Rep. Brian Mast questions former Brightline head about financing, safety

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast questioned former All Aboard Florida head Michael Reininger during a federal subcommittee hearing Thursday to discuss the “challenges and opportunities” facing intercity passenger rail projects.

In a five-minute exchange that Mast posted on his YouTube channel, the Republican lawmaker from Palm City raised questions about the financing of All Aboard’s Brightline project and the safety of aging railroad bridges in his district.

Brightline’s first train rolling through West Palm Beach on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017.

RELATED: Brightline, FPL to partner on biodiesel fuel for trains

“Is All Aboard Florida or Brightline, whatever we want to call it, is that publicly funded or will it be publicly funded?” Mast asked Reininger, who served as All Aboard’s president for more than four years before leaving the post in March to take over as executive director at Florida East Coast Industries,  Brightline’s parent company.

FIRST LOOK: Inside WPB’s new Brightline train station

All Aboard has maintained the project will not be publicly funded — a statement that Reininger repeated on Thursday.

“It is completely an investment of private sector capital,” Reininger told Mast on Thursday.

All Aboard has proposed using tax-exempt private activity bonds to help fund a portion of the project, which will carry passengers between Miami and Orlando with stops in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

“Private activity bonds are 100 percent capital,” Reininger said. “It comes from the private sector. It doesn’t have any involvement from any funds that are distributed from the federal government.”

Mast also raised concerns about aging railroad bridges in his district, asking whether those spans will be replaced as part of the rail project.

Reininger said the company plans to make “a significant investment in the complete reconstruction and re-manufacture of the major component parts of those existing bridges.”

Brightline is expected to begin service later this summer. A grand opening is expected to be held in the fall.

Once operational, Brightline’s trains will shuttle passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami in about an hour. Ticket prices have not been announced.

Eventually, Brightline plans to expand service north to Orlando.

Construction on the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando leg has not yet begun. Brightline officials have said the project will take at least two years from the time work starts.

 

Why Lion Country might get cheetah, penguins

After 50 years in Palm Beach County, the owners of Lion Country Safari plan to sell the drive-through zoo and amusement park to the owner of a Connecticut-based wildlife center — a move that could bring more animals to the facility off Southern Boulevard.

A young giraffe is seen at Lion Country Safari, which earned the county tourism award, the Providencia.
*
old: Nafari, which means “first-born” in Swahili, was born June 24 and is the first baby giraffe of the 2014 season at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida. Nafari was born weighing 141.5 pounds and measured 70 inches tall. Lion Country Safari is a leader in giraffe breeding programs in North America with more than 60 giraffes births. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Marcella Leone, founder and director of the nonprofit Leo Zoological Conservation Center in Greenwich, Conn., plans to buy Lion Country in a deal that is expected to be finalized later this year. Once the sale is complete, she said she hopes to bring more animals to the park — including a cheetah and a colony of African penguins — both of which are currently living at her Connecticut wildlife center.

VIDEO: Lion Country Safari Exhibits: Extinct oryx thrive at the park

“Our plan is to expand upon the foundation that is created,” Leone said Tuesday of her plan to buy Lion Country. “I have a true love for that place and for animals. I just want to continue to improve it and expand on what they are already doing.”

Earlier this month, Lion Country Safari was named one the best “Savanna Exhibits” in the world, according to a ranking released by Zoo Nation.

The list features the top 10 places in the world to view African wildlife outside of Africa. Lion Country took the 10th spot on Zoo Nation’s list — a ranking it is using to help draw out-of-town visitors to its drive-thru zoo.

RELATED: Lion Country named one of the world’s “Top 10 Savanna Exhibits”

The ranking placed Lion Country among A-list attractions, including the top-rated African Plains exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

BREAKING: Is Lion Country Safari being sold?

Lion Country Safari, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in western Palm Beach County, could be sold to an animal conservationist, a spokeswoman confirmed on Monday.

The drive-through safari and amusement park is still weighing the details of the sale — a deal that could be finalized late next month, spokeswoman Jennifer Berthiaume said.

A young giraffe is seen at Lion Country Safari, which earned the county tourism award, the Providencia.
*
old: Nafari, which means “first-born” in Swahili, was born June 24 and is the first baby giraffe of the 2014 season at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida. Nafari was born weighing 141.5 pounds and measured 70 inches tall. Lion Country Safari is a leader in giraffe breeding programs in North America with more than 60 giraffes births. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

RELATED: Lion Country named one of the world’s “Top 10 Savanna Exhibits”

“They are working through details,” Berthiaume said. “It is possible that it will be sold…We hope to know more by the end of July. Nothing is finalized.”

Berthiaume said Lion Country has had the same owners for 50 years, adding that the proposed sale could mark “an exciting time” for the park.

Earlier this month, Lion Country Safari was named one the best “Savanna Exhibits” in the world, according to a ranking released by Zoo Nation.

The list features the top 10 places in the world to view African wildlife outside of Africa. Lion Country took the 10th spot on Zoo Nation’s list — a ranking it is using to help draw out-of-town visitors to its drive-through zoo.

 

Botox at the beach? You can have it at the Four Seasons

Palm Beach Post file photo

 

The Four Seasons Palm Beach has it all when it comes to relaxing: Ocean views, soothing interiors and a spa providing massages and facials.

But in a new level of service, now offers a plastic surgeon’s services to guests who want to keep that refreshed look going, long after they check out of the hotel.

Dr. Harold Bafitis, a board-certified plastic surgeon, provides services such as Botox, fillers and Coopsculpt in a dedicated spa room. Bafitis is available both to hotel guests as well as local residents, based on appointment availability. The Four Seasons is at 2800 S. Ocean Blvd.

The Four Seasons in Maui offers plastic surgery services, but this arrangement marks the first time the Four Seasons has offered this service in the continental United States.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Harold Bafitis now gives treatments at the Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach. (Meghan McCarthy / Palm Beach Daily News)

“We’re the only ones offering the combination of the resort experience and the spa experience,” said Colin Clark, formerly general manager of the Four Seasons. (Since the interview, Peter has taken a job as general manager of the Four Seasons Resort in Hualalai, Hawaii.)

Bafitis’ services have been offered quietly for the past several months, and they’re gaining steam with hotel guests who love the extra services.

“We make them look good and provide  services to this five-star hotel and spa that’s never been done before. It’s worked out well,” Bafitis said.

Bafitis said these types of services have been done on cruise ships in the past, but he thought providing them at a five-star resort would be a good fit. And with the Four Seasons right in his backyard, it seemed like a smart way to broaden his patient base.

From the hotel’s standpoint, the alliance could be a springboard to offering plastic surgery services at other properties, Clark said:  “We might be taking it to other Four Seasons as well.”

Spa director Al Kawasmeh said Florida was a natural for Four Seasons to try the services out with guests. People in Florida are into wellness and fitness, Kawasmeh noted.

Kawasmeh is in the perfect position to suggestion expansion of the plastic surgery services to other Four Seasons resorts: This month, he was named senior spa director for the Four Seasons’ North America hotels and resorts.

Prices range from $14 to $16 per Botox injection, $400 to $750 per cc for fillers and about $600-$800 for Coolsculpt, a non-surgical fat removal procedure. There’s no bruising, no special garments to wear: “You go right to the pool,” Bafitis said. Guests often book services prior to arrival.

Even though it’s off season now, the hotel never really slows down. Occupancy is strong year-round, so gone are the days when summers are quiet, hotel officials said.

Bafitis said he’s benefited from the Four Seasons alliance, too.  He was required to attend hotel training, where he learned the Four Seasons philosophy toward guests. They include smiling all the time, making eye contact and providing an extra level of service that’s not expected but is appreciated.

Bafitis said he now employs these techniques in his plastic surgery practice, which has offices in Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter and Wellington.

 

Dads get in FREE at this theme park now through Father’s Day

Dads get in FREE at Legoland Florida now through Father’s Day, the theme park announced today.

Here are the details:

WINTER HAVEN, FLORIDA — (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida, Merlin Entertainments Group, Chip Litherland)

“Now through June 18, get a free adult combo ticket (valued at $113 plus tax) that includes same-day admission to Legoland Florida Theme Park and Legoland Water Park with the purchase of a full-price child’s ticket,” Legoland said in a press release announcing the promotion. “This limited-time offer is valid for visits through Sept. 4, 2017, which includes Legoland Knight Lights, our signature summertime event taking place every weekend in July, plus Tuesday, July 4.”

The deal is only available online at www.LEGOLAND.com/dadsfree with promo code 2086. It rusn through Sunday, June 18.

“Guests can receive a maximum of three free adult tickets with the purchase of three children’s tickets per transaction,” Legoland said. “Please note that guests must select a specific date for their visit when redeeming this online offer.”

The offer cannot be applied to pre-purchased, discounted tickets, annual passes or combined with any other offers, and additional restrictions may apply, Legoland said.

 

 

JUST IN: Lion Country named one of the world’s “Top 10 Savanna Exhibits”

Lion Country Safari in western Palm Beach County has been named one the best “Savanna Exhibits” in the world, according to a ranking released this week by Zoo Nation.

The list features the top 10 places in the world to view African wildlife outside of Africa. Lion Country, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, took the 10th spot on Zoo Nation’s list — a ranking it is using to help draw out-of-town visitors to its drive-through zoo.

RELATED: Lion Country Safari wins county tourism award

“Home to over 900 animals, Lion Country Safari is Florida’s only drive-through and walk-through Safari and was America’s first “cageless” zoo,” Zoo Nation said on its website. “With about five miles of road to drive on, visitors to the park get as close to African animals as you can get without touching them. With thrilling animals such as lions, rhinos, giraffes, and ostriches, driving through the savanna at Lion Country Safari will be sure to give visitors an incredible look at the beautiful animals of Africa.”

A young giraffe is seen at Lion Country Safari, which earned the county tourism award, the Providencia.
*
old: Nafari, which means “first-born” in Swahili, was born June 24 and is the first baby giraffe of the 2014 season at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Florida. Nafari was born weighing 141.5 pounds and measured 70 inches tall. Lion Country Safari is a leader in giraffe breeding programs in North America with more than 60 giraffes births. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Other exhibits on the list include: Harambe Wildlife Preserve at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando; Serengeti Plain at Bush Gardens in Tampa; and the East African Savanna at  Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, China.

But the top spot went to the African Plains exhibit at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Last month, Lion Country was named the 2017 winner of the county’s 2017 Providencia Award, beating out two other finalists for the coveted title.

The award is presented to an individual or organization that has a major impact on tourism.

The award is named after a Spanish ship that sank off the coast in the 1880s. The crew sold its cargo of coconuts to people who planted them along the waterfront. Ultimately, that’s how Palm Beach got its name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BREAKING: Tourism board rejects push to create nude beach

Palm Beach County tourism officials on Thursday rejected a proposal to make clothing optional along a stretch of beach in the southern part of the County, pointing to marketing efforts to promote the region as a family-friendly destination for vacationers.

The county’s Tourist Development Council on Thursday voted unanimously to recommend against a push to turn the north end of Gulfstream Park into a nude beach.  The recommendation will be sent to county commissioners, who will ultimately decide the fate of the proposal.

RELATED: A nude beach in Palm Beach County? It could happen

The Palm Beach County Freedom Beach Initiative, a grass-roots group led by county resident Karl Dickey, approached county officials last month about creating a nude beach at the 7-acre park between the coastal towns of Briny Breezes and Gulf Stream and the cities of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

Dickey has said the change would drive tourism and generate revenue for the county and surrounding cities. There are no nude beaches in the county.

But members of the tourism board questioned the economic benefit.

“The only justification for doing it is the economic impact, and I don’t think there is any economic impact that we are going to benefit from,” said Don Dufresne, a member of the tourist council.

Read the full story HERE.

 

 

UPDATE: Rain causes delays at local airports

UPDATE, 12:15 p.m.: Wet weather in South Florida has resulted in 237 delayed flights and 23 cancellations at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, officials said in a tweet posted just after noon.

ORIGINAL POST: The heavy rain inundating South Florida is causing delays at local airports.

As of 8:30 a.m., there were 125 delays and 20 cancellations at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Airport officials took to Twitter to urge passengers to check with their airlines for flight status information.

At Palm Beach International, there were 11 delays and 1 cancellation as of 9:45 a.m., according the the airport’s website.

The Federal Aviation Administration is also reporting delays in  San Francisco, Newark,  Washington, D.C., and Teterboro, New Jersey.

Check with your airline if you have a flight today.

 

 

UPDATE: Delays reported at PBIA, Fort Lauderdale airports

UPDATE, 4 p.m.: There were 9 delayed flights and three cancellations at Palm Beach International Airport as of 4 p.m.

The majority of those delays were caused by weather problems in New York and New Jersey, an airport spokeswoman said.

ORIGINAL POST: Rain across South Florida and weather in the northeastern part of the country may be creating delays for flights into and out of local airports.

As of 11 a.m., Palm Beach International Airport reported 12 delayed departing flights and one canceled departing flight.

RELATED: Bye-bye sun: It’s likely a week of heavy rain and thunderstorms

In addition, 20 flights scheduled to arrive at PBIA have been delayed and one has been canceled, according to the airport’s website.

MORE: Top summer staycation spots in Palm Beach County

At the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, dozens of departing flights are delayed.

The Federal Aviation Administration is reporting departure delays at the airport of  15 minutes or less.

Arrivals are delayed between 16 minutes and 30 minutes, the FAA reports.

Newark, La Guardia and Boston are also experiencing delays.

Check with your airline if you have a flight today.

Visit Florida to use donated billboards to battle budget cut

Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing arm, said Monday it will use donated billboards to urge motorists to call lawmakers and ask for more money to promote Florida as an international vacation destination.

This billboard, along southbound Interstate-95 near the 195 exit in Miami, is among several billboards in South Florida boasting quick ER timing by different hospitals. It was photographed Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011.

In an email message to tourism industry officials across the state, Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson said Lamar Advertising will be donating space on dozens of digital billboards over the next two weeks to showcase the message “Keep Tourism Fully Funded – Call Your Legislator.”

RELATED: Will Visit Florida budget cuts help other states win tourists?

The Florida Legislature last month approved an $83 billion budget that sets aside just $25 million for the state’s tourism marketing agency, Visit Florida — a $50 million cut from the agency’s 2016 spending plan. Gov. Rick Scott had pushed for $100 million for tourism marketing.

RELATED: Tourists continue to visit Florida in record numbers

On Friday,  Scott reached a deal with legislative leaders to hold a three-day special session in Tallahassee this week to direct more money to education, tourism promotion and economic incentives.

Despite a push from school districts and Democrats unhappy with the level of education spending, Scott did not follow through on his threat to veto the entire $83 billion budget, choosing instead to use his line-item veto authority to prune $410 million in funding for local projects across the state as he signed the overall package.

In his email, Lawson urged tourism leaders across the state to continue to push for more tourism marketing money.

“This week’s special session provides us the opportunity to once again advocate for a fully funded Visit Florida,” he wrote. “We ask you to positively and respectfully call and email your local legislators to tell them how Visit Florida drives visitors to your community and puts money into your back pocket.”

Palm Beach County tourism officials are also urging locals to call state lawmakers and press for more state funding.

Jorge Pesquera, president and CEO of Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s official tourism marketing organization, said a cut to Visit Florida’s budget “greatly impairs” the ability to market the state as a tourism hot spot, harming all tourism-related businesses in Florida.

“A highly-weakened Visit Florida will result in fewer visitors, less tourism spending and the loss of thousands of jobs,” Pesquera wrote in an email to local tourism leaders.