Donald Trump's 'Weekend White House' brings change to Palm Beach
The president is visiting his estate in Palm Beach this weekend for the second time in two weeks. With him comes a horde of media and secret service members, traffic jams, security costs, business disruptions and ever-present protestors.
But some people say the president's presence also can bring benefits, from more-crowded hotels to national exposure.
Either way, there's no doubt that Palm Beach County's most public part-time resident has altered life on an island that treasures its privacy.
"We will adapt," Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio said. "We are working the best we can with the Secret Service (to) have it be a gentle transition for the residents and the safety and security of the president."
Trump has been a frequent Palm Beach visitor since buying the 18-acre Mar-a-Lago estate in 1985.
Built in 1927 as a home for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, the National Historic Landmark was renovated by Trump and converted to a private club that doubles as his part-time residence.
After the election, Trump declared Mar-a-Lago his Winter White House, but his getaways to Palm Beach are coming more frequently than some expected.
He is here this weekend for a mix of diplomacy and golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe and his wife, Akie, stayed at Mar-a-Lago and had dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania Trump on Saturday night. Abe and his wife are leaving Sunday.
The town, a favorite playground for President John Kennedy, has played host to presidents before, but that was before the media glare was so bright and presidential security so extensive.
Security concerns shut down Southern Boulevard as the presidential motorcade travels from Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach to Mar-a-Lago.
On the island this weekend, drivers and pedestrians alike will be stopped from using South Ocean Boulevard, between South County Road and Southern Boulevard. Only residents living between South County Road and Woodbridge Road will be allowed through. That restriction from the Secret Service extends east across the beach to the ocean, according to the town.
Palm Beach this week launched new measures aimed at minimizing traffic tie-ups when Trump comes to town.
Contractors, landscaping crews and pool cleaners in town are being asked to stop work and leave the island by 3 p.m. on Fridays, at least through May 1.
Town employees are being switched to flex scheduling, timed to avoid adding to the rush hour crunch. And residents are being urged to sign up for the town's email and text traffic alerts that provide warnings about congested areas during presidential visits.
During peak travel times, the town plans to adjust traffic lights to give preference to drivers going east and west.
In the high-end shops on Worth Avenue, some employees called Trump's visit last weekend "a disaster" and "a total mess."
"When he comes to town and they shut down all the streets like that, it really hurts us," said one restaurant server who asked not to be named for fear she could get in trouble with management. "When it takes 45 minutes to turn onto Royal Palm, that's a problem. When it takes an hour and a half to go across the bridge, that's a problem."
Temporary flight restrictions when Trump is in town also can delay commercial flights in and out of Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, while virtually shutting down general aviation flights in the area.
Non-emergency aircraft are required to stay at least a mile away from Mar-a-Lago, which is less than three miles from the airport in West Palm Beach.
Also, flight training, airplane rentals and sightseeing flights, like those coming from the nearby Lantana airport, are not allowed within 30 nautical miles of Mar-a-Lago during presidential visits.
Trump's initial four-day visit to Mar-a-Lago as president caused about $250,000 in lost sales for Palm Beach County airports and aviation-related businesses, mostly from lost fuel sales, according to county estimates.
The flight restrictions have been "devastation" for Cloud Nine Helicopters, said Geoff Painter, owner of the flight training school at the Lantana airport.
Painter said his customers do most of their flying on the weekends and his company is missing out on 20 to 25 flights per day when Trump is in town. Painter said he plans to move his company in order to stay in business.
"It's going to be a very tough year," Painter said. "Everything we (normally) do, we can't do when he is in town."
Despite the inconveniences, some business leaders say there should be a long-term economic benefit to the area for hosting the president. They expect a tourism boost from the international media exposure presidential visits bring.
The media flocking to Mar-a-Lago and broadcasting images of "robins egg-blue skies and the sunshine" are going to bring more customers to hotels, restaurants and other businesses, said Dennis Grady, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches.
"Any time you raise your location on the radar screen, it helps travel and tourism," Grady said. "That's good for our major industry."
Many Palm Beach businesses reported little change during Trump's initial visits, which may have more to do with geography than anything else. There aren't a lot of businesses in the area shut down to traffic, aside from the Mar-a-Lago Club itself and the Palm Beach Bath and Tennis Club just south of it.
"We are the closest hotel to Mar-a-Lago, and the two weekends that President Trump is in town have been sold out," said Marta Weinstein, a sales representative at The Colony Palm Beach. That said, Weinstein pointed out that the hotel had events booked for both weekends.
While she conceded that closed streets could mean fewer hotel stays, she also said the hotel's proximity could mean that all of the media, Secret Service and others who follow the president could more than make up for it.
"It's a little too early to tell whether business will be affected," she said.
The Colony is about two miles north of Mar-a-Lago, while the closest to the south is the Ambassador, four miles away. Representatives there said there was no change in room occupancy from this time last year.
Palm Beach County commissioners have called for tweaking some of the president's security measures to have less of an impact on the Lantana airport and other businesses.
The county also is asking the federal government to help pay more of the local security costs from the president's visits.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office estimates it had about $250,000 in overtime expenses helping with security duties during Trump's Thanksgiving visit to Mar-a-Lago, before taking office.
West Palm Beach police racked up about $14,500 in overtime responding to thousands of protesters marching through the city toward Palm Beach during Trump's first visit as president, last weekend.
Costs for the Sheriff's Office and the Palm Beach Police Department from the Feb. 4 protest were not yet available.
The Town of Palm Beach needs to consider adding more officers if protests become a regular part of presidential visits, according to Kirk Blouin, the town's director of public safety.
About 40 of the town's 70 police officers responded to the Feb. 4 protest, which takes away from other patrols and investigations, Blouin said.
"If it continues at this pace, (the town) will have to budget for more officers," Blouin said. "Taxpayers are going to have to pay more."
Staff writer Skyler Swisher contributed to this report.