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Orlando airport travel rebounding gradually; Southwest to stop keeping middle seats open

Orlando International Airport leaders are celebrating some of the busiest days for travelers since the plunge in activity this spring because of the pandemic.

Airport director Phil Brown said the activity levels indicate the beginning of a multiyear recovery and “reflects a pent-up demand for travel” that he hopes will carry through to the holidays.

Airport leaders rely on the Transportation Security Administration’s screening figures as the most current indication of activity. More than 36,000 passengers were checked by TSA officers on Sunday, which, by that category, placed Orlando’s airport as the busiest in Florida and fifth-busiest in the nation, according to airport officials.

It was also the nation’s busiest day, topping a combined 1 million passengers screened by the Transportation Security Administration, which hadn’t dealt with such a volume since March.

But on the same Sunday last year, TSA officers counted 2.6 million passengers. Overall, the nation’s climb to 1 million passengers screened in a day has been gradual since a low of fewer than 88,000 passengers on April 14.

A sign of the uptick in air travel: Southwest Airlines on Thursday announced it would no longer keep middle seats open, beginning Dec. 1.

“It was easy for airlines to block middle seats early in the pandemic when there was very little customer demand for flights,” said Scott Keyes, chief executive officer of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a website service that notifies subscribers of low fares.

“But with demand slowly creeping back up for months, it’s becoming costly for airlines to continue blocking middle seats. At some point Southwest had to rip the band-aid off, and I would expect Delta, Alaska, and jetBlue to follow suit soon,” Keyes said.

Southwest Airlines said its decision to no longer block off middle is based on studies “that point to aircraft cabins as an environment where transmission of the virus is statistically improbable for two primary reasons: the uniform usage of masks; and sophisticated air systems that introduce fresh air throughout a flight.”

Among airlines, Southwest Airlines maintains a sizable lead in average daily departures from Orlando International Airport, with 70 nonstop flights to 28 cities. That’s a third fewer than a year ago.

American, Spirit, Frontier, Delta and JetBlue have similar numbers of daily flights in the mid-20s range. JetBlue operated nearly 40 flights daily last year. United is lagging behind with 17 average daily departures.

“We do see some increases in demand, as well as continued increases in customer confidence,” said Delta spokesman Drake Castañeda. “Delta continues to evaluate its schedule and is adjusting as needed based on customer demand, government travel directives and CDC guidelines.”

With tepid activity levels compared with the the start of 2020, both Orlando’s airport and airlines nationally are planning to shed more jobs, scale back costs and leave planes parked.

Orlando International Airport has not been cleared yet for flights to and from much of Europe. Service on U.S. and foreign carriers continues to Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Panama.

While conditions aren’t as

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Full Blast is back open but the future of city recreation is still unclear

Members of the Battle Creek Table Tennis Club have missed their Monday night sessions at Full Blast for the past six months.  

a group of people in a room: Members of the Battle Creek Table Tennis Club play at Full Blast Recreation Center on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

© Elena Durnbaugh
Members of the Battle Creek Table Tennis Club play at Full Blast Recreation Center on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.

“I missed it quite a bit, not just playing, but the camaraderie,” said Craig Kenney, a longtime member of the group.  

Monday night was the group’s third time back together since the pandemic began in March, and the club was grateful to have the space to gather at Full Blast, which is back open after months of being closed due to COVID-19.

“This is a godsend,” said Mark E. Crum, who helps organize the club.

Though recreational programming is still on hold and the future is uncertain, the city is committed to providing residents with the space to play safely in Battle Creek.

The Recreation Department has taken a big financial hit this year due to the pandemic. Closed facilities and canceled programs meant recreation revenue fell by 45% during the months of July and August compared to the previous year fiscal year, according to city Finance Director Lina Morrison, and with COVID-19 cases on the rise again, programming may not return to what it was before anytime soon. 

The annual revenue of the recreation department was $2,476,902, according to the city’s 2020 amended budget. Although the department does bring in some money through grants and donations, revenue is the primary source of income for the department. 

“Our business model is built around the idea of gathering people, usually in close contact, for fun, and that doesn’t work well in a pandemic environment,” Assistant City Manager Ted Dearing said. 

Spring baseball leagues, summer youth camps and fall flag football were all canceled this year due to health and safety requirements. 

During the summer, the city used Full Blast as a temporary homeless shelter to allow more space for people to social distance. Although that was another source of lost revenue, Dearing said it was an essential role for the city to fill in a pandemic. 

Now, even with facilities open again, recreation looks different. 

“Regular recreation department services are severely limited, due to their nature and the guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Dearing said. 

With continued uncertainty around COVID-19, programming remains one of the biggest challenges, Dearing said. There aren’t any specific plans for programming for the rest of the year, and three recreation department employees are still on furlough out of a total of five. 

“We may have to change the way we think about how we deliver services,” Dearing said. “We’re going to try to offer as much programming as we can, but we recognize going forward it’s going to have to be financially feasible.” 

For the time being, youth programs through the department and at the Bailey Park complex are still on hold. 

Despite limitations, people have been eager to get back to the city’s facilities, Recreation Director Duska Brumm said.

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Chef Alon Shaya to open new restaurant in New Orleans’ Four Seasons hotel | Where NOLA Eats

The Four Seasons hotel now taking shape in the World Trade Center is transforming one of the most recognizable buildings on the New Orleans skyline. When it opens next year, it will have a new restaurant from a chef New Orleans already knows well.

Alon Shaya, chef of the Uptown restaurant Saba, and his wife and business partner Emily Shaya are developing the new restaurant, now slated to open in early 2021.

It will be an upscale, modern New Orleans restaurant, Alon Shaya said. Although its name has yet to be announced, the chef said the vision behind it is clear.

“This will be my expression of what I love about Louisiana cuisine, my love letter to it in a way,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been studying and writing the opening menu for this restaurant for the last 18 years of living here.”


People look at construction at the Four Seasons located at the foot of Canal Street as the former World Trade Center is transformed into a luxury hotel topped by condominiums in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020.

The hotel, officially the Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences New Orleans, will mark a new chapter for the landmark World Trade Center building at the foot of Canal Street. Long in disrepair, the property’s redevelopment as a luxury hotel and condominium project has been touted as a boon for reviving this part of downtown and the riverfront.

While hotels and restaurants alike are mired in hard times as the pandemic continues, Shaya said he was looking hopefully toward the future with this new project.

“By next year, when people begin traveling again, I see so many coming to visit here again and making up for lost time,” he said.

The Shayas have partnered with the Four Seasons through their company Pomegranate Hospitality, which runs their local modern Israeli restaurant Saba as well as another in Denver called Safta.


Emily Shaya is director of new projects for Pomegranate Hospitality. At its first restaurant, Saba, portraits of chef Alon Shaya’s grandfather are on display by the front door. The word saba is Hebrew for grandfather.

Pomegranate Hospitality will handle food and beverage across the Four Seasons’ lobby, with a bar in addition to the restaurant.

The restaurant will be on the hotel’s ground level adjoining the lobby. Shaya said it will showcase a diversity of classic and more contemporary influences running through Louisiana cuisine, with elements ranging from Cajun to Vietnamese.

“It will be a grand dining experience,” Shaya said. “Part of what I love so much about my experiences here have been eating at restaurants like Commander’s Palace, Galatoire’s, Brennan’s, Brigtsen’s, K-Paul’s, Emeril’s. All those helped shape my view of what grand dining can be. I love the allure of it, the history of it. I’m excited to be part of something like that.”

Before the pandemic, visitors flocked to Willie Mae’s Scotch House to try its

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Cuomo Open To Limiting Non-Essential Travel Between New Jersey, Connecticut Amid Spike


New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday he’s open to limiting travel between his state and neighboring New Jersey and Connecticut after both, facing a recent uptick on Covid-19 cases, technically qualified for New York’s quarantine list. 

Key Facts

Cuomo said during a press conference that both New Jersey and Connecticut have surpassed the positivity threshold required to make the list, which now includes 43 states and territories. 

However, as he has long insisted, Cuomo acknowledged that it would be impractical to force residents to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival in New York.

“There are just too many interchanges, there are too many interconnections, there are too many people who live in one place and work in another,” said the governor, adding: “It would have a disastrous effect on the economy.” 

While Cuomo said he wouldn’t enforce a quarantine, he is open to the idea of limiting non-essential travel between the three states.

Cuomo said he will speak to Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday about potential travel limitations.

Crucial Quote 

“We’re going to be working with Connecticut and New Jersey to see how we can help them with their spikes and also … about making it clear to the extent travel between the states is non-essential, it should be avoided,” said Cuomo. 

Key Background 

To qualify for the travel advisory list, states must report a 10% positivity rate on a seven-day rolling average or more than 10 new cases per 100,000 people in the same period. New Jersey reported 80 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past week, amounting to 7,109 cases, while Connecticut counted 74, totaling 2,644 new cases in the state. Gov. Lamont previously argued that the criteria should be loosened, but Cuomo has not signaled agreement. New York has managed to keep the virus mostly at bay after a deadly few months in the state ending in early June, though it has recently reported a slight uptick in cases (up 10% over the past two weeks from the 14 days prior). 

Further Reading 

“Virus Cases Spike In New Jersey, Threatening ‘Lurch Backward’” (The New York Times) 

“As CT cases climb, Lamont revises travel advisory” (ctpost)

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Travel: Redesigned boutique hotel now open in West Lafayette | Lifestyles – Travel

Throughout the hotel are Boilermaker touches, including the school crest embedded into carpeting in the public spaces and on pillows in the rooms, historic photos hanging above the beds and tartan prints. The lobby has a very cool bookcase design above the front desk with rotating black and white photos projected onto it, and there are several cozy nooks to have a seat and relax. I love the stylish room decor and luxurious in-room touches like comfy robes, Pharmacopia products (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion) and Caribou Coffee. Rooms feature WiFi, mini fridges and large flatscreen TVs.

We took a walk on the second floor beyond the hotel into the Purdue Memorial Union, which has stunning architectural features and busts of past presidents, along with an information desk with campus maps and information on the area.

Within the hotel are three dining options, and my husband and I had the opportunity to experience each one while we were there. A little bit after checking in we had a reservation for dinner at 8Eleven, the hotel’s full-service restaurant that is named to honor two NASA missions: Gemini 8 and Apollo 11 — both commanded by Purdue alumnus Neil Armstrong. Described as their “refined and sophisticated gathering spot,” the French-American bistro has an open kitchen concept and an impressive menu.

It was difficult making a decision on what to order. We started with oysters and gulf shrimp cocktail, and it was immediately apparent that everything is top-quality. For entrees, we decided on the halibut with heirloom tomatoes, fennel, lemon and sweet pepper and that evening’s special, the Filet Oscar — a medium filet mignon with lump crab, covered in Hollandaise sauce over asparagus. It was phenomenal, and our meal earned a spot as one of my favorite eateries in the state. I never expected to enjoy seafood that good in a small Midwest college town.

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High-rise hotel proposals would ‘open the floodgates’ on Siesta Key

Opponents see high-rise
hotel proposals as threat
to character of the island

Timothy Fanning
| Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SIESTA KEY – The days of Siesta Key’s reputation as a quaint yet quirky island community might soon be over. 

Three developers have lined up to pore over paperwork with Sarasota County planners, pitching what might become, if approved by elected officials, a beach hotel renaissance on Siesta that opponents fear would fundamentally change the character life along the Gulf of Mexico. 

Two of the three are asking the county to throw out current density and height requirements to make room for seven-story beach resorts. The proposals also include changes to the zoning regulations could allow for much higher development densities. 

“This opens the floodgates for other intense development on the key,” said Mark Spiegel, a representative of the Beach Villa at the Oasis. 

Deep dive: Mike Moran helped craft policy, then was tapped to head an agency that benefited from his vote

Spiegel is part of a growing consortium of homeowners associations, condominium councils and other organizations that have joined to oppose the projects. 

Here’s a glimpse of the proposals; they are all within blocks of each other and are still in the county’s development review process:  

  • Mike Holderness wants to expand his Siesta Key Resort on Ocean Boulevard from 55 to 170 rooms. 
  • Robert Anderson wants a second Village hotel with its entrance on Calle Miramar. The 170-room, seven-story hotel would replace existing single-story buildings. It also calls for a 223-space parking garage, a restaurant and a rooftop pool and bar. Traffic is proposed to come and go along Calle Miramar. 
  • Gary Kompathecras wants to build a seven-story, 120-room hotel at Siesta Key’s south entry on Old Stickney Point and Peacock Roads. The proposed structure would sit on a little over one acre. 

Siesta Key’s charm has long been protected by a set of policies, restrictions and building codes. 

Those regulations affect hotel accommodations, limit building heights, control building density and setbacks. The proposed changes, if approved by elected officials, could impact protections of other county barrier islands. 

It would set a “dangerous precedent,” Spiegel said.

While Anderson’s and Kompathecras’ hotels would exceed the 35-foot height restriction on Siesta Key, all three developers want special exceptions to raise the permitted height to 83 to 85 feet. 

Developers are also asking for another important change: Hotels on the barrier islands are limited to 13 rooms an acre or 26 an acre without a kitchen. More than 100 rooms per acre are proposed for each of the three hotels. 

To do that, the county would need to change zoning regulations and eliminate any restriction or allow much higher densities. 

So far, no public hearings have been scheduled on any of the proposals. 

Opposing the projects is a group calling itself the Siesta Key Coalition. The group has grown to include representatives of a dozen homeowners associations, the leadership of the Siesta Key Condominium Council and the Siesta Key Association. Collectively, the group represents

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Union County Provides Open Space Grants for Recreation, Trees

This post was contributed by a community member. The views expressed here are the author’s own.

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders is pleased to announce that grants have been awarded to 19 municipalities for improvements to recreation resources for children, through the Kid’s Recreation Trust Fund. In addition, 14 municipalities were awarded matching grants for planting new trees through the Greening Union County program. Both grant programs are funded through the Union County Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

“Since first established in 2000, the Open Space Trust Fund has enabled Union County residents of all ages to enjoy continued improvements in public recreation resources and local treescapes, in addition to historic preservation projects,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella. “The Freeholder Board is very proud to carry on this mission as the Trust Fund attains its 20th year of service to the public.”

The Open Space Trust Fund was established by popular referendum in 2000, with an initial focus on preserving open space and improving the Union County park system. In 2004 the mission expanded to include annual matching grants to municipalities for improving local children’s recreation resources, and matching grants to encourage municipalities to plant new trees.

Since its inception in 2004, the Kids Recreation Trust Fund has provided local communities with almost $18.7 million in funding.

The following municipalities received grants from the 2020 round of the Kids Recreation Trust Fund:

  • Berkeley Heights: $50,000 to install new play area at the new municipal complex 29 Park Avenue, and to resurface tennis courts and bleacher pad at Columbia Middle School Softball field.. As part of the Columbia project, PAL will add gates to dugout fencing.
  • Clark: $16,029 for improvements to the Nelson and Dolan Girls Softball fields and facilities, and for replacing the flooring the Senior Fitness Center.
  • Cranford: $65,000 for renovation of indoor tennis court, upgrades to the Memorial and Centennial Avenue Pool, and resurfacing of basketball courts at the Adams, Buchanan, and Johnson parks.
  • Elizabeth: $115,000 for ADA compliant improvements to the Kellogg Park playground.
  • Fanwood: $40,000 for Master Plans to improve Forest Road Park.
  • Garwood: $3,362 for a deep clean of the turf field at the Garwood Sports and Recreation Complex, and for the purchase of field hockey goals.
  • Kenilworth: $75,000 for removal and remediation of asbestos tile in the recreation building, and for removal of tennis courts.
  • Linden: $70,000 for reconstruction of the tennis courts at Dr. Martin Luther King Park.
  • Mountainside: $30,000 for upgrades to playground, and renovations to the Deerfield softball and baseball Fields.
  • New Providence: $40,000 for modifications to the walking path surrounding the Recreational Complex
  • Plainfield: $90,000 for the installation of new lighting at the basketball courts in Rushmore Park.
  • Rahway: $25,645 for milling, resurfacing, color coating, relining, and adding ADA access to the basketball court at Howard Field.
  • Roselle: $75,000 for Phase II of improvements at Grove Street Park, with new toddler playground that meets State of New Jersey safety requirements.
  • Roselle Park: $50,000for
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Queens’ Resorts World Casino NYC announces Hyatt Regency JFK hotel to open next year

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Resorts World Casino New York City will increase its profile as a vital economic engine in southeast Queens early next year when it opens a new $400 million, four-star hotel, according to its parent company Genting Americas.

The Hyatt Regency JFK, an eight-story, 400-room, four-star hotel will feature residential-inspired guest rooms and premium suites, as well as new restaurants, state-of-the-art conference and meeting spaces, retail options and additional gaming areas.

“Hyatt’s global brand recognition will give Resorts World an even greater opportunity to tap into the travel and tourism market worldwide and showcase our unparalleled hospitality, gaming, dining and entertainment offerings,” Genting Americas East President Bob DiSalvio said. “We are proud to work with such an iconic brand as we move NY forward, and we are excited that our guests will soon be able to enjoy an integrated casino resort hotel experience right here in Queens.”

This development will bring the total investment of RWNYC to more than $1.1 billion since opening in October 2011, after Genting spent more than $700 million to enhance the existing Aqueduct grandstand to become a leading entertainment destination.

The hotel addition is estimated to create more than 500 well-paying careers for New Yorkers and provide additional revenue for New York State’s Lottery Education Fund. RWNYC has already generated nearly $3 billion for New York’s public schools.

“This hotel creates job opportunities for hundreds of the borough’s residents and is an important step in improving the gaming experience in Queens,” said state Senator Joseph Addabbo, who serves as chairman of the NYS Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. “Resorts World Casino New York City is doing its part to show tourists there is more to New York City than just Manhattan. I look forward to more people exploring the borough I’ve called home my entire life.”

The $400 million hotel and amenities investment has long been part of Genting’s vision of bringing an integrated resort, popular in destinations such as Las Vegas and Singapore to New York City. The integrated resort will seamlessly feature a variety of non-gaming amenities to complement the most innovative gaming products and entertainment offerings, allowing guests of all interests and budgets an experience that fits their personal tastes.

“Resorts World Casino New York City’s partnership with Hyatt is a welcome addition to the Fifth District, further adding to the thriving economic development in southeast Queens,” Congressman Gregory Meeks said. “Hyatt’s hospitality will help service the substantial tourism that comes through JFK, which serves as not just a hub to New York City but the world. I congratulate Resorts World New York and Hyatt and look forward to seeing the jobs created in the community as a result of this partnership.”

Beyond redefining the hotel experience for leisure guests, the new hotel will apply a high-touch experience for meetings and events, with 5,000 square feet of total function and state-of-the-art meeting facilities all backed

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Lake Havasu boat ramps open as Arizona pushes outdoor recreation | Coronavirus

All of the boat ramps in Lake Havasu City remain open as part of the essential function to provide outdoor recreation to residents per the governor’s stay-at-home order issued Monday.

Across the Colorado River, however, the Chemehuevi chairman Charles Wood said the tribe has basically shut down the boat ramps with “very limited traffic” remaining.

“There are some local residents that have boats, they are very understanding that we are trying to keep people even off the lake, and from traveling around,” he said.

Wood said the tribe started taking actions to limit movement about two weeks ago, and their efforts have slowly evolved over time as different declarations were announced.

Wood said the hotel and casino are completely vacant and they are not allowing any new campers into the area. Those who were already camping when the coronavirus situation arose have been allowed to stay, however.

As a federally recognized tribe the Chemehuevi have the authority to chart their own course, but Wood said they are relying heavily on advice from various government officials and entities.

“We are listening to the president, we are listening to the governor, and we are listening to Indian Health Services,” Woods said. “I would say 99 percent we are probably following what (California) Gov. (Gavin) Newson has put out — 99 or maybe even 100 percent.”

The Big River boat ramps in La Paz County are also closed.

Meanwhile the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department’s Colorado River Station said all of the public boat ramps in Needles, California, are open.

Outdoor recreation encouraged

On Tuesday many local residents took advantage of the outdoor recreation essential function by heading out to the lake for some fresh air.

Lake Havasu City resident Russ Kavanaugh is an avid bass fisherman and regular on the lake but on Tuesday he had a little company in his boat.

“I’m out because I can’t take the house anymore — I had to get out,” said Russ’ wife Jean Kavanaugh. “This is so confining, but this is the only place you can go where you can social distance, so it is very nice to be out on the lake.”

Lots of locals seem to have had the same idea.

The parking lot at the Lake Havasu State Park boat ramps was mostly full late Tuesday morning. Russ noted that the parking lot looked more like it was a holiday weekend than a weekday in Havasu. Even with the extra crowds, however, Jean said people seem to be keeping to themselves and practicing proper social distancing while putting their boats in and out of the water and that there is plenty of room for everyone out on the lake.

Jean said they have had to tweak how they go about daily life without meetings or church to go to. She said they generally try to go out to eat a couple times a week, but have had to cut back as restaurants have been ordered to close their dine-in operations. Jean

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