President Trump shines the spotlight on Palm Beach when he leaves the White House to travel south to his part-time home, Mar-a-Lago, as he did last weekend.
But for some Palm Beach residents, including billionaire investor Jeff Greene, last weekend’s visit also brought gridlock and a hit to businesses. With the president scheduled to return Friday, along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, more of the same can be expected.
In fact, “a big group went to the Seagate Hotel in Delray Beach because they didn’t want to deal” with the traffic and the hassle of Palm Beach, Greene said.
The Secret Service effectively closed off a portion of Palm Beach near Mar-a-Lago during the weekend while Trump was in town. West Palm Beach wasn’t much better on Saturday: Trump protesters clogged the waterfront along Flagler Drive.
Other Palm Beach businesses, including some restaurants, lost reservations, too, said Greene, a Palm Beach resident who lives at 1200 S. Ocean Blvd., “two doors down” from Mar-a-Lago, which is at 1100 S. Ocean Blvd.
Laurel Baker, executive director of the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, said she’s aware some tourists were having a hard time getting back to their Palm Beach hotels with the security checkpoints and roadblocks.
And shopping on Worth Avenue? Some tourists were afraid to try. “People don’t want to be inconvenienced. They’ll shop elsewhere,” she said.
It’s true, said Robin Miller, general manager of the Worth Avenue Association, which met last Thursday to discuss the impact of Trump’s visits and potential measures to alleviate the traffic and security issues that come with it.
“No one from the south could get to us on Saturday. And that’s a busy day during season,” Miller said.
She said tourists staying not only at the Tideline but also Eau Palm Beach were shut out from spending their dollars at Palm Beach’s luxury shopping destination.
Baker said she’s now wondering how life in the future will be affected by Trump’s visits to Palm Beach.
So are Worth Avenue store owners.
“Our retailers are kind of terrified it’s going to happen frequently,” Miller said. “They are really scared of what’s coming up. For many of these retailers, these three months (of season) make up their entire year. It’s critical.”
Baker said she figured with Mar-a-Lago booked for 25 events this season, Trump was going to skip his winter visits because of the tight security that surrounds him.
But that’s evidently not going to be the case, she said.
Greene noted that Trump likes spending all holidays, such as Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, at Mar-a-Lago, as well as his winter visits. “He loves it here,” Greene said.
So being president of the United States won’t change Trump’s routine.
Going forward, Greene said Palm Beach officials and the Secret Service need a better plan: “You can’t shut down a town for four to eight years,” he said.
Miller said she had a meeting with her association’s executive committee to formulate a plan. There is talk of perhaps petitioning the town of Palm Beach “to make them understand how difficult this is for us. We need our voices heard.”
Even into Monday morning, before Trump left for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, getting around still was difficult.
Greene said it took him 45 minutes to cross the bridge Monday to take his son to school in West Palm Beach.
One bright spot to the weekend: Greene said he lives close enough to Mar-a-Lago to skip the traffic when he attended the International Red Cross ball Saturday night.
“I walked,” Greene said.
Laurel said she’s now wondering how other events will be affected by Trump’s presence in Palm Beach during high season.
For instance, there’s the Palm Beach International Boat Show, set for March 23-26.
Although the actual show only lasts a weekend, the set-up takes considerably more time. The week before and the week after, a number of yachts cruise into the Intracoastal and go right by Mar-a-Lago.
If Trump were to fly down to Palm Beach during this time period, boats would be forbidden from cruising on the eastern side of the Intracoastal Waterway that runs near Trump’s winter White House.
Under ordinary circumstances, yachts back up by the Southern Boulevard bridge next to Mar-a-Lago as they wait for the bridge to open, Miller said. But if Trump is in town at any time near the boat show, “I don’t know what they’re going to do,” Miller said.