How A Florida Airport Wrestles With Identity


The Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport was probably one of the more drama-free beats I had. It’s not to say there wasn’t controversy. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The small-hub airport, which goes by its FAA code SRQ, became debt-free, paying off its mortgage. It renovated its concourse and baggage areas, and continues construction today around its parking lot and infield. A new FAA control tower is being built, too.

But it always had a chip on its shoulder as it competed with a behometh to the north, Tampa International. To a lesser extent, St. Pete-Clearwater Airport, too. And to the south, there’s Fort Myers’ and Punta Gorda’s airports nibbling away.

It became problematic in 2012 when Southwest was ready to phase out AirTran. SRQ was among the first airports for Southwest to pull AirTran from, taking away one-third of the airport’s business.

The airport positioned itself well playing the victim, but then I found out that they were talking to Southwest about the possibility of some type of return as they all but bashed the airline publicly.

Since then, the airport did two large identity campaigns as well as battling a perception that SRQ is more expensive than Tampa. That’s still up for debate depending on which routes you look at for ticket prices, but there are also parking fees and gas and tolls to consider.

Looking at the numbers, the airport was able to mostly recover. But it didn’t mean it restored all routes. Most notably, a route to Baltimore (and nearly Washington, too) wasn’t restored. That’s awfully difficult to get Marylanders down to Sarasota for Orioles spring training at Ed Smith Park. But not any more difficult considering the official airlines of the Orioles is…Southwest.

Anyway, here is a collection from my time covering SRQ:

Continue reading How A Florida Airport Wrestles With Identity

Boating Bandwagon at Benderson Park

During my time at both Sarasota Patch and the Bradenton Herald, I got to learn about the merits of sculling, rowing and whatever other boat-related sport you can have.

The development of what became Nathan Benderson Park into a world caliber venue for aquatic sports—namely sculling and rowing—was a fun journey. It wasn’t without its controversy considering the costs, and it still is and probably will be after the World Rowing Championships finally come to the border of Sarasota and Manatee counties in 2018.

Here’s the downlow on how this all came to be in as much as I can reduce it before you dig into my clips:

-A few folks noticed how perfectly rectangle a old borrow pit that became a lake was and thought, huh, this would be cool to use for rowing.

-These folks talked to Nathan Benderson, the founder of powerful Benderson Development Company, about getting behind this cause. The man, who would ride his bike around this park up until the day he died, was convinced. They just needed to convince Sarasota County.

-The county said sure, they took the money from Benderson after talking to rowing officials that this could work. Benderson also saw how nice it would be considering how much land owns for retail sits just north of it. The lake was expanded for regulation racing over a period of time. A road was expanded and connected for better access.

-Donations were hard to come by through fundraising so the local rowing officials kept asking the State of Florida for millions of dollars to help finish the park and the buildings needed for the championships. (This is still happening in 2016.)

-In 2013, the park was awarded the 2017 World Rowing Championship plus additional events. Construction of the park still has not finished, but some main components are in place.

Continue reading Boating Bandwagon at Benderson Park

Levity in Political Coverage When The Vice President Visits

If you wanted to win the 2012 Presidential Election, you and your friends campaigned in Florida.

Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Joe Biden all made public campaign stops in Sarasota, Fla., during that cycle.

Watching so many political speeches can drive you a little bonkers. Especially with grumpy traveling media by your side.

Patch was flexible enough where we could post lighthearted moments meant for viral content the same day we post straight news.

Biden’s colorful speech made for the perfect viral moment. I had professional grade camera equipment at this stop and was able to hook up into the mic feed for clean audio.

So, here’s Yo Biden from Oct. 31, 2012, where I mashed up and cleverly edited the vice president’s speech.

How Weird Can a PR Stunt Get? Only Lego Man Knows.

My introduction to Weird Florida news didn’t take long working in Sarasota, Fla.

A month before my arrival, a lifesize Lego Man washed ashore in Sarasota.

Scratch that. A video released of someone pulling a lifesize Lego Man out of the water on a beach was posted and local media were alerted. It was a stunt for the Sarasota Chalk Festival.

But the first version sounds sexier, so the person interviewed by media outlets, who was involved in the stunt, told a great story. The media ran with it all over the world. How did this thing float across the sea? Where was it dropped off from?

I had enough of the B.S. after awhile and instead of coming clean about the ordeal, I was given an explanation that exposing this story is like telling kids Santa Claus isn’t real.

Where does the media draw the line in media stunts? I tried to tow the line in this case.

The weirdness didn’t stop when Lego Man was let out of jail. Another controversy was brewing about a mural and the hand signs displayed in the art.

I noticed that one of the men helping to load up the Lego Man had the tattoo featured in the mural and got the story behind that, too. That story is featured at the end of this post.

Stories originally appeared on Sarasota Patch.

Lego Man’s Truth Is Out There

How exactly did Lego Man appear on Siesta Key Beach, and will the person responsible come forward to claim him?

Continue reading How Weird Can a PR Stunt Get? Only Lego Man Knows.

James Woods Gives Me Direction

Maybe he thought I was a student based on the camera I was using, but James Woods politely took pity on me.

At Patch, we were armed with with these Sony CyberShot cameras that fit in your pocket and can take passible video. The audio is acceptable if it’s quiet and your subject is three feet away.

Woods was nice enough to give me some playful direction of where he should sit, where I should stand and where the camera should be.

Just an all-around nice dude.

James Woods Visits Ringling College

Actor James Woods stopped at Ringling College of Art and Design to work with students and be shown how Sarasota could be a good place to do business in the future.

Sarasota, actor James Woods knows where you’re at.

That probably would have been scary given some of his roles such as the gangster Max in “Once Upon A Time in America,” but the James Woods is impressed with what’s developing at the and the region is starting to blip on the Hollywood radar.

“Hollywood better worry about whether they’re on Tampa Bay’s radar because in fact, when you go to areas outside of the usual media centers — L.A. and New York — you realize there’s action here, there’s something going on,” Woods told Patch in a one-on-one interview (see video above).

The 64-year-old actor, Emmy Award winner and two-time Academy Award nominee stopped at the college on Monday and Tuesday to interact with film and gaming students to give them feedback and critiques.

“The level of sophistication was surprising to me on the work,” Woods said. “These guys are like professionals.”

Just a little more than a year old, the school’s digital filmmaking program was named one of the top 25 film programs in the world by trade publication Hollywood Reporter . The college is being aggressive on keeping that distinction and developing talent by bringing in world class actors, directors and cinematographers to visit Ringling and interact with students.

Continue reading James Woods Gives Me Direction

Making Art Exhibits Relatable

When I wrote about famous pieces of artwork on display at The Ringling in Sarasota, Fla., I knew I had to make it accessible.

I’m not a fine art critic. And I didn’t want to make a trip to museum sound like a country club affair.

So, I rely on the sources leading the exhibit to tell me about the art in their words, why it’s important and make a connection with today, and pop culture references help.

The first piece compares Veronese’s process to celebrity chefs. The second piece focuses on why The Ringling hosting a Peter Paul Rubens exhibit is significant.

Paolo Veronese Exhibit Shows How Renaissance Artist Is Like A Celebrity Chef

Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice opens Friday at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
Paolo Veronese Exhibit Shows How Renaissance Artist Is Like A Celebrity Chef

Paolo Veronese is like the Gordon Ramsay of Renaissance artists but without the attitude.

Imagine Veronese getting an order placed, then calling out instructions to his staff to get to work, much like a celebrity chef making sure his well trained culinary team can execute a menu to perfection and being able to show off in the process.

“A Renaissance artist workshop is a bit like a fancy restaurant run by a celebrity chef,” said Frederick Ilchman, Curator of Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston during a walk-through of a new Veronese exhibit that opens Friday at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. “…Paolo Veronese was supervising a hell of activity, and he had family members and a bunch of his assistance following his recipes. The point is that when you go to a fancy restaurant, it’s not like the chef is actually cooking for you, but guaranteeing that chef’s style.”

That’s pretty much this Venetian Renaissance painter in a nutshell. Though instead of yelling “fat cow” at his staff like Ramsay, Veronese would probably paint a cow, like in Rest on the Flight into Egypt, which is contained in The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s collection and is John Ringling’s first Old Master painting he acquired. Continue reading Making Art Exhibits Relatable

How To Write A Theater Review When A Script Is Full of Cussing

One of the many gems in Sarasota, Fla., is the Asolo Repertory Theatre where Tony Award winners direct new takes of classic and modern plays, partner with screenwriters and songwriters for creative adaptations and so much more.

The acting and everything else for that matter in “Glengarry Glenn Ross” was superb. But writing about it was a little tricky because I couldn’t really quote the best lines to make my points because there was so much god—- cussing!

So I decided to embrace the salty script and focus on that.

Continue reading How To Write A Theater Review When A Script Is Full of Cussing

That Time You Asked Ben & Jerry’s Cofounder About Political Contributions

Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerry’s, stopped in Sarasota, Fla., in 2013 to talk about “stamping” money out of politics.

It seemed groovy, but Cohen also contributed cash to political donations. And so did the ice cream maker’s parent company, but the Vermont-based operation seemed to keep its nose clean.

Just shows you how there are no easy answers to politics.

Ben & Jerry’s Co-Founder Stamps Money Out Of Politics In Sarasota

Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen greeted Sarasota visitors with his Amend-O-Matic StampMobile Friday night.

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Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen arrived in St. Armands Friday to put his own stamp on the American political system.

Cohen came with his Amend-O-Matic StampMobile that’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine, sending dollar bills through a contraption, stamping them with messages to help influence people to ask their lawmakers to overturn the Citizens United decision, giving corporations the power to donate endlessly to political campaigns and political action committees.

“Stamp Stampede is part of the larger movement to pass a Constitutional Amendment that corporations are not people, and money is not speech,” Cohen told Patch inside the St. Armands Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Scoop Shop. Cohen is in the midst of an extensive road tour with the truck, having just arrived in Sarasota from the Miami area, and will hit the road again Saturday.

Yet, with his movement, he’s using money to act as a vehicle for free speech with messages like “Stamp Money Out of Politics.”

“The goal of the campaign is to get tens of thousands of Americans to get these tamps—they can get these stamps online at StampStampede.org—and stamp money  that comes in their possession because it’s like a petition on steroids,” Cohen said.  “Every dollar that you stamp gets seen by 800 people. You stamp five five dollar bills a day, that’s 4,000 people that see it. If you do that for 100 days, that’s 400,000 people, and if you do that over a year, that’s a million impressions and that’s just one person.”

Cohen’s visit came through a surprise call through his assistant this week, Almarode said. After a few quick calls, Cohen told Almarode he wanted to come out to the Gulf Coast of Florida to gain some exposure for his Stamp Stampede, and from there, they used the organic approach to spread the word through community radio WSLR.

“Jerry’s very like minded, too, supporting community radio,” Almarode said.

This is the first time that Cohen has visited the Scoop Shop since 1996, Almarode said. Jerry Greenfield has visited the shop multiple times through the years, he added.

“Rick has been one of our best franchisees, and I met him at the last franchise meeting,” Cohen told Patch. ” He has really cool Ben & Jerry’s memorabilia that he’s been collecting and one of our better shops.”

Cohen’s visit isn’t a Ben and Jerry’s company sponsored event, however. It’s really a part of Cohen’s own nonprofit he founded called Stamp Stampede, which sells stamps at-cost to people they can use to legally stamp their money with messages to get the word out that corporations should not be allowed to endlessly donate to political campaigns and action committees.

“I know this was successful when those bills started to come back to me,” Cohen said. “At the beginning, people were waiting for that to happen, and it wasn’t happening. Now we’re getting reports that those bills are circulating.”

However, Ben and Jerry’s has its own campaign called “It’s time to Get The Dough Out of Politics” where postcards are available at the Scoop Shop in St. Armands and other shops for customer to fill out to tell their Congressmen to take money out of politics, by partnering with the national non-partisan organization Free Speech For People.

Ben & Jerry’s got caught up in the corporate world now, though, being acquired by the British and Dutch conglomerate Unilever in 2001, but has been able to remain relatively autonomous in that structure.

Unilever has contributed $38,132 from 2011 through third quarter of 2012 to campaigns, mainly Democrats, but $500 did to go Gov. Mitt Romney, according to InfluenceExplorer.com. Barack Obama’s campaign received $15,620, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch, covering Pompano Beach, received $5,000, according to the website.

Cohen himself has donated $155,773 of his own money to federal campaigns since 1988, according to NewsMeat.com’s database.

Cohen, who said he doesn’t have much influence at Ben and Jerry’s anymore, said he doesn’t view being in that position of donating as a conflict with his message.

“Do I see a conflict? I don’t see a conflict at all. I guess that’s one of the hallmarks of Ben and Jerry’s. Corporations are very political animals. They are working really hard. They’re the people who finance all the lobbyists in Washington. They’re very much trying to influence the government in their own narrow self-interests,” Cohen said. “The hallmark of Ben and Jerry’s is that it tries to use its power as a corporation in the interest of the community as a whole, not in its own narrow self interests. That’s worked pretty well, and the company’s done alright.”

The company and Cohen’s non-profit doesn’t ask the stores or franchise owners to support the causes, Almarode said, but he does believe in equality and social justice.

“I would never buy into this if it was partial to one side,” Almarode said.

What Happens When Camera Crews Come Where Amish Go To Get Away

When someone says “tell me about Sarasota,” they will focus on the sugar sand beaches, the great weather, breadth of cultural options, spring training, shopping and the hundreds of homeless.

Further down on the list is Pinecraft. Just outside of city limits, Pinecraft is where Amish and Mennonite go to snowbird. They call this the Amish Las Vegas. You can use a cell phone here, watch TV even, use electricity (try living without A/C in FLA) and some other comforts.

The village seemed to be bombarded with media and entertainment coverage in 2012-2013 and it was taking a toll on the residents. No other outlet was talking about these problems. Enjoy:

‘Breaking Amish’ Experience Leaves Bad Taste In Pinecraft

The TLC reality show filmed scenes for its second season in Sarasota’s Amish village.
By  March 6, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories on Sarasota’s Amish and Mennonite village Pinecraft dealing with an increased demand of television coverage.

Sarasota’s Amish village Pinecraft will be featured in the second season of TLC’s “Breaking Amish,” to the dismay of a few members of the community.

The show is controversial all around, with some members presenting themselves as just now going through their journey of leaving the Amish community, while some have been out for quite some time, according to published reports and members of the Pinecraft community who know one of the cast members.

In the first season, the cast was placed in the middle of New York City, left to discover the “English” world, getting tattoos, finding love in a hopeless place and doing plenty of drinking. The show received the highest ratings for any first-season series for TLC.

The second season is due air in May, but had filmed part of the season in Pinecraft on around Feb. 19. The press previews on E! and NBC tout that the second season “promises more drama,” and that is what a Sarasota-based location scout had apparently told a business owner in Pinecraft.
Continue reading What Happens When Camera Crews Come Where Amish Go To Get Away

Chatting with Aubrey Plaza about Muncie and Movies

Sometimes it felt like Sarasota, Fla., was a nice getaway for Hollywood stars.

Aubrey Plaza, most famous so far for “Parks and Recreation,” visited Ringling College of Art and Design. She didn’t disappoint for giving me plenty to write about.

She rode around in a golf cart, blowing a whistle, and telling people she was the new pope.

She talked to college students about working in the movie and TV biz.

And she talked to me about a piece of “Parks and Recreation” trivia that I had to write about. I graduated from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. Part of the show is based on Muncie, in a roundabout way, and the map in the opening credits of Pawnee, Ind., is Muncie upside down. She either wasn’t aware, didn’t care or was being kind.

Parks and Recreation’s Aubrey Plaza: Is Muncie Real?

Parks and Recreation actress wonders if Indiana towns mentioned in hit show are real.
Sarasota, FL
Parks and Recreation's Aubrey Plaza: Is Muncie Real?

Reality and fantasy collide all the time in TV, but there’s something about when a hit show takes place in a town you’re familiar with that sets it apart.

That’s the case with NBC’s Parks and Recreation, which takes place in fictional Pawnee, Indiana, which is beside the also fictional Eagleton. But they reference real towns in the Hoosier state, and Pawnee is sort-of based on a real city in East Central Indiana: Muncie.

Thankfully Aubrey Plaza, who plays April Ludgate on the show was in Sarasota on Saturday to satisfy my curiosity.

Long ago during the first season, viewers astutely noticed that the map of Pawnee during the opening of the show is a map of Muncie flipped outside down. And the characters frequently make reference to goings-on in Muncie, too. The only reason I care is because I went to college in Muncie.

So, would it not be out of the ordinary for the show to film in Muncie, given that it did a great Indianapolis show (that city is real). And in another episode, the gang went to Washington, D.C. and met Vice President Joe Biden.

How about it, Aubrey?

“Wait. It’s a real place? Muncie?” Plaza said.

“Yeah,” this reporter said, stunned in his chair.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that,” Plaza said. “How about Bloomington?”

That’s real, too. Indiana University is located in Bloomington, and Ball State University in Muncie, where David Letterman attended.

Just like the map of Pawnee, my world was turned upside down.

You really can’t fault actors not being familiar with Midwestern geography of mid-sized cities. The writers write, and you act.

Writer Greg Levine actually researches this stuff. He told Wired.com that he checks in on small-town politics in both Muncie and Bloomington to figure out how Pawnee should operate.

One of the funniest exchanges in the show involved making fun of Muncie, too.

Tom Haverford, played by Aziz Ansari, rips Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir) for his vacation spot.

Tom: You went on vacation and you chose Muncie, Indiana?

Jerry: My wife and I have a timeshare.

Tom: In Muncie?

Leslie: Tom, Muncie is a lovely city.

But the Sherm’s Ice Cream in Muncie during the “Two Parties” episode where the guys went to Indy? Doesn’t exist, nor did that appear to be Muncie.

Just to double check to make sure I’m being fair, I asked her in the green room if she was kidding. Nope.

Her boyfriend and screenwriter Jeff Baena knew—even told me to Google Hudsucker Proxy to check if the movie was set in Muncie, too. Yup.

Also, a part of Close Encounters of the Third Kind took place there, and there was a reality show, probably my favorite ever, called Armed & Famous that shot there. It featured the likes of Wee Man, Erik Estrada, La Toya Jackson and others being Muncie cops and fighting crime. I wish it would return, but Aubrey would have to be less famous to be on the show.

Knowing that Muncie is indeed real, Plaza gave a “hopefully” in response to the real question—if Parks and Rec would shoot there.

You know what? I’ll accept that answer. For real.

Parks & Rec’s Aubrey Plaza ‘Blesses’ People On Golf Cart

Aubrey Plaza made a grand entrance on a Model T golf cart at Ringling College of Art & Design’s Avant-Garde fundraiser.

Parks & Rec's Aubrey Plaza 'Blesses' People On Golf Cart

Continue reading Chatting with Aubrey Plaza about Muncie and Movies