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October 7, 2015

Southwest Florida Roundup

Bradenton's planetarium becomes a star attraction

Art Levy | 1/31/2014

A 2001 electrical fire was nearly the end of Bradenton's Bishop Planetarium. Some on the attraction's governing board, citing the expense of repairing the damage coupled with declining attendance, suggested that the Bishop never reopen. The community, however, rallied around the planetarium, which had drawn locals and tourists to the city's downtown waterfront since 1966.

The planetarium, part of the South Florida Museum, reopened in 2005 after a $4.5-million renovation, funded by a $2.6-million insurance settlement, a $1.2-million federal grant, and donations. The money was used to repair the fire damage but also paid for new equipment, including what was then state-of-the-art projectors. The revamped Bishop helped boost attendance 35%, says Executive Director Brynne Anne Besio.

Now, the planetarium is undergoing more improvements. "Technology changes so fast," says Jeff Rodgers, the planetarium's director. "What was fantastic in 2005 isn't fantastic anymore."

Late last year, Bishop spent $500,000 on a new projection system that can project realistic images across the planetarium's 50-foot dome. The old system, Rodgers says, used seven projectors that had a combined power of 1,500 lumens. The new system, with two larger projectors, reaches 5,000 lumens.

"It's really about the contrast," Rodgers says. "When you're putting stars up, that's when it really starts to pop. The stars are bright. The skies are dark and the colors all look fantastic."

Rodgers says the hard part in buying a new system was getting one that can impress a demanding, tech-savvy public. "Nine years ago, not everyone had a 46- inch, high-definition television at home," he says. "But now everyone does."



Last April, IRISS, a maker of infrared windows for industrial equipment, left the United Kingdom to open a $5.7-million, 33,000-sq.-ft. global headquarters in Manatee County, where it hired 28. Now, the company is expanding again, adding 15,000 square feet to its existing facility and announcing plans to hire another 25. "We never realized our growth would explode like it did," says CEO Martin Robinson. The company's infrared windows, which are used to inspect electrical equipment, protect inspectors from being exposed to hazardous fashes.


New South Biolabs will open a sales, marketing and distribution center. The company plans to hire 52 over the next five years and will get $104,000 in Manatee County incentives if it does.


Interconnect Cables plans to add 40 jobs and invest $3.1 million in a 44,300-sq.-ft. factory at the Brooksville- Tampa Bay Regional Airport. The company makes electronic assemblies.


Duke Energy paid $22 million of its $62.5 million property tax bill for 2013, prolonging a dispute the utility is having with the county. In 2012, Duke Energy agreed to pay $19 million of the $34 million the county said it owed. Duke claims the bills are too high because the county overvalued the pollutioncontrol system on two coal units and overestimated the value of the shuttered Crystal River nuclear power plant. Meanwhile, Duke executives say decommissioning the damaged nuclear plant will cost $1.2 billion over the next 60 years.


Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, which employs 250, has opened a 120,000-sq.-ft. facility in Fort Myers nearly four times bigger than its previous home.


Brew Hub, a brewing cooperative set to open in Lakeland, will include brewing facilities for Tampabased Cigar City beer. » Josh Bresler has resigned as Florida Polytechnic University's CFO.


Hines, a global real estate firm that has its U.S. headquarters in Texas, has purchased the 536- acre Behnke Ranch property, where it plans to develop a mixed-use, master-planned community. The land is zoned for up to 550 single-family homes, 200 townhomes and 440 multifamily units, as well as commercial, office and light industrial projects.


Ireland-based James Hardie, which makes fiber-cement siding and interior products, plans to expand its facilities in eastern Hillsborough County, adding 100 jobs at a new $80-million manufacturing facility.


Mosaic's Streamsong Resort, built on a former phosphate mine, has opened near Fort Meade. The resort has 36 holes of golf, a 216-room lodge, a spa, restaurants, lounges and 13,500 square feet of meeting space.


Covidien, a Massachusetts-based medical device maker, says it will open a 62,200-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in south Hillsborough County, where it will employ 165. The company, which plans to invest $18 million in the factory, will qualify for $825,000 in state and county incentives if it creates the jobs.

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