Central Florida Roundup
SeaWorld's Whale of a Fight
With tourism rebounding strongly, SeaWorld Entertainment was looking forward to 2014. The Orlando-based company's flagship park in Orlando was headed for record earnings with higher ticket prices and new attractions. Then came what looked to be another stock documentary by free the- whales activists, a low-budget film destined for a quick fade to obscurity. But Blackfish the movie caught fire in late 2013 and has SeaWorld executives seeing red.
Blackfish depicts the life of Tilikum, the six-ton orca that killed senior trainer Dawn Brancheau at the Orlando park in 2010. Through stark video, edited interviews and melodramatic touches, the film portrays marine parks as corporate profiteers with little regard for the mental health of performing sea life and "Shamus" such as Tilikum.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the Los Angeles filmmaker who directed the movie, says in interviews in print and online that although she is convinced SeaWorld trainers love their killer whales and the orcas successfully bond with them, the stress of captivity and repetitive performances is inhumane. Though Blackfish is widely described as a documentary, the film's website calls it "a mesmerizing psychological thriller, with a killer whale at its centre."
When big-name singers and entertainers began canceling scheduled performances at SeaWorld Orlando amid the growing Hollywood buzz about the movie, SeaWorld responded with national advertising reiterating the company's longstanding commitment to marine life in its 11 parks and the world's oceans. For the coming year, at least some of the company's challenge will be to counter public relations fallout from the film, which reportedly grossed only about $2 million in a limited release but has since been boosted by continuing news coverage and awards.
SeaWorld is getting encouragement from a business lobbying group concerned about economic damage to the $1.5-billion-a-year company and its employees. Associated Industries of Florida sent a notice to members in late December declaring that it "will stand with SeaWorld."
Hyatt hotels veteran Patricia Engfer was appointed area vice president and general manager of Orlando's Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. She was previously GM at Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. » Craig Polejes joined Reunion Bank of Florida as president for Orange and Seminole County. The bank is based in Tavares. Thomas Weinberg, a Realtor and fourth- generation Brevard resident, was re- elected chairman of the Canaveral Port Authority Board for a second consecutive term.
High-tech spinoff TapShield has raised $750,000 in public and private money to promote and market its advanced security alert and tracking system. The Orlando firm's mobile-device software app, using technology developed at the University of Florida, turns a smart phone into a personal emergency beacon with the tap of an icon. It sends an alert to security at a selected location such as schools, universities or corporations, and provides real-time location data using global positioning satellite signals. The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research, created by the Legislature in 2007, contributed to the financing.
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — Construction manager Roger B. Kennedy Inc. has won contracts for vacation club and timeshare projects in the Orlando area valued at $50 million. The largest of the projects includes three phases of Regal Resort's $22.4-million vacation club, including a clubhouse with pool, adjacent to Kissimmee's Old Town attraction.
BREVARD COUNTY — Disney Cruise Line is sailing three ships out of Port Canaveral for the first time, as the Disney Magic was moved from Miami back to its original home port in Brevard. The Magic joins Disney's Dream and Fantasy, while the company's fourth vessel, Disney Wonder, was shifted to Miami for spring cruises. » The county plans to spend more than $15 million on energy efficiency and other upgrades to county buildings. » In hopes of persuading MC Assembly to stay in Brevard and not move more than 500 jobs to locations with lower labor costs, such as Mexico, county commissioners approved $853,000 in property tax breaks for the Palm Bay company, overriding objections that the breaks provide the company an unfair advantage over competitors.
KISSIMMEE — Give Kids the World resort refurbished 88 of the village's 140 villas in a $4.4-million makeover at the 70-acre Osceola County property. The non-profit provides free vacations for children with life-threatening illnesses and for their families.
MAITLAND — KBS Strategic Opportunity, a real estate investment trust based in California, bought the 230,366-sq.-ft. Maitland promenade II office building for $31.2 million. The fivestory Class A building is less than a mile from Interstate 4.
ORLANDO — The U.S. Army boosted its contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles & Fire Control Orlando by $14.5 million for engineering and logistics work on a new turret system for the Apache helicopter's advanced weapons-targeting system. Blackstone Group sold about $540 million worth of shares in SeaWorld Entertainment, reducing its holdings below 50%. The private equity firm remains the largest shareholder in the Orlando-based company, but analysts say the firm is likely to continue to reduce its share. » The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts has scheduled an official opening date of Nov. 6 for the first phase of the $514-million center in downtown Orlando. Two of three planned venues will open, with total seating for about 3,000. The final 1,700- seat acoustic hall is expected to be completed by 2018 if fundraising continues strong.
ORANGE COUNTY — The Orlando Health hospital chain has ended its more than 20-year licensed-affiliation with Texas-based M.D. Anderson, taking on the University of Florida as its new partner in its downtown Orlando cancer center. The facility has been renamed the UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health. Hospital executives say the affiliation with the Gainesville university medical school sharpens its state and regional focus as a leader in comprehensive cancer care. Summit Church sold a strip retail center near its main church facilities on east Colonial Drive for $1.5 million. maitland-based Equinox Development, bought the center on 1.4 acres. » The University of Central Florida ranks 21st among the top 100 universities for registering patents, with more than 70 per year, according to the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association. » The 334-room Embassy Suites at Lake Buena Vista was sold to a limited liability investment company for $25.7 million.
OSCEOLA COUNTY — Osceola became the latest central Florida county to authorize red-light cameras, with 10 intersections in unincorporated areas selected for automated ticketing for violators. Kissimmee began installing the cameras in 2012.
SANFORD — Orlando Sanford International Airport set a record for passenger traffc in 2013, with more than 2 million people passing through the Seminole County airport just north of Orlando. The 12% year-over-year increase, credited mainly to the expansion of domestic service by Las Vegas-based Allegiant airline, surpassed the previous record of 1.84 million, set in 2008.
SEMINOLE COUNTY — The county has approved a plan to boost its parks and recreation facilities countywide during the coming decade at a cost of more than $100 million. From sports fields and boat ramps to multiuse recreational trails, the proposed additions and improvements will require the county to team with cities including Lake Mary, Oviedo, Sanford and Winter Springs as well as the Seminole school system and grant funding agencies to meet the ambitious budgetary goal.