in time for inauguration,” said Therese Alvich, general manager of Madame Tussauds Washington, D.C. in a release.

Dressed in a patriotic dark blue suit, red tie and Made in America flag lapel pin, Trump will replace Barack Obama in a White House oval office set.

A Trump wax figure has been in the lobby of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not on International Drive for the past month.

Ringling Bros Circus to end its 146-year run

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is folding up its tent, ending nearly a century and a half of performing the Greatest Show on Earth.

A combination of declining attendance, increasing operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups caused the downfall of the American icon.

Circus employees were told Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

“After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year, according to a statement from Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which produces the circus.

Feld added that ticket sales dropped dramatically after the circus retired elephants from its shows last May after a 14-year fight with animal rights activists over allegations that circus employees mistreated the elephants.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of the circus’ most vocal critics, took credit for the demise.

“After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.

Ringling’s two traveling shows have 30 remaining scheduled appearances. The final shows are May 7 in Providence, R.I. and May 21 in Uniondale, N.Y.

The announcement puts most of the shows’ 500 or so employees out of a job, the Associated Press reported. Feld said some would be transferred to the company’s other shows like Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live! The company will help with job placement, resumes and, in some cases, housing relocation.

Ringling’s 40 retired elephants are living at the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, which the company will continue to operate. Homes will be found for the other animals, which include lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas.

Orlando-based attractions in Tennessee recover after devastating wildfire

Two Orlando-based attractions are dealing with the aftermath Thursday of a wildfire that spread through Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Employees from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa were forced to evacuate Monday night when high winds sent the fire through the resort area.

Both attractions have headquarters in Orlando.

Ripley employees were forced to leave behind more than 10,000 animals, when the fire crept just 50 yards from the attraction Monday night.

Ryan DeSear, Ripley’s regional manager, said 14 of his employees are homeless after the fire and the company has placed them in hotels and prepared a relief plan.

“There was a wall of flames but it stopped at our concrete parking deck, which served as a big firebreak for us,” said DeSear, who was the last to leave the aquarium at 7:45 p.m. Monday. “That ugly deck saved the aquarium and all our animals.”

He said he had to force many of the workers out of the building because they didn’t want to leave the animals alone. A team of Ripley biologists is working in the aquarium around the clock to support the animals while the attraction is closed. DeSear added that they were lucky because the building never lost power.

DeSear choked up when asked about his employees. He said not all of Ripley’s 400 employees have reported in but most are safe in their homes.

“I’ve got my wife and son and my dogs,” DeSear said. “I have no power, no gas but I have a home by God. The company has given us carte blanche and told us we can buy anything we need to help our employees.”

DeSear credits firefighters and first responders for saving the city. He said they worked night and day fighting the fire through high winds and tough conditions.

“Gatlinburg and the aquarium will be open and we will be bigger and better than ever within a week,” he said.

Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa was not as lucky.

More than 800 units were destroyed and 69 of the resort’s 90 buildings were lost to the blaze, which originated in the Great Smoky Mountains. The resort was at 70 percent occupancy with about 1,200 registered guests when the first building caught fire. All were evacuated and there were no injuries.

Mark Waltrip, chief operating officer of Westgate Resorts, traveled from Orlando to Gatlinburg to assess the damage. The resort employs about 1,100 people.

The fire did not touch another 323 units in 17 cabin buildings and a lodge. The resort’s water park, grocery store, check-in building and a restaurant were also undamaged.

Westgate Resort officials told the Orlando Sentinel they plan to reopen the resort in the next two weeks.

Theme parks mimic nature’s bioluminescent glow

Bioluminescence, the sparkly glow that lights up the ocean and local rivers, is coming to a theme park near you. Both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld have unveiled plans to use technology to create nature’s glittery display.

Walt Disney World will offer a ride down a river in a bioluminescent rain forest called the Na’vi River Journey at Pandora, Animal Kingdom’s newest land. Electric Ocean will debut next summer at SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Diego with bioluminescent lighting and music “immersing guests in a glowing sea of wonder,” according to a SeaWorld spokesman.

The theme parks are mimicking the natural phenomenon marine organisms use to confuse predators, find a mate or light up the area so they can attract prey.

“To see the real thing in the natural setting is very different than what you’ll see at a theme park,” said Ashley Covart, lead tour guide at A Day Away Kayak Tours in Titusville. “A lot of people say it looks like the stars, some think it resembles fairy dust. We just had an 8-year-old kid say ‘it’s like I’m holding the stars in my hands.’ ”

Bioluminescence occurs through a chemical reaction that produces light energy within an organism’s body. Some fish light up to attract prey, while some types of squid shoot out bioluminescent liquid, instead of ink, to confuse their predators. Worms and tiny crustaceans use bioluminescence to attract mates.

Humans can watch the sparkly sheen of bioluminescence when it’s triggered by a physical disturbance, such as the ocean’s waves or a boat moving through the water.

During the cooler months from October through March, bioluminescent comb jellyfish congregate in the Indian River Lagoon. And in the heat of the summer, the river is alive with microscopic dinoflagellates, marine plankton that live in fresh water. Covart said thousands participate in their bioluminescent tours during the busy season summer and hundreds take the kayak tours in the winter at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. She said the tours and the theme parks’ new bioluminescent attractions should raise awareness of how important sea life is to sustaining our ecosystem.

In October, Brevard County voters passed a half-cent sales tax per dollar to pay for the cleanup of muck and algae, which kills many sea creatures like plankton, in the Indian River Lagoon. The tax, which begins Jan. 1, is expected to raise $302 million during the next 10 years.

State wants money back from research institute

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute claims that it does not owe half of the $155 million it received as an incentive to move to Florida, while the state has not backed down on its demand for a payback.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) still wants the Lake Nona research facility to return $77 million because it did not create the 303 jobs it promised. The money was supposed to be repaid by Nov. 15.

“DEO remains committed to holding Sanford Burnham accountable for all taxpayer monies received and will continue to investigate our options for any repayment necessary of incentive funds that were provided to Sanford Burnham,” according to a statement released Monday from Erin Gillespie, DEO’s director of communications and external affairs.

Knox Bell, the San Diego attorney representing Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP), sent a letter to DEO Nov. 23 detailing why they are not at fault and urging DEO to work with them “to help preserve jobs and create new jobs, rather than destroy all the good jobs, science and activities that have been established over the last decade by SBP and its dedicated faculty and staff…”

The letter said SBP is not in default of the DEO Innovation and Incentive Funding Agreement and there were no penalties outlined if the 303 jobs were not created. It also states that Florida is not entitled to any incentive refund or return of equipment purchased with the incentive money.

SBP will remain in Florida during the next year, “assuming current circumstances remain substantially unchanged,” according to the letter. However, it added that they would continue to explore other viable long-term plans.

SPB has “acted honestly and in good faith” and the “Lake Nona faculty and staff have worked extremely hard and made many personal sacrifices to make SBP at Lake Nona into the successful scientific research center it has become,” according to Bell’s response to DEO’s Oct. 28 demand for repayment.

DEO claims the troubled nonprofit breached its contract to provide jobs and remain in the state for 20 years. Under the 2006 agreement, the California-based research giant agreed to create 303 jobs by July 1 of this year. But they were 66 jobs short of meeting that goal.

Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) began looking for a way to leave Florida blaming substantial losses on a decrease in federal research grants as its state incentives ran out. They tried to broker a deal with the University of Florida to take over the research facility but UF backed out.

Attractions Expo gives a glimpse of the future of entertainment

Nine miles of aisles of rocking rides, super-sized inflatables, and a preview of the future through virtual reality goggles are just some of the enticements at the 98th annual Attractions Expo.

More than 30,000 buyers and engineers from amusement parks, water parks, family entertainment centers, zoos, aquariums, science centers, museums, and resorts jammed the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo at the Orange County Convention Center, which runs through Friday.

Grown men took off their suit jackets to climb ropes courses and women kicked off their heels to dance in an inflatable disco with neon lights and surround sound. Both the north and south concourses of the convention center and an outdoor area were packed with amusement park rides and the latest technology that keeps luring visitors back to theme parks.

“What makes IAAPA unique is that competitors have a willingness to share their practices and make this industry stronger across the entire world,” said Greg Hale, a Disney engineer who created the FastPass system and was named IAAPA’s 2017 chairman of the board.

IAAPA, which promotes the $39 billion attractions industry, is relocating its headquarters from Alexandria, Virginia to Orlando next year. Their annual event, with more than 1,000 exhibitors from 100 countries — 150 of those from the Sunshine State — is expected to generate $51.3 million for the Central Florida area.

“We’re excited IAAPA chose Orlando and Orange County for their home,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “The average person like me, who visits a theme park with four kids, walks away with a lifetime of memories but does not know what goes into the development of such an important fabric of our lives.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Holiday retail forecast bright

Forecasters are predicting a robust holiday shopping season for Florida retailers.

The Florida Retail Federation, the trade association representing the state’s retailers, is predicting a 4 percent increase in sales for Sunshine State retailers, expected to outpace the national average of between 3.3 and 3.5 percent.

Florida benefits from 100 million tourists visiting the state during the 61-day holiday shopping season from November through December. Surveys consistently list shopping as one of the top vacation activities.

“Florida’s economy remains strong, unemployment is at a nine-year low, housing remains hot and 100 million extra shoppers in the form of tourists are expected again, which should lead to a successful holiday shopping season for our 270,000 retailers statewide,” said Randy Miller, president and CEO of the federation.

Consumers are expected to spend an average of $935 on gifts, with a breakdown of $590 on gifts for family, friends, and co-workers; $207 on decorations, flowers, and greeting cards; and $140 on themselves.

Total spending is expected to increase to more than $655 billion, up from $630 billion last year thanks to the continued growth and spending of millennials, according to the forecast. Consumer spending accounts for 75 percent of Florida’s $155 billion-a-year gross domestic product.

To entice shoppers, retailers will be offering incentives, low prices, price-matching options, hot-selling toys, and free shipping, which continues to be one of the most popular requested promotions each year.

Gift cards are the most popular item for the 10th year in a row. Gift cards are not included in store sales until the card is redeemed, so total economic impact is even higher than forecast, according to Miller.

The most popular toys this holiday season include Nerf items, LEGOS, toys from Disney Junior Channel cartoons, microphones, drones, and merchandise from two movies, “Trolls” and “Star Wars: Rogue One.” Big ticket items for tech-savvy adults include smartphones and tablets, TVs, video games, and video game systems.

Retailers depend on the holiday season for 20 to 40 percent of their annual sales. Florida’s retail industry employs 2.7 million Floridians, and is responsible for one out of every four jobs.

One of the positive impacts of the holiday shopping season is an increase in employment. Nationally, the industry is expected to see between 640,000-690,000 seasonal jobs.

“The holiday shopping season means tens of thousands of jobs for Floridians, and much-needed income for families this time of year,” said Miller. “Every temporary job has the possibility to turn into a permanent one, and retail still remains the best industry for young, new, or returning workers to find employment, learn valuable skills, and grow themselves professionally.”

Miller advised shoppers to buy early. Just as technology has made shoppers smarter and savvier, it has also allowed retailers to better respond to demand by matching their inventory and not overstocking their merchandise, he said.

Florida TaxWatch blasts Sanford Burnham’s escape plan

Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit government watchdog, has urged state leaders to hold Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute accountable for the $155 million in tax incentives they received to move to Florida.

The Florida Department of Economic Development (DEO) asked Sanford Burnham last month to return half, or $77 million in taxpayer money, if it leaves the state. Sanford Burnham fell short by 66 jobs of reaching a state-mandated July goal.

Knox Bell, the San Diego attorney representing Sanford Burnham, sent a letter responding to the DEO’s request saying the agreement only said that the institute should use “reasonable best efforts to create the 303 jobs” and there were no dollar damages or penalty if the target was not reached.

“Taxpayers must have faith that every dime they provide for public use is being spent wisely and prudently, said Dominic Calabro, executive director of Florida Taxwatch. “It is critical that all incentives include guarantees that hold recipients accountable for performance expectations while providing a mechanism for a refund when those promises aren’t kept.”

Calabro also applauded the efforts of Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran and the DEO for reviewing the contract and trying to recoup taxpayer funds.

Attorneys for both sides are in negotiations to resolve the conflict. Sanford Burnham leaders have said they are planning to leave the state because of “substantial financial losses” and are operating on an “as is” basis while they explore alternatives. The California-based research giant tried to strike a deal with the University of Florida to take over the facility, but UF leaders backed away from the arrangement after learning it needed legislative approval.


Show Buttons
Hide Buttons