Atheist Space Creates Community, Eliminates Stigma

By on January 29th, 2015 | Last updated: January 29, 2015 at 3:00 pm
Adrienne Fagan, a creator of Gainesville Atheist Brunch, checks the event page she created to advertise GAB’s inaugural brunch. GAB aims to create a safe space for atheists to gather and build community.

Adrienne Fagan, a creator of Gainesville atheist Brunch, checks the event page she created to advertise GaB’s inaugural brunch. GaB aims to create a safe space for atheists to gather and build community. Alicia Soller / WUFT News

A Gainesville woman has made it her mission to combat anti-atheist stigmas – one waffle at a time.

According to a Pew Research Center study, the American public looks as negatively on atheists as it does on Muslims.

On a scale from zero to 100, with zero being the worst rating of religious groups and 100 the best, atheism received an average rating of 41, while Muslims received an average rating of 40, according to the study.

Gainesville atheist Brunch, a gathering where atheists can talk openly and socialize in an outdoors setting, is spearheaded by creator Adrienne Fagan, a research coordinator at the University of Florida.

Those who attend the gathering can bring food and games. The purpose of the Gainesville atheist Brunch’s first meeting, scheduled for Feb. 1 at Thomas Center Gardens, is to introduce atheists to each other in a space they can meet and create a community.

“We don’t necessarily congregate or have that built-in community that religious people do,” Fagan said. “But this gives atheists a chance to have that community.”

Only two weeks old, Gainesville atheist Brunch aims to foster a sense of friendship and openness among local atheists, Fagan said.

“The word atheist can be vilified,” Fagan said. “This is a non-dogmatic space people can get together and feel less isolated.”

The isolation atheists feel can be paralleled to the isolation of those in the LGBT community, according to Melanie Brewster, Fagan’s friend and an associate professor in psychology at Columbia University.

“There is a similar stigma in the marginalization of these groups,” Brewster said, who wrote a book in 2014 entitled “Atheist in America,” further exploring the parallels she found.

“People in the South and Midwest especially might feel it more because there are people who are much more religious,” she said.

In the eight years Brewster lived in Gainesville while pursuing her undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Florida, she said there was never a space like the one Fagan is creating.

Gary S. Edinger, a Gainesville attorney who specializes in First Amendment law, said he thinks since Gainesville is generally socially progressive, people gathering for the brunch shouldn’t run into criticism from local residents. However, other parts of North Central Florida might differ.

According to Fagan, she first wants to gauge how local atheists are feeling and what they want to talk about. She hopes to explore the idea of diving into a more guided discussion on atheism at future meetings.

For now, Fagan said she is hopeful for its future and simply wants to enjoy brunch with fellow atheists.

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Lucky’s Market Adds To Continued Restoration of Northwest 13th Street

By on January 29th, 2015 | Last updated: January 29, 2015 at 1:05 pm

The last decade has been an economic rollercoaster ride for Northwest 13th Street. New retailers forced original businesses to close their doors, a cycle that has continued until 2013.

Over the past two years, the area has become a popular destination for businesses. Burlington Coat Factory, Big Lots and Lucky’s Market are now located on the street, with a Ross Dress For Less set to open in March, and a Rooms To Go later this year.

Erik Bredfeldt, Gainesville’s director of Economic Development and Innovation, said the demographics of the region could be one reason why businesses find the area appealing, especially because they tend to look for nearby households with relatively strong disposable incomes.

The 2010 census released by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the 60.3 percent of households around Northwest 13th Street and Northwest 23rd  Avenue were families.

The United States Census Bureau complied data on household income and type in the 32605 zip code.

The United States Census Bureau complied data on household income and type from ZIP codes across the country. The data above is representative of ZIP code 32605. ” U.S. Department of Commerce

More than 55 percent of people had management, professional and related occupations. The largest income bracket (18.7 percent of the population) made $50,000 to $75,000, according to the American Community Survey.

Lucky’s Market, a franchised grocery store that originated in Colorado, is the most recent addition to the area, moving into what was once a Pic ‘N’ Save.

Garris Matthews, director of the Gainesville location, said the demographics are one of the primary reasons why the company chose its location.

“The reason that we pick these types of locations [college areas] is that we know the shopper, and people, are educated,” Matthews said. “They know the food they buy from us affects their bodies. It’s good for us. ”

Bredfeldt also cited the recovery of the U.S. economy as another influential factor.

“That’s basically added to the arrival of some more business enterprises in that corridor,” Bredfeldt said.

Betsy Whitaker, president of Asset Management Inc., said the revitalization along Northwest 13th Street creates more consumer options, makes good use of the land by recycling old buildings and vacant lots, and allows residents to avoid the hassle of navigating the traffic of Archer Road.

Whitaker’s company is responsible for bringing Verizon Wireless, Lowe’s Home Improvement and Lucky’s to the area. But, she said it was no easy feat convincing retailers.

Lowe’s Home Improvement rejected the offer three times before accepting its spot on 2564 NW 13th Street

“It took me working through a lot of noes,” she said.

Victoria Van Popering, a Gainesville native and retired nurse, remembers the site before improvements.

“It was sort of dreadful,” Van Popering said, while shopping at Lucky’s. Van Popering used to frequent the Pic ‘N’ Save when it was in businesses 20 years ago.

“I think it’s very cool [the improvements] since I live nearby,” Van Popering said.

Whitaker said Gainesvillians can expect more future retailers, like Ross, Rooms to Go and the future shopping center where the old Shell Station used to be.

“I am the one who doesn’t give up on 13th street,” she said.

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Jan. 29, 2015: Morning News In 90

By on January 29th, 2015 | Last updated: January 29, 2015 at 11:03 am

Renee Beninate produced this update.

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In The News: Senate Bill To End Travel Restrictions, Gov. Scott Proposes Cutting 1,000 Positions, US Unemployment Benefit Applications Down, Black Bear Sighting Near High School

By on January 29th, 2015 | Last updated: January 29, 2015 at 11:43 am
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Clamshell Roof Returns to Weeki Wachee Mermaid Theater

By on January 29th, 2015 | Last updated: January 29, 2015 at 9:17 am
Workers restore the roof on the Newton Perry Underwater Theatre at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on January 22, 2015. A temporary protective covering is on top of the roof to protect the theater from rain.

Workers restore the roof on the Newton Perry Underwater Theatre at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park on Jan. 22, 2015. A temporary protective covering is on top of the roof to protect the theater from rain. Christina Hunt/ WUFT News

Rippling like the water below it, the roof restoration at Newton Perry Underwater Theatre at Weeki Wachee State Park is bringing back a part of old Florida.

The theater’s original roof built in 1959 was designed to resemble a clamshell, according to Denise Tenuto, president of the Friends of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Citizen Support Organization. It was meant to  lure guests into the unique underwater theater featuring mermaid performances.

John Athanason, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park public relations manager, said the park’s theater and its white clamshell roof were meant to serve as an unconventional billboard. They were built by the park’s former owners, American Broadcasting Corporation.

“We are on U.S. 19, which at that time, was one of the main thoroughfares through Florida,” Athanason said.

Athanason said roadside attractions were popular when Weeki Wachee opened and that the giant clamshell caught the eyes of passing tourists.

“It was just instantly recognizable — this is where the world famous Weeki Wachee mermaids performed,” he said.

Athanason said the park’s owners attempted to modernize the look of the theater in the 1970s by covering the clamshell roof with a generic shingle roof.

“They wanted to keep up,” he said. “Disney was coming into existence at that time, and they wanted to feel like they were making changes.”

Hubert Baxter, FDEP senior architect, said the roof is currently undergoing another transformation, which will take it back to its original clamshell form. It is expected to cost $160,000.

“The present roof had reached the end of its life expectancy,” Baxter said. “We needed to remove the finish—residential asphalt shingles—and restoring it back to the original concrete clamshell form seemed like a better option.”

In addition to the theater roof, Tenuto said the Florida Park Service adopted a master plan for the park’s renovation. It is estimated to cost nearly $14 million.

“I think it is important to restore that unique ele­­­­ment of architecture of that period as part of preserving the cultural and historic value of the park for future generations,” she said.

Athanason said work on the roof began in December 2014 and is expected to be finished before the end of February 2015. Admission price will not be affected.

“Nothing happens in the water where the mermaids perform, it’s just on the roof,” he said. “So there’s no impact to the guest experience when they come into this park.”

This is an old image of the roof and Weeki Wachee mermaids from the early 1960s.

Weeki Wachee mermaids sit in front of the old roof in the early 1960s. Photo courtesy of John Athanason.

The restoration of the roof is something Athanason said he wanted to see happen for a long time. He has received a lot of positive feedback from the public and state historians, who are excited to know this old piece of Florida’s tourism nostalgia still exists.

“As a native Floridian, I love old Florida, everything that is old Florida, and when this opportunity came, to me it was a big deal,” he said. “And then I realized it was a big deal to a lot of other people, which made me feel good.”

There are 27.5 million visitors to Florida state parks and trails each year, according to Martha Robinson, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Operational Services communications manager. The FDEP has a mission to preserve, restore and protect those nature-based attractions.

“We have a very nice reputation for quality outdoor recreation and this is certainly a good example to show how we’ve preserved Florida history,” Robinson said.

Athanason said he hopes that when guests walk through the gates of Weeki Wachee, they are thrown back into the ’50s and ’60s.

“That’s the feel that we want our guests to experience,” he said. “You can experience technology by going to Disney or Universal or some of those other wonderful parks and have a great time, but there’s very few places that you can walk into and experience what Florida used to be like, and that’s one of the things that I think will enhance the park the most.”

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Collectors Seek Vintage Beer Cans In Everyday Trash

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 29, 2015 at 12:01 pm

Drive past any neighborhood on garbage day, and you will see hundreds of ordinary beer cans have been thrown away. Steve Lesniak, however, sees an opportunity to add to his collection.

Lesniak, of Ft. Lauderdale, likes to search old dump sites to add to his collection of Florida beer cans from the 1940s and 1950s. This past weekend, though, Lesniak went to a special birthday party to find new keepsakes.

Celebrating the beer can’s 80th birthday on Jan. 24, Lesniak, 52, went to the Beer Can and Breweriana Show on Friday and Saturday in Orlando. It was hosted by the Gator Trader chapter of the Brewery Collectibles Club of America.

During regular shows, about 15 people circle each of the 48 tables of members hoping to buy, sell or trade their collectibles. Since this show marked a special occasion, there were about 50 people crowded around each table.

“Collecting beer cans is a dying hobby,” Lesniak said. “I thought a lot of people had given up, but it’s as if there’s been a resurrection.”

Lesniak said he thinks because of the increasing popularity of craft beers across the United States, more people are interested in collecting. Small breweries usually make their craft beers in glass bottles. But they sometimes make about 1,000 cans weekly or monthly that sell as quickly as lottery tickets, Lesniak said – they can disappear in days.

Lesniak, who was born in Chicago and now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, travels to Ocala, which he thinks is the best place to find rare cans because of its higher ground and lack of salty air. Both are conditions that help preserve beer cans.

In the early 1900s, there was not an established local garbage pickup, which led people to leave their trash in forests, according to Lesniak. Some of the garbage from that time is still there, including vintage beer cans.

Part of Kevin Brown’s collection of rare beer cans. Brown attended the same convention as Lesniak. Photo courtesy of Steve Lesniak

“It’s an adventure to find these spots,” he said.

In September, he started to rebuild his collection with a focus on 1940s and ’50s Florida cans after selling an old collection of 1,000 variety cans for $22,000. So far, he has about 200 Florida cans, but it’s nearly impossible to find cans that haven’t rusted.

The smallest details make the difference on the can’s rarity. On Friday, Lesniak bought a Krueger can for $100.

Unlike most Krueger cans that usually have a graphic of a hat above the K design, his did not, making it more valuable. He kept it for about 20 minutes before trading it for a 1950s white Marlin flat-top Atlantic Brewing Company can that was only sold for four to six months.

Joe Older, 53, of Maitland, has been collecting since the 1970s and said he’s seen the evolution of the beer can’s designs within his own collection of about 2,200 cans.

From 1935 to the late 1960s, Older said a lot of the designs were politically incorrect, with references to the “man’s beer” and images of African-American caricatures on them.

Pat Taylor, 67, of Altamonte Springs, who is the president of the Gator Traders chapter and ran the show with Older, has kept beer collectibles since the early 1970s.

“I admire the works of art, the time and effort spent on the cans,” Taylor said. “And it’s fun to watch some of the drunks.”

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Coyote Encroachment On The Rise In Florida

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 30, 2015 at 1:52 pm
A coyote walks across a golf course in broad daylight. Coyotes present a potential problem to Florida ranchers, farmers and city residents alike, as predation is on the rise.

A coyote walks across a California golf course in broad daylight. Coyotes present a potential problem to Florida ranchers, farmers and city residents alike, as predation is on the rise. Dawn Beattie / Flickr

Fending for food and attacking prey are all a part of the Canis latrans’ way of life. However, when they encroach on a person’s property and target small livestock or family pets, coyotes can become problematic.

Coyotes have become a real problem in communities around Florida and preventative measures are being taken by official agencies. In November of 2014, the Florida Wildlife Commission had a community meeting in Orlando to discuss coyotes and how to better coexist with them.

All of Florida’s counties are confirmed to have coyote, according to Angeline Scotten, a senior wildlife assistance biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Reports are showing a further density increase in the southernmost counties.

Efforts to control coyotes prove to be expensive and time-consuming.

For a landowner looking to protect his or her property, thousands of dollars could be spent on fencing, durable traps and common snares.  However, the FWC requires permits for specific traps and snares as they are potentially harmful and can leave the animal to die.

The direct distrust with coyotes stems from their predation on pets and livestock, especially sheep and cats.

Even with a reported kill-count of 100 coyotes in 1997, an estimated 75 percent of the resident and surrounding coyote population needs to be eradicated every year to effectively control them, according to an FWC survey.

Coyote are not leaving Florida any time soon.

“Coyotes are here to stay! Coyotes are intelligent and adaptable mammals,” Scotten wrote in an email. “They are proving they are willing to live with us and, if we take some simple steps, we can live with them.”

A 1998 survey of cattlemen channeled the viewpoints of Florida ranchers in North and South Florida and showed that a steady increase of coyote was found. Cattlemen in both the north and south ends of Florida reported major coyote activity in the months of November through April. This time frame goes hand-in-hand with livestock calving, as well as calves being nursed, according to an Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences survey.

Vulnerable calves are an easy target and veteran coyote take advantage of such an easy meal. However, not all coyote prey upon livestock. Smaller animals like rodents, cats and carrion, the flesh of dead animals, are also a part of the coyote’s palate.

Coyote also have no preference in time of day to hunt. However, most attacks on prey are known to happen at dusk or dawn.

Attacks on a human, however, are a very rare occurrence and have only left minor bites or scratches to those people, according to a 2007 FWC compilation document.

“I only know of one coyote/human incident in Florida, and that was in 2012,” Scotten said. “There have only been two human fatalities caused by coyotes in the last 60 years in the U.S. and Canada.”

Habituation often occurs with wild animals like coyote that easily adapt; but where coyotes are hunted and trapped, they are cautious of people.

Larry Wells, a Sumter County resident, and his family have had a few firsthand encounters with wild coyotes encroaching on their property — preventing any damage has been a personal endeavor.

“Me and Carson [his son], will go out and hunt them,” Wells said. “We pretty much just take care of it ourselves.”

Some Florida counties, like Sumter, have seen an increase in coyote predation. And some of its residents have seen the damage the coyote can have on livestock.

“We might have lost two calves to them last year,” Wells said. “Like, say, you see a buzzard or something, you [have to] go look and if you do see some bones usually it’s from a coyote.”

Wells saw about 10 coyotes last year.

James Melvin, an avid hunter and property manager for Rainey Properties, witnessed a coyote attack this year while on the job in Ocala.

“I’ve seen a lot of [coyotes] before, but I’ve never seen a coyote attack so close,” Melvin said. “Now, I realize these things are pretty [mean].”

Melvin was working a site in a rural part of Silver Spring Shores when he noticed a sickly, medium-sized coyote strolling onto his work site. Other workers noticed it but didn’t pay any attention.

After the coyote circled the house a couple of times, Melvin began to wonder what it was after. The far-off neighbors to the construction had some pets, but they were usually put up inside, Melvin said.

Then, a yelp was heard about 40 yards from the construction. As Melvin looked in the direction of the sound, he saw the same coyote but now it had the neighbor’s 3-year-old Dachshund, Pip, by the neck.

“The coyote was vicious, it had the dog by the neck and wouldn’t let go,” he said. “Now I’m always on the lookout [for coyote].”

Looking forward, coyote encroachment will be a concern for Florida ranchers, farm owners and even residential communities. Encounters with coyote have increased, which may make coyotes lose fear of people.

“While [coyotes] are relatively new to Florida, they live in every state in the continental U.S. and even some of our largest cities,” Scotten said. “People in other parts of the U.S, have been living with coyotes for decades, and Floridians can live with coyotes, too.”

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In The News: Senate Bill Protects Prisoners, Treasure Hunter Found, Rubio Talks Cuba, Florida Fair Increases Safety, Auschwitz 70th Anniversary Remembered

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 28, 2015 at 4:35 pm
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Jan. 28, 2015: Afternoon News in 90

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 28, 2015 at 4:26 pm

Virginia Hamrick produced this update.

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Jan. 28, 2015: Morning News In 90

By on January 28th, 2015 | Last updated: January 28, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Raphael Pires produced this update.

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