Local Palm Beach business owner said he loses $1,000 a day when Trump visits

Not all residents welcome the president's trips to his Florida estate.

ByABC News
November 24, 2017, 8:36 PM

— -- When President Trump arrived at his Florida estate for the Thanksgiving holiday, his return was not welcome news for some local business owners and community members.

The reason for many is not political, or even personal. It’s business.

For Iftach Shimonovitc, who makes a living offering helicopter sightseeing tours in Palm Beach, Florida, every day the president is in town can mean upwards of a thousand dollars in lost revenue.

“The problem is, when the president comes in town, we can’t fly. They issue a flight restriction to the area and we cannot do any sightseeing operations,” Shimonovitc, owner of Southern Helicopters, told ABC News in an interview.

The Palm Beach County Park Airport, where Shimonovitc’s business is based, is located close enough to Mar-a-Lago that the airport falls within the no-fly zone that is imposed as part of the president’s security apparatus. As a result, all operations at the small airport are strictly grounded as soon as Air Force One descends.

“Just today alone, I probably had calls from three people who wanted to come in today and unfortunately we just have to explain to them that we cannot fly,” Shimonovitc said. “It is frustrating.”

Even though Shimonovitc voted for the president in the 2016 election and remains a fan, that vote has the potential to cost him his livelihood.

“Eventually if [he visits] often enough, it could put us under,” said Shimonovitc, who said he hopes the president won’t visit the Palm Beach community as much this winter as he did last season.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are photographed at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Feb. 11, 2017.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are photographed at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Feb. 11, 2017.

Shimonovitc said the airport and some organizations are working with the Secret Service and the Federal Aviation Administration to reach a deal that would make allowances for limited operations out of the airport during the president’s visits. But as of now, he said, he’s seen no signs of success.

The Secret Service told ABC News in a statement, "In collaboration with the FAA and other partners, the Secret Service structures temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) to provide a balance between commercial aviation, general aviation, public access and security. The primary responsibility of the Secret Service is to provide a safe environment for the president. Establishing flight restrictions presents a unique challenge of achieving our goal of balancing security with access. The Secret Service has met on numerous occasions with our partners in Florida to ensure that we have established the best possible security plan for the president while minimizing the disruption to commercial and general aviation."

The FAA declined to comment.

While the paralyzing effect of the president’s visits on Shimonovitc’s business is an extreme case, other business owners are closely watching what the president’s trips mean for their pocketbooks.

Palm Beach resident and Jeff Greene is withholding judgment on whether the president’s visits are a positive or negative for the local economy as the busy season for the Florida vacation community starts to heat up.

“It’s hard to say, we’re still early in the season,” Greene said. “I think that Donald Trump as president shines a bright, bright light on Palm Beach and I think that will put us on the map.”

Greene owns the Tideline Ocean Resort and Spa just down the road from Mar-a-Lago. While the president’s visits may be a turnoff for some of his potential clients, it has been a draw for others, he said.

“If you’re coming to Palm Beach and you want to be off beaten track and away from all of this commotion, it helps our hotel,” Greene said. “If on the other hand you want to shop on Worth Avenue and go to all the restaurants in town, it’s a little bit harder.”

PHOTO: The palm trees, beach, and a croquet set are seen at President Donald Trump's private club Mar-a-Lago, on Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla.
The palm trees, beach, and a croquet set are seen at President Donald Trump's private club Mar-a-Lago, on Thanksgiving, Nov. 23, 2017, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Alex Brandon/AP

A major inconvenience for locals when the president arrives is the closure of South Ocean Boulevard -- one of the major roads on the island. Driving from one end of the island to the other means crossing over a bridge to West Palm Beach, driving along the water, and then crossing another bridge to get back to the island.

But Greene, who is also a member of the president’s Mar-a-Lago club and describes the president as a friend and neighbor, downplayed the severity of the problem.

“It’s a bit of an inconvenience, but most of the time it’s not that huge a problem,” Greene said of the street closure.

In addition to the road closures, the community now has become accustomed to a heavy police presence around the president’s property, complete with a watch tower, Coast Guard patrol boats in the water and traffic jams caused by the presidential motorcades.

But even with all the added inconveniences, Greene said the president’s entourage also brings a heightened level of excitement to town.

“We live just a couple of doors away so the excitement for us is a little different, because we can see the bright lights at night from the Coast Guard boat out in the water, from the spotlights shining all around the neighborhood … it adds a new level of glamor to an already glamorous and exciting community,” Greene said.

For better or worse, the president’s visits to Palm Beach are only expected to increase in the months ahead, as the president retreats to his so-called “Winter White House” to escape the harsh Washington winter.

Related Topics