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Libraries Get Lost in State Budget

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Orlando library is one of the state’s largest.

– State considers Losing Millions for Florida Libraries 

       This week leaders in Florida’s House and Senate are meeting in Tallahasee to align the state budget.  However, with state funds remaining tight, it’s anything but business as usual. Most representatives say education, healthcare, and the economy are priorities for Floridians. However caught in the shuffle of cuts and reductions is Florida’s public library system. If Senate representatives have their way, local libraries may be in serious trouble. The new state budget could mean many of Florida’s libraries will be shutting their doors in the very near future.

    Florida libraries use a combination of state and municipal money in order to function. In the latest version of the budget the Senate is proposing there be no more state money appropriated towards the state library system. That would mean a loss of 21.2 million dollars for reading centers across the state. The Orange County Library System is a 31 million dollar operation that will use over 800 thousand dollars from the state this year to purchase supplies and stay current. The House and Senate aren’t exactly on the same page on the library funding issue. While the Senate wishes to eliminate library funding entirely, the House is suggesting a 3.5 million dollar cut instead. For Orange County this would mean nearly 150 thousand dollars less for local libaries next year. The Florida Library Association says the cuts could do serious damage for public libaries across the state. Many small libraries which use state money to pay bills and stay open could disappear.   

    While the numbers seem overwhelming, what exactly does it mean for the average citizen? With the economy slowly recovering many people use library resources for the internet. The library allows people to apply for new jobs, and gain access to government services. Local Rick Cawthon is adamantly opposed to library closings. “I’m a big current event guy, I use the libraries to read and follow what’s going on” Cawthon said. “If the library closes it will make it more difficult, I’ll have to go somewhere else.” Citizens looking to stay informed aren’t the only ones being affected. While state leaders say education is a priority, the irony of potential library closings isn’t lost on High School student Brittany Rainey. According to Rainey, state leaders are missing the big picture. “No, I don’t think they care about education. Obviously they don’t, they’re taking away opportunities for young people. I need the library it’s a place to study and I’m trying to go to school.” Rainey says that its a major issue for families that don’t have a lot of money. “I won’t say it’s poverty, but kids that come from lower income homes, the projects, they don’t have money for books and computers, how are they supposed to learn?”  

Local Libraries use state money for new books and supplies.

      The state library system has faced cuts before and the latest plans from Florida’s government are nothing new. Last year the House and Senate considered elminating Library funding but were able to cover costs in the final budget. Orange County has lost 12 percent of the library budget in each of the previous two years. The newest ideas in Tallahassee however would be more drastic. According to local resident Calvin Jones, keeping the libraries open must be a priority. “The children are our future. We have to educate them. We can’t have a bunch of dummies running around.”

         While the final numbers have yet to be announced it’s clear that Florida libraries aren’t at the top of the to-do list for the legislature. Unfortunately while education is a priority according to state politicians, state libraries are a big part of that education system. With money dwindling, we could be seeing the end of library access for many of Florida’s citizens.

-Arthur Volpe


Written by ArthurVolpe

April 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Winter Park Claims its Own Brand

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       – City Spending Money for Advertising While Economy Grows         

    New York City is known as the big apple and Chicago is the windy city. Now Winter Park will soon have its own identity. The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency recently held a meeting where local residents were part of a new advertising campaign. The goal for city planners is to come up with a new brand for Park Avenue and the city’s central business district. At the meeting locals pitched their ideas of what comes to mind when thinking of Park Avenue. This could include phrases, slogans, and images that represent the area.  The new “brand” is just one part of a strategy that hopes to bring more commerce to this stretch of Winter Park.  However the new plan won’t be entirely free.         

Winter Park Looks for More Traffic

            Park Avenue and nearby Hannibal Square are known for their rows of shops and restaurants that attract visitors from across Central Florida. City planners are now taking steps to ensure local business grows. This includes paying the Orlando marketing firm Engauge $90,000 to come up with a new brand and organize a marketing strategy. Local architect Jack Rodgers, who has worked as a developer for the Park Avenue area,  is in favor of the move. He says anything the city can do to “make people aware of the brand” is a good thing. The question becomes what exactly is the city’s new identity? Rodgers, who’s family settled in Winter Park in 1928, believes the key is focusing on the city’s history and tradition. Rodgers saw Winter Park grow from a village of about 3,000 to what it is today. A hub for local restaurants and merchants trying to make a living.

           Despite the recent economic downturn, the local economy in Winter Park is doing fairly well. City planners say business vacancies are currently normal at around 6 percent. Storefronts that used to be bare are now being filled again by local merchants. Jack Rodgers says he would “encourage anybody to start a business” in Winter Park. When talking to Winter Park residents about the city spending $90,000 to market itself,  the move is seen as mostly uncontroversial.

       “Longtime Winter Park resident Penny Hawlie was happy with the city’s decision. When asked if the city needed to increase advertising, Hawlie said “It’s good to prepare for the future.” While the final product isn’t expected from Engauge for another five months, citizens seem pleased that Winter Park is being proactive in growing local business.

Business Vacancies in Winter Park Remain Low

Originally, the City of Winter Park conducted a study in 2009 to determine how to improve the local economy. Officials admit at the time business along the avenue was slower than today. While the same sense of urgency isn’t evident today, the city believes its new plan will continue a push in the right direction and feels money spent is the right action. As for now, what Park Avenue’s brand will be, remains a mystery. However it appears that Winter Park residents feel good about the city’s plan. Even if it does require a little extra money.

-Arthur Volpe

Written by ArthurVolpe

April 11, 2011 at 1:25 am

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City Council Plans Church Street Comeback

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        -New hope for historic Orlando block   

        “Reintroducing locals to downtown.” That’s the new theme after the Orlando City Council announced its plans to revive Church Street. Bob Snow purchased the block of historic downtown back in the early 1970’s. He went on to build the region into a grouping of themed bars and restaurants that mirrored the historic Church Street Station. Tourism in the area peaked in the 1980’s as millions of people visited the block to experience Orlando nightlife. However, the construction of similar ventures at Universal Studios CityWalk  and Disney World led to a downturn. Visitors suddenly had less of a reason to make the trip from the parks to downtown. Now nearly two decades later, The Orlando City Council has a plan they hope is going to change that trend. In an agreement with a local merchants group the city council is planning a strong comeback for Church Street, one that looks to attract bigger crowds to a place already known for its parties.

        Business in the area is improving ever since the creation of the state of the art Amway Center. Local entrepreneurs responded with a number of new locations opening for service nearby. Undoubtedly, the local economy has improved with consistent gameday crowds for Orlando Magic home games. But city officials want more. Currently there are close to 60 businesses operating in the Church Street area.  The city’s new goal is not only to keep business flowing during and after Magic games, but also to find ways to keep people in town even when the team is on the road. The city is looking to attract young people looking for nightly events and give families a reason to come downtown as well.   

The New Amway Center has helped business on Church Street

            The city’s new plan centers around a schedule that will shut down Church Street roads from traffic on a nightly basis. The regular  street closings will take place from 6:30 pm to 3 am on weeknights and 5 pm to 3 am on weekends. The hopeful result is a shift in the way bars and restaurants are able to conduct business. Restaurants will now have the ability to expand capacity and allow outside dining on a much wider scale. The increased capacity may be lead to increased business for these local venues.  The new plan will also include an increase in the number of vendors and merchants on Church Street. The agreement between the city council and local merchants will allow for up to ten carts at one time to be on a block of downtown.  While the area is known mainly for its places to drink and eat, officials say the addition of new merchants may fill a retail gap in the area as well. The hope is that visitors will have another opportunity to pour money into the local area by purchasing  souvenirs and art on the street while simultaneously experiencing what district representatives call a “festival atmosphere.”           

            The city will be using its resources by advertising the downtown area in Central Florida hotels, tours, trade shows, and conventions. New ideas are being developed for monthly events that should attract a more diverse crowd. There is the potential for downtown auto shows, and wine and art festivals. While locals are noticing an increase in traffic downtown, conditions are far from perfect. Homeless people still wander the streets looking for handouts amongst those kind enough to give them. While business is getting better, the area still needs a cleanup and security.

Church Street roads are closed to traffic.

       The question remains just how much should the city invest into a reclamation project when district officials admit its not likely that Church Street will return to its best years of the 1980’s? The city is looking to apply a minimal amount of funds by using what they already have. Local bars and restaurants will sell themselves and young audiences continue to come downtown for these venues. The next step is giving families and busy professionals looking for more than a drink a reason to stay. The plan is still in its infancy, but the future looks bright for an area once past its prime.

– Arthur Volpe

Written by ArthurVolpe

March 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm

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Protesters Hope to Remove Red Light Cameras

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          – Cameras said to be unsafe, unfair.

       All across the state of Florida, protesters took their complaints to the streets this weekend. In cities such as Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland, Palm Beach, Miami, and even Tallahassee people carried signs and demanded change. What was all the noise and commotion about? The answer: Red Light Cameras. Perhaps not the answer one would expect. However suddenly these small devices are creating quite the controversy. The Florida Civil Rights Association, National Motorists Association, and all teamed up to organize rallies this past weekend in an effort to repeal a law that allows police to ticket those caught on camera running a red light.     

Red Light Camera on Corner of Alafaya and University Dr.

             State legislation was passed last year which authorized the use of red light cameras to deter people from speeding through red lights and intersections. This upcoming Monday in Central Florida will be the first day that people caught on camera will be fined for their actions. This isn’t sitting well with many protesters who say the cameras are unsafe, unconstitutional, and actually do more harm than good.  Critics argue the cameras force many drivers to stop abruptly for fear of being photographed and this is causing an increase in rear-end collisions.  Others have successfully appealed red light camera violations by arguing the cameras are unreliable and don’t clearly show a car’s license plate.

       Senate Bill 672 has been introduced into the Florida Legislature by a Republican from Hialeah named Rene Garcia. Representative Garcia hopes the bill removes red light cameras from Florida intersections. President of the Florida Civil Rights Association J. Willie David III says “the red light camera law should never have seen the light of day.” He explains that many local governments are using red light cameras to their advantage by unfairly taxing citizens while using the excuse of public safety to do so.

          That argument may in fact be legitimate. As early as 2001 the National Motorists Association posted on their website concerning red light camera revenues. The group states Lockheed Martin, one of the largest manufacturers of red light cameras in the country, has clauses in its contracts that prohibit intersections where its cameras are installed to increase yellow light times. Increasing yellow light times has been proven to dramatically reduce traffic accidents.

Central Florida drivers will soon face tickets from red light cameras

The question remains are red light cameras keeping people safer on the roads? The Insurance Institute for Highway safety says yes. Their recent study looks at the time period between 2004 and 2008. During that time the study looked at 14 different American cities. Their conclusion was that red light cameras saved 159 lives during that time and reduced fatal crashes from running red lights by 24 percent.

           For now the debate between traffic safety and camera revenue will continue. While legislation is in play to remove red light cameras, removing them from local intersections will take some time. Starting Monday drivers will have to fight tickets after red light cameras snap them running through intersections. Who knows what will eventually become of those violations?

– Arthur Volpe

Written by ArthurVolpe

March 2, 2011 at 2:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Campus Police Getting Tough at Crosswalks

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Recent Accident Has UCF Police Writing More Tickets

– Arthur Volpe

             The intersection at Gemini Boulevard near the UCF Rec and Wellness Center has a notorious history according to campus police. On February 3rd, 2011 that section of road lived up to its reputation when a young woman was struck and injured by a passing white Toyota Corolla. The woman who remains unidentified sustained head injuries and was transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center. While she is expected to make a full recovery, the accident has brought jay-walking to the forefront of issues UCF police deals with daily. The investigation revealed that the woman was walking against the traffic signal when she was hit by a car. The woman was lucky to get away from the scene without life-threatening injuries but now campus police is changing its policy towards people who ignore cross walk signals.  

Traffic signals are often ignored at busy campus intersections

           According to UCF Police and Public Information Officer Troy Williamson, campus authorities will begin monitoring jay-walking more closely and be much more quick to hand out citations. A ticket for jay-walking will cost someone around $62.50 which police hope will be a deterrent for rushing across a busy intersection.  Authorities say the cross walk outside the UCF gym isn’t the only problem spot on campus. Other intersections include those by the East and West Plazas near UCF Arena where students have a bad habit of running across when they feel traffic isn’t coming. The increase in citations will hopefully reduce accidents near the UCF gym and all across campus as well.

             Until this point UCF police haven’t been quick to write tickets for jay-walkers mainly because it hasn’t been a priority. Sargent Troy Williamson says the main focus recently has been patrol for crime prevention. One of the biggest concerns has been a rise in recent auto thefts on campus. As a result many UCF police cars patrol campus garages. However with jay-walking showing it can be an issue, officers will have to divert attention to preventing future accidents. In a recent interview Sargent Williamson stated his desire not to hand out citations however something needs to be done. “Our job is to save lives and if it means somebody getting a ticket you can be upset. At least I don’t have to sit there and have somebody pick you up and take you out to the trauma unit at ORMC.”    

Crowded Campus Intersections

          As of today jay-walking continues on campus at UCF. Officer Will Stone of campus police mentioned numerous instances of jay-walking he has seen while on patrol. It is a problem UCF police wants to solve and hopes the increase in citations will do just that. The goal is to prevent future incidents like that seen in front of the Rec and Wellness Center. People will continue to take chances however a ticket may make someone think twice about running through a cross walk.

Written by ArthurVolpe

February 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm

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UCF Arena Gets a New “Green” Look

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New Management Team Making Environmentally Conscious Decisions

In July 2010 when the management firm Global Spectrum began running the UCF arena, it was news that mainly went unnoticed. The average UCF student would be more concerned with events taking place at the state of the art venue rather than who is managing the building. Undoubtedly Knights Basketball games and concerts take precedent in the minds of college students. However, beginning in January people at UCF  started to take notice of the UCF arena for a different reason and it has everything to do with management team that took over last summer. 

Exterior of UCF Arena

Global Spectrum has recently announced an initiative to make the UCF Arena a greener, more environmentally friendly structure. Beginning in January, ideas were put into action and suddenly the arena and its staff are much more eco-friendly.  The building and its surroundings, which cost around 107 million dollars to construct, are now becoming a model of how to conserve in a modern world. Looking around the exterior of the arena patrons can find numerous places to recycle waste. Many more bins have been added inside and outside the building. Arena staff will use cleaning products that are only green seal certified. The green seal is a non-profit organization thats been promoting environmental sustainability on the open market since 1989. Employees at the UCF arena will also be buying products made from 100 percent recycled material as well and new green trashbags will be used.

One of the biggest changes that is in the midst of taking place is the lighting system at the arena. Many lighting fixtures outside and on the service levels of the arena are being switched out for new ambient light sensors. The new lights will be able to determine amounts of natural light present and reduce wattage automatically. According to Ron Rideout, Assistant GM of the UCF Arena, these lights will be especially useful on non-gamedays when the arena isn’t being used for much. Rideout continued to say that while saving money is part of this initiative, more importantly it’s just the right thing to do.  Students on campus are starting to take notice of the arena and its changes. Some are beginning to wonder if the arena can set these goals then why can’t the rest of UCF. It is a question that has yet to be completely answered, however the new UCF arena in 2011 is setting the pace for environmental sustainability. 

New recycling bins are located all over the UCF Arena complex

Written by ArthurVolpe

February 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm

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Global Spectrum Runs UCF Facility

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The UCF Arena has new management. The brand new basketball and concert venue is run by Global Spectrum. The Philadelphia based company considers itself an environmentally friendly management firm that runs close to 100 facilities worldwide. In Orlando, UCF’s gem of a facility was placed in the hands of General Manager Lexie Boone. Boone has begun the process of creating new green policies for the state of the art arena.

Global Spectrum is responsible for daily operations at UCF Arena

The management team led by Boone is responsible for managing, marketing, and operating the building which hosts UCF Men’s and Women’s Basketball as well as numerous concerts throughout the year. The company’s job has been extended into new cost cutting, environmentally friendly methods of arena management. January marked the start of a new campaign that promises to reduce operating costs while simultaneously promoting a cleaner, healthier environment for the UCF community.

In a recent phone interview with Assistant General Manager of the UCF Arena Ron Rideout, the facility’s newest plan for going green was talked about. Rideout stressed the importance of lowering overall operating costs at the campus arena but the motivation for doing so wasn’t solely monetary. Rideout stated that helping to preserve the environment was also simply the right thing to do. The new plan at the arena, which began in January, included numerous changes to aspects of the arena. Staff on site will be using products made from 100% recycled material, green seal certified cleaning products numerous more recycling bins available to dispose of waste. New ambient light sensors on the service levels will also help reduce wastes in electricity.

Written by ArthurVolpe

February 2, 2011 at 1:46 am

Posted in Uncategorized