Author Archives: Charles J. Kropke

Margaritaville Travel Adventures Announces Next Three Departures

MTA 1The inaugural Lost Shaker of Salt Adventure offered by Margaritaville Travel Adventures in October 2012 was so wildly popular that we are offering three trips during the 2013-2014 season. Margaritaville Travel Adventures, one of Dragonfly Expeditions’ sister companies, is the travel arm of singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings and allows fans, for the first time ever, to enter the world of Jimmy Buffett through travel. Continue reading

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour – Three Little Towns by the Sea

I guess being born on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, I have always loved the sea.  Many years ago while volunteering to cut down Casuarina (Australian Pine) trees in The Nature Conservancy’s Blowing Rocks Preserve, I fell in love with an extraordinary environmental vision.  The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Florida was embarking on a plan to turn back the hands of time on a little stretch of coast on Jupiter Island.  TNC planned to re-contour the land and replant the coastline to look the way it did when the first Europeans set foot here.  This simple goal fired my imagination because it showed that beautiful things that we have lost can still be recovered, a theme that runs through my entire business and personal philosophy. Continue reading

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A Thought on the Season from Dragonfly Expeditions

When I want to conjure up an ideal vision of what the Christmas spirit is all about, I think of a small triumphant claim by one of the charitable organizations that I admire most. The Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project claims to have been so successful in securing American homes for the older orphans from a remote orphanage in the far reaches of Russia that the institution was no longer needed and closed its doors. In my mind’s eye, I see a faraway land in which those once forgotten and heart-broken children are embraced by loving parents and, in a miracle of all miracles, brought home. This is the part that reminds me most of the Christmas spirit – that these children were…brought home. Continue reading

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A Florida Thanksgiving

At this time of year, millions of American families organize their activities around a large and wily, wild bird; the turkey.  Images of Thanksgiving aren’t complete without the extended family gathered around this cooked and stuffed creature, carving knives poised and preferences for white or dark meat already proclaimed.  Our national tradition elevates this distinctive holiday, centered on gratitude, to the highest level. For this reason, I thought it would be interesting to discuss how Florida has its very own sub-species of this famous holiday bird.  It is called meleagris gallopavo Osceola or the Osceola Turkey for short.

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Dragonfly Expeditions is proud to introduce Margaritaville Travel

Several years of diligent planning are culminating in the very first departure for Margaritaville Travel Adventures.  The first itinerary, ‘The Lost Shaker of Salt Adventure,’ launches in Miami on October 7th, 2012 and will explore a route from Miami Beach, through the mid Florida Keys to Key West and back.  It was a lot of fun putting it all together and you can think of it as an explorer’s smorgasbord.

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour: Culture and History in Ybor City

Credit: Florida State Archives

Few big cities in America have a community as culturally and architecturally distinct as Tampa’s Ybor City.  Beginning its life as a cigar-manufacturing town made up of Cuban, Spanish, Italian, Jewish and German immigrants, the neighborhood is now a thriving entertainment district with a rich palette of late 19th century and early 20th century buildings.

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Deerfield Island Restoration was a Great Success

On Saturday, February 25th, 2012, it became clear to me that people from all walks of life in South Florida still do care.  Only a few weeks earlier I had called for action for an environmental restoration workday at Broward County’s Deerfield Island Park. The call went viral and 199 volunteers RSVPed.  176 showed up.  My appeal was the following.

“This is something that I rarely do but I am requesting it now, I need your help.  Saturday, February 25th at 10 am, I am gathering everyone we can muster at the dock that services Deerfield Island Park in Deerfield Beach.  I am responding to a plea from my longtime friend Pat Howell on a project that is dear to both of our hearts.  The gopher tortoise habitat on the island is facing a de-listing as a critical wildlife habitat by the Fish & Wildlife Commission because invasive exotic plants are choking out the area.  I am trying to mobilize an army to eliminate the invasives and prevent the critical wildlife de-listing.  Because it is a large task and we only have one day, I need as many volunteers as humanly possible.

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Charles J. Kropke Moderates the “Restaurants and Nightlife” Panel for 2012 Art Deco Weekend

An extremely successful and poignant panel discussion took place on Friday, January 13th at the Wolfsonian-FIU in South Beach.  The panel discussion was part of a lecture series organized by the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) as one of the activities for the 35th Anniversary Art Deco Weekend.  Charles J. Kropke, moderator for the event, assembled the panel of noteworthy nightclub owners, event promoters and nightlife professionals who created the entertainment scene for which South Beach became internationally renowned.  Represented were Lee Schrager, founder of  the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, David Wallack owner of Mango’s Tropical Café,  Jane Wooldridge, business editor for The Miami Herald (formerly nightlife editor for South Beach during its heyday), Michael Capponi, club promoter extraordinaire, and Louis Canales, one of the first successful nightclub owners in the resurgent South Beach.

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Our Holiday Thoughts

Sometimes the Christmas/Holiday season slows long enough for us to savor it, and sometimes it does a head-long rush until the day is right upon us.  For me, last year was the former and this year is the latter.  I wish this season would slow down some but the likelihood is small.  Nevertheless, the greatest aspect of the season for me is the collective mood. In short, I love the love.

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Dragonfly Expeditions Doubles Its Office Space

By the time the sixth full-time Dragonfly Expeditions employee (with an occasional seventh or eighth in residence) came to our light-filled office with its full-sized windows facing the large Mexican-tiled patio and the looming Biltmore tower as a backdrop, the writing was on the wall.  It was time to expand into a new office.  As much as I had admired the spacious corner office that we had passed in our seven years at the Biltmore Hotel, I hardly expected that things would conspire to make it available to us when moving became inevitable.  But it did happen and we were ecstatic.  We moved in with paint and carpet samples, broke down desks and shelves; bought more bookcases for our expanding library and began the long shuffle down the hallway.

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Wolfsonian/FIU French Cultural Identity Exhibition

Each year, Dragonfly Expeditions is asked to convey its knowledge of the local arts scene into customized tours for groups visiting Miami for Art Basel.  Below you will see the foreword to one section of a customized program for a group interested in French art and design.

Starting on November 25, 2011, the Wolfsonian/FIU at 1001 Washington Avenue on Miami Beach will offer an ‘opportunité magnifique’ to visit this venerable, local institution.  This date kicks off ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity,’ an exhibition exploring French cultural identity through design produced from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Before continuing on to the subject of the exhibition, I would like to suggest that just about any time of the year is a great time to visit the collection created by Mitchell “Micky” Wolfson, Jr. and the institution that houses it.

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The Common Green Darner

There have been many occasions when people have asked me why our company is called Dragonfly Expeditions. The truth is that it was already named before my business partner Uwe Doeringer and I ever came along. Dragonfly Expeditions’ founder Michael David Cushing named the company two decades ago.  There were several reasons why he liked the name.  One was that dragonflies are found the world-over in a brilliant multitude of colors and shapes.  Another reason was that dragonflies are an “indicator species,” meaning they are generally only found in healthy ecosystems, something we deeply care about.  A great recent Miami Herald article about a current abundance of dragonflies speaks about Dragonfly Expeditions’ specific subspecies, displayed in all of our literature and imagery – the Common Green Darner.  However, we always prefer to return to the simple short story found on the back of our business cards:

Common Green Darner – Anax Junius

This species of dragonfly is found in and around various water bodies throughout the tropics.  It has been lauded for its incredible gift of flight and brilliant blue and green colors.  Green Darners are also one of the few travelers found in their species. Darners have been known to travel thousands of miles with the seasons.  They can be seen sailing mostly in the early morning or late afternoon while enjoying a meal of whatever insect flies their way.  Whether sailing on an ocean breeze or perched on a rock below some island waterfall, the Common Green Darner lives up to its name Anax Junius or ‘lord and master of June.’

Wouldn’t you agree that this describes us well?

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MDPL Reads launch event for Charles Kropke’s South Beach Book

The Miami Design Preservation League kicked off the new community-reading program MDPL Reads at the Art Deco Welcome Center on October 12th, 2011. This first event featured South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance by Charles Kropke and Eleanor Goldstein. The approximately 200 guests enjoyed a catered cocktail party with paintings from the book on display followed by a discussion, and book signing.

The book has also been chosen to be the official book for Art Deco Weekend 2012, and will be featured during many events in the coming months leading up to the festivities in January. Information about these events can be found on the South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance Facebook and Twitter pages.

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Miami: The Magic City

Below is a heartfelt speech about Miami that Charles Kropke gave to one of our corporate groups.  You can really sense the passion he has for this beautiful city.  Please enjoy and pass along:

The sight of modern Miami rising from a moonlit shoreline on the Biscayne Bay can steal your breath away.  Colorful, confident, the city nearly sparkles with vitality and the possibilities.  Bordered by the brilliant multi-hued waters of the Atlantic Ocean and a legendary inland bay on one side and the vast, world-treasured Florida Everglades on another, Miami is long and narrow.  The city’s latitude introduces a sub-tropical languor that coupled with plentiful rainfall encourages palms, flowering plants, trees, and fruits of every imaginable variety.  These favorable conditions also make wildlife and abundance in the seas a fact of life.

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The Library of Dragonfly Expeditions

As Managing Partner for Dragonfly Expeditions, one of my driving obsessions is our company library.  It is a running joke in the office that everywhere I go, I buy books about the culture, history and ecology of Florida and the Caribbean Basin and bring them back to headquarters like prizes from the battlefield.  I occasionally attack Amazon’s online database with relish.  Whenever we broach a new subject for a tour, I buy every relevant book on the subject.  For this reason, Dragonfly Expeditions has an already extensive and growing library.  We have whole collections of books on Florida Indians, the Everglades, Miami history, piracy, sailing, seaplanes, Spanish treasure, local wildlife, Cuba, the Bahamas, Florida architecture, Florida art, cracker cowboy heritage and books on almost every village, town and city in the state.  Of course, these are just some of the many topics represented in our collection. I am fanatic about this library.

My dreams for the library almost border on megalomania. I ask everyone I know if they have Florida books with which they wish to part.  I particularly savor old and out-of-print issues.  I want to have the largest collection in the state on Florida and Caribbean subjects.

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Farewell to an Inspiring Friend

God’s vast array of winged creatures has lost a great friend and advocate this month and in so losing her, we who love South Florida and its beautiful birds have equal cause to mourn.  Wendy Fox, longtime Executive Director of the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station died of cancer on Saturday, August 6, 2011.  She was 54.  Dragonfly Expeditions partnered up with Wendy and her inspiring organization years ago to create a new type of tour.  It was designed to bring awareness and money to the brave non-profit tucked away at the end of a marina on the 79th Street Causeway.  We called it  “Healing Wildlife at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station”  and dedicated 40 percent of the gross profits  to the seabird station.  This effort has always made me proud.

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Charles J. Kropke’s South Beach Book Chosen for MDPL Reads

Since February 2011, Charles J. Kropke’s book “South Beach – Stories of a Renaissance” has been the bestseller at Books & Books in Coral Gables and South Beach!  We are now delighted that Charles’ book has been chosen by the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) for their new program MDPL Reads which encourages everyone to read the same book leading up to the next annual Art Deco Weekend in January of 2012.  In their press release below, MDPL details the events leading up to October 5th, 2011 with a trivia contest through their facebook page.

MDPL Reads is meant to bring attention to great books about South Beach and the Art Deco Historic District. The first event will take place on October 5th, 2011 at 7pm at the Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Drive. The book chosen for the October event is South Beach – Stories of a Renaissance, by Charles J. Kropke and Eleanor Goldstein, who will be signing and discussing the book at the October 5th event. Leading up to the MDPL Reads event in October, MDPL will be launching a 10 weeklong trivia series related to stories taken from the book via the MDPL Facebook page. Prizes will relate to each question and include museum passes, freebies at local restaurants, posters, and more!  All the prizes were donated from people and places mentioned in the book. You can purchase the book at the Official Art Deco Gift Shop or online.

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A Thank You to Captain Jerome Brownlee

Many months back, Erica French from Educate Tomorrow approached me at a BNI South Beach meeting to see if I could arrange some outlines for a summer camp program that they conduct yearly for constituents who they are serving.  Educate Tomorrow is a noble, non-profit organization that seeks to help young men and women who have aged out of the foster care system attain educational and career goals through mentorship.  Two summer dates were chosen for the camp events, one for the young men and the other for the young women.

 Initially, due to his proximity to Miami, my plan was to have my friend Johnny Tigertail of the Miccosukee Tribe offer the camp participants an airboat tour to his family’s tree islands on tribal lands.  Unfortunately, a very severe dry season made this option impossible because there was no water in the Everglades for the airboats to travel on.

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Goodbye to Our Dear Friend Ramon Puig

Dragonfly Expeditions, with great sadness, notes the passing of a good and trusted friend whom we had the honor to visit many times on our Cuban Heritage Tour. On April 29th, 2011, Ramon Puig of Casa de las Guayaberas went home to his heavenly reward.  He was 90 years old.  The idea of “going home” for Ramon Puig holds a good deal of irony.  He spent the last 42 years of his life in exile.  Leaving Cuba at the age of 48 after having his store confiscated without compensation, Ramon had already developed a reputation as a gifted tailor.  Using a pair of precision stainless-steel scissors which were already 40 years old when, as a young man, he saved up the money to buy them, Ramon hand-crafted traditional four pocket Guayabera shirts.

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The Maxoly Gallery

The Maxoly / Latin Art Core Gallery has been a mainstay visit on Dragonfly Expeditions’ popular Cuban Heritage Tour and is a continuation of a long family tradition.  Partners Maximo Sarracino and Israel Moleiro come from a family which represents three generations of Cuban art specialists.  In the 1950’s and 1960’s, their family worked with many established and emerging Cuban artists in Havana.  This world ended with the Castro revolution.  Israel grew up in the family business of identifying and nurturing Cuban artists and passionately represents those traditions to this very day.  He is now considered one of the world’s most informed experts on Cuban art.

In 2000, the partners (they are uncle and nephew) opened the Maxoly / Latin Art Core Gallery in the heart of Little Havana.  The art presented in this gallery came from collections, auctions around the globe and directly from working artists.  Some of the artists represented in the gallery continued to live in Cuba.  In the politicized environment of exile Miami circa 2000, the representation of non-exiled artists from communist Cuba was not initially accepted.  In fact, the gallery faced down a degree of hostility and controversy.  Most of that early antipathy has long ago subsided.

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour: The Trail to Winter Garden

Whenever we create a new tour at Dragonfly Expeditions, we attempt to capture the essence of the place we are exploring.  Sometimes our emphasis is on ecological values or cultural values or historic values and sometimes the tour is a combination of several of the above.  In places that have witnessed massive change through development and urbanization, it gets more challenging to discern an earlier lay of the land.  The greater Orlando area offers some of those challenges.  Fortunately, one nearby corridor is intact enough to prove ideal for recalling a more genteel era of Central Florida history.  This area would come to inspire the creation of a new bicycle tour that we titled: The Trail to Winter Garden.

The gentle rolling hills and freshwater lakes of Central Florida were once a realm of unequaled natural beauty.  A perfect climate and generous soil encouraged citrus growers to plant orange and grapefruit trees throughout the region.  Idyllic, small farming towns connected by a series of short-run railroads tied the area together and the living was good. Continue reading

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Book Launch Party for “South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance”

At long last, the book South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance has arrived and is now available for purchase!  This is a very exciting time for Dragonfly Expeditions and Charles J. Kropke especially – Charles is an accomplished storyteller and now a published author with his first book showcasing the great resort we call South Beach!

The launch party for “South Beach: Stories of a Renaissance” is on February 17th, 2011 at 7pm, at Books and Books, 927 Lincoln Road, on Miami Beach. Signed copies of the book will be available for purchase that evening.  Please join us as we congratulate Charles for a job well done! Continue reading

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South Beach: Stories Of A Renaissance

After 2 ½ years of personal interviews with some of the most influential entrepreneurs and dreamers of building a world class resort, Charles J. Kropke has completed his book, South Beach: Stories of A Renaissance.   With a beautiful teal and yellow cover that represents the Art Deco South Beach, Charles has found the back stories of some of the more iconic venues and people that, in their own way, have transformed this once mangrove, mosquito infested area into the most recognized international resort in the world!

For more information about the book,
contact Tim Jefferson at  tjefferson@greenherongifts.com

Here is an excerpt about the design of the Holocaust Memorial: Continue reading

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Endorsement of Action Coach Business Coaching

At the dawning of a New Year, it is always useful to take a quick look back at the just ended year and show gratitude for Dawn on Miami Beachthe good things that have happened.  Among other thoughts, I am drawn to an urge to praise a company that has been crucial to Dragonfly Expeditions’ survival in the recession and our tremendous outlook and recent growth.  That company is Action Coach.  Action Coach is a business coaching firm with whom we have been contracted for two and a half years.  Their team has given Dragonfly Expeditions effective tools to forecast, plan and execute a successful growth strategy.  We strongly believe in their effectiveness and their methodology.

ActionCOACHOur endorsement of Action Coach comes with an offer.  I would be pleased to introduce you to Doug Barra or Jody Johnson, the principals of the firm if you would like to explore a strategy to grow your company.  Their tutelage has worked for us and I would be only too happy to spread the “wealth.”  I rarely give endorsements, but I stand behind this one with full force.  If you are interested, please get in touch with me.

CKropke@dragonflyexpeditions.com

-or-

305-774-9019

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Season’s Greetings

It is Christmas and Hanukah, and the holiday season is upon us once again.  Here at our offices, we are grateful for our co-workers, guides, customers and the Dragonfly Expeditions community at large.  The long-awaited recovery in our industry has arrived and nothing could be a better holiday gift than this.  Although we always try to think of others at Dragonfly Expeditions, we are particularly aware of the spirit of the season and many of you are in our thoughts today.  So many people have challenges throughout the year but these challenges can be magnified in the celebratory mood of the Christmas/Hanukah holiday.  That is why it is important to increase acts of kindness at this time of year. I personally am grateful to welcome a new son from the foster care system before Christmas arrives and can only hope that each of us who have known the joys of good fortune will share this joy; and that each who has known recent hardship will soon find the joys of good fortune at their doorstep.  God bless you all.

The Team at Dragonfly ExpeditionsDragonfly Expeditions Seal

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour: Exploring the New River by Bike

Exploring the New River by BikeDespite its concentrated core of tall downtown buildings, visible from I-95’s bridges and overpasses, Fort Lauderdale is a pedestrian-scaled city.  This water-oriented community was the scene of some heavy activity during the Seminole Wars.  Due to this war activity, there were three separate ‘Fort Lauderdales’ – each one withdrawing down the New River closer to the ocean to avoid vulnerability and horrendous living conditions (bugs, fever, etc.).  Fast forward to 2010 and one can hardly find a more agreeable living environment then the neighborhoods surrounding the New River.  This is the route, through the heart of Fort Lauderdale, which we traverse on our “Exploring the New River by Bike” tour.

By legend, the New River got its name from an Indian story in which their forefathers awoke one day Continue reading

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour: Ghosts and Gravestones

For as long as I can remember I have been a sucker for Halloween.  As kids we had a babysitter who was missing half of a finger and would use that hand to add intensity to her already horrific ghost stories.  As a result of her tutelage, to this day I am a master ghost story teller right down to the voices and sound effects.  When I was a volunteer English teacher several years ago, I loved teaching my immigrant students words like “candy corn” “Jack O’ Lantern” and “Trick or Treat.”  So, it is natural that I should love our Ghosts and Gravestones tour.  I should make a clear distinction, however, that this tour has nothing to do with the make-believe.  The Ghosts and Gravestones tour tells real stories of murder, mystery, intrigue and loss.

Ghosts and Gravestones

Centered around Miami’s historic City Cemetery, just north of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Northeast Second Avenue, this tour has the inherent qualities to give your average participant “the willies.”  The City Cemetery was created in 1897 in an area that was described as Continue reading

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Thoughts on Developing a Tour: Cuban Heritage

Charles KropkeWhat motivates a guy, born in Maryland of mixed German, Irish, Russian, Norwegian (no Latin)-descent to write a passionate tour on the Cuban heritage of Miami?  I can accurately pinpoint the kernel of this idea to a specific source in a specific year.  In July of 1973, National Geographic published an article entitled “Cuba’s Exiles Bring New Life to Miami” about how the Cuban migration was changing the face of Miami.  It was probably a back-issue of National Geographic because the timing would have meant that I was only 9 years old when it was published and I don’t want to encourage the idea that I was any kind of child prodigy.  My mother would take us to a used book store in downtown Fort Myers, Florida and I would pour through old editions of National Geographic and pick out the ones that interested me.  This article didn’t interest me, it fascinated me.  ( I still have this issue of National Geographic today and for any of you writers or journalists reading this, please note what a tremendous impact the written word can have on an individual or on the world at large).   Anyway, back to our story. Continue reading

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Friends of the Biltmore Hotel

Biltmore HotelA friend needs our help and I am making a strident appeal to anyone who is willing to rally with me around his cause.  I don’t want to infer that this friend asked for my help, he did not.  The friend is Gene Prescott, President of the Seaway Group which owns the Biltmore Hotel under a long term lease with the City of Coral Gables.

After another operator went bankrupt in the late 1980’s trying to revive this once endangered treasure, his Seaway Group stepped in under the same negotiated terms with the city and did a second restoration.  The hotel reopened in 1992.  Back then his accomplishment was hailed as heroic and he has remained a success in the ensuing 18 years.

It has become apparent that the deal that the Seaway Group inherited from the previous operators has never been the most attractive deal.  In good times, it seemed to be workable.  In times like the ones we have been experiencing the past couple of years, it is implausible. The Biltmore is an old building. It needs special attention.  It is easy to see from the condition of the property that Seaway has provided it with that special attention.  The market for the hotel has some natural challenges.  It is not on the beach or downtown.  It is not large enough for the bigger corporate conventions. It is in the heart of residential Coral Gables.

Nevertheless, the hotel has persevered under Seaway Group’s stewardship. It has always been Continue reading

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Dragonfly Expeditions Requests ‘A Call to Arms’

The time has come for all who love the Florida Everglades and wish to see its ecosystems repaired, to take a stand.  The Everglades Skyway, an admittedly expensive proposal with two powerful benefits to Southern Florida, is at a crossroads.  The skyway (bridge), which is designed to provide a breathtaking view of the Everglades while simultaneously allowing water to flow underneath unimpeded, is engineered to reconnect the great Shark Valley Slough.  The reconnection will restore a more normal flow of water to the parched Southern Glades.  This major component of the Everglades restoration plan will undo some of the damage Continue reading

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