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Archives for December 6, 2015

Detroit mapping huge greening projects for 2016

In what may be the city’s most ambitious ecological project ever, Detroit plans to plant tens of thousands of trees in two quarter-square-mile patches to show how greening strategies can improve life for everyday Detroiters.

Maurice Cox, the city’s director of planning, told the Free Press the project will target two districts: the Fitzgerald neighborhood west of Livernois between Puritan and McNichols, and the area in and around the old Herman Kiefer hospital complex.

Cox said every vacant lot within those quarter-square-mile districts would be either planted with trees or given some other “green” or “blue” treatment — rainwater gardens, fields of sunflowers, urban farms and more. It would be paid for largely with money from philanthropic foundations. The city will team with the nonprofit Greening of Detroit to get the work done.

The project represents a big bet that embracing green and blue strategies on a major scale will convert Detroit’s vast expanses of vacant and abandoned land — estimated variously at 20 square miles to more than 30 — from a negative to a positive.

“Land is our greatest asset,” Cox said.

Economic development strategies usually involve new housing, retail, commercial or industrial projects. But the greening campaign will test —  on perhaps the largest scale ever —  whether widespread greening strategies can deliver an economic benefit as real and significant as new construction.

“We want to show that you can increase property values without building a single house in a neighborhood,” Cox said. “Research shows that the greener the neighborhood the higher the property values, so we think we can have an impact on that.”

Detroit and other cities have already been experimenting along these lines for years, with hundreds of community garden plots created in the city and projects such as Hantz Woodlands and the RecoveryPark farming project moving ahead. But the plan Cox describes would be bigger and more concentrated than any yet seen and could serve as a model for postindustrial cities worldwide.

The multiple goals include creating jobs by hiring and training residents as landscape workers, cutting air pollution, and keeping rainwater and snowmelt out of the city’s already burdened sewer overflow system.

Training a workforce from among neighborhood residents will become a key part of the program. Rebecca Salminen Witt, president of the Greening of Detroit, said her organization plans to hire up to 100 residents from the districts this winter to have them trained and ready to do the landscaping work next spring and summer.

“Our goal is to recruit people from the neighborhoods where these things are happening,” she said. “A change in landscape feels a lot better to you when someone from your neighborhood is chosen to do the work.”

Academic research in recent years in cities such as Philadelphia has found a link between greening strategies and benefits such as crime reduction and improved health for residents.

“We think we can have an impact on safety and security, and impacts on illegal dumping,” Cox said. “People generally don’t dump on beautiful flower beds. There’s a whole psychology about areas that are cared for, that appear that someone genuinely is taking care of it, stewarding that land.”

With that in mind, the project will not appear “wild” as if left to nature, but will appear well-tended and planned, Witt said.

“It’s going to create real significant ecosystem services” for residents, Witt said. “They’re going to notice that the air feels cleaner, that the flooding is reduced, that their property values are going up.”

Cox emphasized that point.

“We’re convinced that this is something that’s going to make a visible difference in peoples’ lives,” he said. “They see it when they take a walk.”

Deciding what happens with each vacant parcel will be determined in coming months after more talks with  residents.

“We’re not being real exact about that because we want to leave room for community engagement,” Witt said. “If people want to see fields of sunflowers, we will find a way.”

Getting buy-in from residents of the two districts is key to the project’s success. To that end, Cox and Witt and their teams have been engaging in conversations with residents, explaining how the project would work and its potential benefits.

Last week, Cox met with members of the University District Community Association to outline the plans for the Fitzgerald district. Nora Gessert, president of the association, said it was a “great idea” to deal with the “stunning amount of vacant land” in the district.

“They need to do something. It’s a lot of empty land,” she said.

But many details remain to be worked out.

“They admitted it was a pilot,” Gessert said. “It had never been done before. My impression was they haven’t really figured all those pieces out yet.”

Contact John Gallagher: 313-222-5173 or Follow him on Twitter @jgallagherfreep.

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Hot Property: Bruno Mars wraps up a year’s worth of realty deals with home sale

LOS ANGELES – Grammy winner Bruno Mars has sold his Hollywood Regency-style contemporary along the border of Studio City and Hollywood Hills West for $3,347,500 in an off-market deal.

Fronting a 10-vehicle motor court, the 1964 home has an imposing facade with stone columns flanking 11-foot-tall frosted glass entry doors.

The walled and gated house features a single-story open floor plan. Retractable walls of glass bring in expansive cityscape and mountain views.

The home contains living and family rooms, three bedrooms, three full bathrooms and a powder room in 4,074 square feet of living space. The master bathroom features radiant heat flooring, a sauna, a two-person steam shower and a massage and gym area, according to details from 2012, when Mars bought the property for $3.254 million.

There’s a swimming pool at the back of the house and a three-car garage.

Earlier this year, Mars bought an estate in Studio City for $6.5 million. The 9,033-square-foot Mediterranean-style house, built in 2000, sits on two acres with a covered lounge, an infinity swimming pool with a spa and a children’s play area.

He also sold his place in Hawaii.

The singer-songwriter, 30, is working on his third album. He has released two studio albums, “Doo-Wops Hooligans” (2010) and “Unorthodox Jukebox” (2012). The latter won a Grammy Award for best pop vocal album. He was Billboard’s artist of the year in 2014.

Mars performed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers during the Super Bowl halftime show in 2014.


Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has put a contemporary-style house in the San Diego County city of Del Mar on the market at $24,995,000.

The 2002 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Southern California, now in his 12th NFL season, bought the half-acre property from the city of Del Mar in 2010 for $4.4 million, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The 8,000-square-foot house with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms was built last year.

The three-story house, designed for entertaining and casual indoor-outdoor living, includes such custom features as an infinity-edge swimming pool, a bocce ball court, a sports court, an open-air living room and an outdoor kitchen/wet bar.

Open-plan interiors done in poured concrete and mahogany finishes include formal living and dining rooms, a center-island kitchen, a media room and an office. The master suite spans the entire third floor and has an indoor-outdoor shower, a free-standing soaking tub and private deck.

There are five fireplaces in all.

A lower-level gym has sliding doors that open to a tennis/sports court. Elsewhere, an oversized garage has parking for as many as 10 cars.

Palmer, 35, was a standout at USC. The two-time Pro Bowl player was taken first overall in the 2003 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and has also played for the Oakland Raiders. He is in his third year with the Cardinals.


Actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen have sold their bungalow in Venice for $1.77 million, $21,000 more than the asking price.

The couple bought the house three years ago for $929,000, records show.

Tucked behind privacy hedges and a gated entry, the single-story home was built in 1921 and remodeled in 2013.

Within the 1,520 square feet of living space are crisp interiors, coved doorways and rich hardwood floors. A living room with custom built-ins, a dining room, an updated kitchen and a family room are among the living spaces.

Three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms include a master suite with his and her sinks and French doors that open to a tree-topped patio.

A detached two-car garage, an outdoor laundry room and a playroom/office make up the grounds.

Danson, 67, is known for his role on the 1980s sitcom “Cheers.” Among his other TV credits are the series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “CSI: Cyber,” “Fargo” and “Damages.”

Steenburgen, 62, won an Academy Award for her supporting role as Lynda Dummar in the 1980 film “Melvin and Howard.” She appears on the television series “Orange Is the New Black” and “The Last Man on Earth.”


As Stephen Curry continues to pilot the Golden State Warriors to unprecedented heights, the all-star point guard has made a play away from the court, buying a home in Walnut Creek, Calif., for $3.2 million.

Set on about an acre, the two-story Mediterranean estate was built in 2012 and has a gated motor court and a formal courtyard entry.

Nearly 8,000 square feet of open-plan space includes a two-story foyer that opens to a step-down living room and an adjacent dining room area. A center-island kitchen and family room area sit off the foyer.

For entertainment, a lower-level space is outfitted with media and billiards rooms, a 2,300-bottle wine cellar and a full bar.

Occupying a separate wing of the home, the master suite boasts an office, a fireplace and a private balcony. Marble and travertine finishes, a frameless glass shower and jetted spa tub highlight the master bathroom.

There are five bedrooms, five bathrooms and four fireplaces in all.

French doors open to a wide covered patio with an outdoor kitchen. Formal landscaping, gardens and a separate 800-square-foot casita complete the grounds.

The house came on the market in April for $3.988 million and was more recently priced at $3.65 million, records show. It sold for $2.5 million last year.

Curry, 27, earned NBA most valuable player honors last year while leading Golden State to its first title in 40 years. The former first-round pick out of Davidson College has shown no sign of slowing down this season, averaging a league-best 32.7 points per game through 15 games.


The New York City co-op that actress Lauren Bacall called home for more than half a century sold for $21 million, public records show.

Thirteen-foot-high ceilings and freshly painted white walls give the 1884 Dakota building apartment an airy feeling. Views from the nine-room unit take in treetops, Central Park and the Manhattan cityscape.

Among original features is the foyer fireplace. Rooms opening off the 70-foot-long central hall include a living room, a library and a formal dining room.

Pocket doors, wainscoting and a corner china cabinet are among details in the dining room, which has a fireplace and connects to a butler’s pantry.

The cozy library has its original pocket doors, a fireplace and a floor-to-ceiling window with a small overlook balcony. Mahogany doors lead to the living room, where there’s another fireplace.

Bacall, who died last year at 89, worked with Humphrey Bogart in the 1940s films as “To Have and Have Not,” “The Big Sleep” and “Key Largo.” They were married in 1945.

More recently, she starred in the “The Forger” (2012).

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Reeves: Holiday gardening tips; program reminders – Longview News

The deadline is fast approaching to register for the 2016 Gregg-Harrison County Master Gardener class that will start in January. The deadline to register is 5 p.m. Friday. We have to get the program materials ordered before Christmas break at Texas AM University, where will be ordering them from.

This will be a fun-filled program, and you also will learn a lot of new things in the horticultural area, as well as make a lot of new lifelong friends in the process. That’s one thing we do and we do well, is have a good time in the learning process.

For information, be sure to check out the information on the class at

New landowner program

Just a reminder that the Gregg County AgriLife Extension Service will be hosting a program series in 2016 that will feature nine sessions that will meet each month from January through September. The program will focus on new landowners who would like to learn about how to manage their property and in the process, learn some new skills related to agricultural use of it.

Each participant will receive a three-ring binder with the entire program materials included. The program agenda and topics can be found at All sessions will be held at the Gregg County Extension office and will start at 6 p.m. Deadline to register is Jan. 11.

Holiday gardening tips

The busy holiday season often allows some vacation time and time for gardening. Even after the tree is decorated, the gifts are bought and parties are over, many timely gardening chores to accomplish remain. Should the gardener find some free time, consider:

1. Complete the planting of spring flowering bulbs. Tulips may be planted as late as early January and still do well if properly refrigerated and chilled 45 to 60 days before planting.

2. Select and plant needed wooded landscape plants. Winter planting allows the new planting to become well established before spring growth and summer heat. Delay planting plants such as azaleas, which could be damaged by severe cold.

3. Protect tender outdoor plants from the winter cold with a 4- to 6-inch mulch. Be certain that soils are moist before a hard freeze.

4. Shape hollies and use the pruning for Christmas color. Remember, hollies produce berries on old or second-year growth. Avoid cutting back to much of the season’s growth as this is where next year’s berries will be formed.

5. Be sure to supply supplemental moisture for newly planted landscape materials during dry winter periods. Adequate soil moisture will help prevent freeze damage.

6. Compost fallen leaves make an excellent organic soil for spring and summer gardening. Don’t allow fallen leaves to collect on lawns to block off light and air.

7. Select and plant pansies now. They make excellent color in the bulb beds. Feed established pansy plantings. Crystal Bowl, Imperial and Majestic series or types of pansy hold well in late spring and early summer heat.

8. Transplant woody plants during the cold, dormant season. Prune 1/3 of top growth to compensate for root loss. Plant at the plant’s normal growing depth in well-prepared soil.

9. Good time to make that dormant oil spray to control scale. Follow instructions on label to avoid damage to plants. Scale insects might be found on fruit trees, camellia, gardenia, euonymus, etc.

10. Mistletoe will remain fresh and hold its decorative berries if the end of the stem is dipped in wax to seal off possible moisture loss. Mistletoe berries are poisonous.

11. Keep soil in potted poinsettias and other holiday plants moist, but never extremely wet and overly dry. Protect the plants from heat vents. All potted holiday plants need natural light and do best when not exposed to direct sun.

12. Consider using a living Christmas tree this year so that it can be recycled to the landscape. Upright junipers, cherry laurel, Japanese black pine, deodora cedar, cleyera and Virginia pine are good choices. Also, remember to sign up for the 2016 master gardener class that will start in January.

— Randy Reeves is a Texas AM AgriLife extension agent for Gregg County.

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Garden Tips: Nuisance flies still plague houses this time of year – Tri

There are two types of insects found in homes that I hate: flies and ants. Flies are my nemesis in the fall, entering the house when the door is open. While these flies look like houseflies, they are probably face flies, a pest of livestock. Adult face flies feed on the moisture around the eyes, noses and mouth of livestock, and reproduce in their manure.

A couple of face flies inside the home are a nuisance, not a serious problem. Once cold weather prevails, their chance entrance into the house ceases. However, they can continue to be an annoyance if there is a significant outdoor population that overwinters within outside house walls or in attic voids. This often happens in rural areas where there is livestock raised nearby.

If the flies do overwinter within the walls, some face flies may continue to appear indoors through the winter months when sunshine warms the house walls. The best management is excluding them from the home with screening and by caulking any openings to the outdoors.

There are some other types of flies that may become a nuisance in homes. Fruit flies are one of the most common. They are brownish in color with bright red eyes, and are usually found flying around overripe or decaying fruit or veggies inside the home. They are also attracted to wine, beer and sugary drinks.

Fruit flies are easy to control by simply getting rid of overripe produce and storing ripe fruit in the refrigerator. Also, rinse any empty food and beverage containers stored indoors for recycling. The liquids in these containers ferment and provide a great place for fruit flies to breed.

Moth flies, also known as drain flies, are often mistaken for fruit flies. A close reveals that they are tiny ( 1/5 inch long) hairy flies resembling moths. They can breed in the decaying organic matter and slime found in the drains of sinks and tubs, garbage disposals, and dishwasher food traps.

One step to control is to keep organic materials from getting into drains by using drain baskets or filters. Chemical drain cleaners may or may not remove the slime in a drain. If not, you will need to manually remove it using a brush or use a biological drain cleaner that contains enzymes that digest slime and organic debris. Also, clean your garbage disposals and dishwashers as recommended by the manufacturer.

Finally, fungus gnats are another nuisance fly found inside homes. These are minute ( 1/8 -inch long) blackish flies. They breed in decaying plant matter and often arise from houseplant potting mixes that are kept overly moist. Potting mixes that contain undecayed organic materials from compost provide an excellent breeding ground for fungus gnats.

At this time of year, holiday plants such as poinsettias may be a source of fungus gnats, especially if adequate drainage is not provided. The best bet for controlling the problem is to keep the potting mix slightly moist but not wet. Also, make sure your plants have good drainage and pots are not sitting in excess water.

All these flies can be a nuisance. Aerosol pesticide sprays labeled for indoor use will kill the ones flying about, but they can pose a health risk to you and your family. The real key to control is determining the type of fly and then using the right control measures to get rid of them.

Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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Garden tips: asparagus; frangipani; roses; Phostrogen substitute

Enabling Cookies in Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9 +

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Roots Manoeuvres with Georgina Chahed: Choosing a designer for your garden

People sometimes wonder about having their garden redesigned, but don’t know where to start.

Here are some things to think about before selecting a garden designer.

A professional designer will do a lot more than just measure up and produce drawings for a new garden.

They will select landscapers capable of carrying out the work at the most competitive price. They will source materials, monitor the build and move heaven and earth to find the right plants.

A designer may also provide a maintenance plan to ensure the garden stays looking its best. Crucially, a designer will also check to make sure every detail is perfect before the project is completed.

Clear communication between a client and designer is essential. Therefore, be prepared to ask lots of questions. If a designer hasn’t been personally recommended, obtaining references from previous clients is a good place to start.

One question people often ask is: “What training did you receive before embarking on your career in garden design?” Most garden designers have studied for at least a year or two, and having a background in gardening or landscaping can be another string to their bow.

Also, has the garden designer won any awards? Perhaps they’ve been awarded a Royal Horticultural Society medal for a show garden they’ve designed or have scooped the top prize in a competition.

As well as having to produce a horticultural display at a very high standard, accolades such as these help demonstrate a designer’s ability to design and project manage the build of a garden.

Rather than giving an off-the-peg solution, a good designer will deliver something that’s unique to their clients’ individual requirements and style.

With clear communication and by asking the right questions you’ll be able to find the right garden designer and make your dream garden a reality.

Georgina Chahed is a garden designer and the owner of Touch Landscapes. Visit

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Conceptual Plans Unveiled for Heritage State Park Model Railroad Museum

Younger versions of Thomas Krens and Gov. Dukakis make an appearance at Krens’ museum announcement on Saturday.
Architect Richard Gluckman and former Gov. William Weld.
Former Gov. Michael Dukakis called the proposal a great opportunity.
Weld said it would be ‘a perfect complement to Mass MoCA and to the Clark.’
Press and community leaders were invited to the presentation.
Richard Gluckman, left, William Weld, Thomas Krens, Michael Dukakis and Mayor Richard Alcombright.
Dukakis speaks with Judith Grinnell of the Hoosic River Revival.
A Guggenheim museum model refurbished by TM.
Architects whose design models may appear in the installation.
Photographs of model trains and landscapes.
A to-scale Frank Gehry model.
The trains and landscape are highly detailed.
The proposed museum would be the long red area.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city could host a major and “extreme” model railroading installation at Western Gateway Heritage State Park that city officials hope will transform North Adams.

Spearheaded by museum maestro Thomas Krens, the model railroad museum could be up and running by 2018.

Initial estimates are a quarter of million visitors a year or more and the direct development of 60 construction and 60 operating jobs.

“It could be realized in as short as two years. I tend to be optimistic about those things,” said Krens, flanked by two train enthusiasts, William Weld and Michael Dukakis who also happen to be former governors.  

“I would like to see it happen sooner than later, and if that was the case, it would be 2018.”

The unveiling of the concept plan for the museum also included more information on Krens’ proposed for-profit Global Contemporary Art Museum that would be located on airport land next to Stop Shop. Krens and his team are currently in negotiations for leasing the property with the Airport Commission.

Krens said he would also like to see the redevelopment of the Mohawk Theater, promising a two-week Dennis Hopper film retrospective in honor of his late friend, but alluding to the need to develop the park before the theater.

The plans will balance what Krens is calling a “cultural corridor” between Williamstown and North Adams, but which is heavier on the Williamstown side. His art museum will be a connector in the middle, and the park and, eventually, the theater will help fill out the east side of the Route 2 corridor.

“Much like Mass MoCA [it] can be a game-changer for this city and for this greater region,” said Mayor Richard Alcombright. “The new plan envisions a Williamstown-North Adams cultural corridor that will solidify this city as a cultural, education and economic destination for many, many years.”

Alcombright said the proposals align with the city’s Vision 2030 master plan, which points to the moribund Heritage State Park as having the potential to be a key economic driver, and the more conceptual plans of the Partnership for North Adams.

The partnership, in fact, is sponsoring a conceptual development study of the model railroad proposal expected to be completed by the end of this year. Krens estimated about six months to build a detailed plan off that study, with bidding possible as soon as late spring.

The railroad museum would incorporate intricate, realistic modeling and engineering, and be inspired by Disney’s theme park engineering and Hamburg, Germany’s Minatur Wunderland, which sees more than a million visitors a year.

A prototype is actually being built in Krens’ 3,000 square-foot Williamstown basement, a concept that had, like the art museum, originally been intended for a Chinese audience. But the 25-hour flights had Krens looking closer to home, which led to talks with the mayor and John DeRosa, the city solicitor and CEO of the partnership.

The plans have the endorsement of both Weld and Dukakis, who both played roles during the development of Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the brainchild of Krens. Weld joked that “it was so counter-intuitive it had a good chance of working.”

Dukakis, who described himself as a “rail fanatic,” said his one regret on Saturday, “was that I couldn’t take a passenger train through the Hoosac Tunnel and avoid having to drive three hours.”

He recalled his first meeting with Krens, then director of the Williams College Museum of Art, when he proposed an off-the-wall idea of turning the Sprague Electric mills into an art museum.

“I’ve been very frustrated with the Heritage Park program, especially with this one, which as you know was created to celebrate railroads, which is the history of this city and this region,” said the governor, who had implemented the heritage parks program during his tenure. “When John DeRosa first told me about the ideas that Tom had … I was really excited.

“This is terrific … you’ve got great opportunities here.”

Weld said it appeared a “perfect complement to Mass MoCA and to the Clark” and that he did not anticipate problems with financing.

“We think we can do as well as Hamburg or even better,” he said. “Give me a $600,000 revenue stream and even I can find $10 million to finance the developments here in Heritage Park.”

Krens believes the revenue streams from rentals to buildings in the park will form the base for funding, and held out the possibility of state grants or low-cost loans. The for-profit art museum on Route 2 will be privately funded. A recent attempt to create an artisans’ market at the park failed for lack of financing.

“We don’t have to build it all from scratch,” he said of the park. “Governor Dukakis already did that 30 years ago. That first investment is kind of riding here. … It should be fairly inexpensive.”

The buildings on the south side of the park would be renovated for retail, likely tied into the model railroad and Mass MoCA, and a microbrewery, a concept for Freight Yard Pub that’s been bandied about for awhile. The current railcar sitting on the sidetracks would be removed and replaced by dining cars for restaurant. The North Adams Museum of History and Science would move to Building 6, where Northern Berkshire Community Television currently is. The state’s museum would also have to move.

Alcombright cautioned that proposal is conceptual at this point, but the Department of Conservation and Recreation would be part of that planning.

“As this thing progresses and as it grows, we will start to have those conversations,” he said.

Another proposal for a shared museum space at the former Sons of Italy is tied into the still on-the-drawing-board plan for a pedestrian underpass to the Berkshire Scenic Railway.

Richard Gluckman, the principal in Gluckman Tang Architects, a longtime colleague of Krens, is working on both Krens’ museums.

The model railroad would cover about 25,000 square feet, or about 2 miles of track, in the 100-foot long Building 4, where the state’s Hoosac Tunnel exhibit is located, and an addition with 30-foot ceilings that will bring the length to 670 feet. The entire thing would be computerized, with hundreds of thousands lights, interactive installations, cities to scale and areas where visitors can look down on the display.

The trains are highly detailed and accurate replicas of real locomotives, costing between $6,000 and $10,000. Gluckman said there are fewer than a dozen craftsman doing this type of work, including Rod Stewart.

“It’s these trains, these exquisite models that testify to the level of detail and realism we’re going to try to achieve,” he said. “It’s an art form to be able to do this.”

The installation would also include landscaping that will include a historical view of North Adams, likely during the heyday period when Heritage Park was part of a functioning railyard — when the city “held the Western Gateway.”

It also will incorporate a more contemporary landscape that fits with Mass MoCA, using architectural models from a host of well-known architects and designers, including a number of Pritzker winners. One sleek, streamlined model on display of a conceptual Guggenheim museum for Lithuania by Zaha Hadid had just been refurbished by TM Automotive. Another was provided by Frank Gehry.

Krens “cultural corridor” is also keyed to a refrain repeated by Mass MoCA’s director Joseph Thompson: to create enough attractions that people feel they have to stay more than a day to see them all.

He had initially considered 150,000 visitors a year but Thompson convinced him it could be double.

“If that’s true, that will transform North Adams, because those people are not coming here now,” said Krens.


Tom Krens explains the idea behind an “extreme” model train installation proposed at Heritage State Park #NorthAdamsMA

Posted by on Saturday, December 5, 2015


Tags: Heritage State Park,   museum,   railroad,   

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The season of illumination – The News

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but for Bill and Marji Kilgus, it’s been shaping up that way since late July.

The husband-and-wife team own and operate Trimmers Holiday Decor based in Collier County and for 25 years, they’ve been creating extensive, innovative exterior holiday lighting displays from downtown Naples and Marco Island to Bonita Springs, and on through to Lee and Charlotte counties. The Kilguses, who were Naples High School sweethearts, live the magic practically most of the year, taking a break from May to June.

“It just blossomed. We just love it,” he says. “I just love coming up with new ideas.”

What started with decorating the exterior of three grand mansions in the fanciest Naples enclaves really took off for Bill, who owned a landscaping business, when he was asked to light the outstretched trees at Waterside Shops. That led to all of the high-rises and condos in Pelican Bay, and to The Ritz-Carlton; requests proliferated and doubled each year. Bill finally chucked landscaping when the demand and profits proved great, and he realized it was something he simply loved to do. Ever since, Trimmers has led the way in Southwest Florida innovating concepts, decking the streets for Third Street South and Fifth Avenue South in Naples—distinct districts he strung with 100,000 lights for both this year.

With more than 400 clients that Marji helps keep track of, his seasonal 40-strong team regroups when it’s sweltering and children are preparing to return to school. Beginning August 1, they review the warehouses’ inventory on their Golden Gate Estates property; checking in orders of ribbon, antique sleighs, hand-crafted, life-size Nutcracker soldiers and trees soaring to 28 feet; researching sources for proprietary lighting and decorations, and planning updated designs for clients large and small.

No item is overlooked and Kilgus works each year to push the boundaries of his designs. It took him two years, for example, to track down “sunburst effect” lights that caught his eye one holiday season on the famous Rockefeller Center tree during a regular visit to New York City. Found them he did, and he’s been using them for about four years. Do you remember when the large royal palms at the entrances of gated communities stretching throughout Southwest Florida began appearing with their palms lit with white lights two decades ago? That was Trimmers Holiday Decor. When other companies began emulating the look, Bill took it another step by doing the tree trunks, too.

Have you seen the glowing orbs in downtown Naples? The “snow tubes” that appear to turn the Venetian Village into a veritable winter wonderland? That’s Kilgus, too.

The handiwork of Trimmers Holiday Decor adorns Bonita Springs, Captiva and Sanibel, The Forest, Gateway, Jamaica Bay, Grendezza, Stoneybrook, South Seas Plantation, Bella Vita in Cape Coral and more. Go down Treeline Drive or Immokalee Road and “we’re one end to the other,” he says. Beginning Sept. 1, at least three crews of five began installing lights six days a week; it steps up to seven days by Sept. 20, running through Dec. 15. They check their installations three nights a week.

Clearly, Kilgus is not one to get frustrated over tangled lines, outages or conflicts with irrigation systems (sprinklers don’t mix well with lights). In fact, it was a major mishap that happened when he was 8 or 9 that serves as an indelible memory and sparked his passion for installing holiday lights—the right way. He had always assisted his father in lighting their ranch home in New York. So one afternoon, when his father was working his shift as a firefighter, he told his son to go ahead and decorate. Little Bill strung the long roofline and its peak and he went with swelling pride to plug it in at the usual garage outlet. “I did it backwards. I had the female end and not the male end. I had to take the whole thing back down,” he recalls, still laughing about the incident. His father chuckled when he returned home and heard about the problem. He pointed out that his son could have plugged it in elsewhere—he didn’t have to dismantle the project. “I just liked it from there,” Kilgus says with the mirth of Santa. “Everyone enjoys lights; it’s all good. There is no use getting upset. If something goes wrong, you step back, fix it and move on.”

The garland, wreaths, bows and trees all come down by Jan. 10; all of the lights within five weeks. There may be as many as 170,000 lights in a single development. Then, like Santa returning to the North Pole, the Kilguses kick back at their lake house in Maine, dreaming of the season past and the one to come.

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Feds can help fix a troubled police department – Chicago Sun

If Mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t enthusiastic about the prospect of a federal investigation of the Chicago Police Department — the mayor called the idea of such a probe “misguided” Tuesday, before backtracking Thursday — former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy can’t blame him.

When the Justice Department takes a hard look at a police department, it’s often the first step toward court-ordered mandates for reforms that cost millions, roil police unions and ultimately give a federal judge the last word on how police operate, Murphy said.

Those were Murphy’s concerns in the mid-1990s, when the DOJ contacted him after the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit against the Pittsburgh PD during his first term. Murphy had just hired a new, reform-minded chief, and wasn’t interested in inviting the feds to look over his shoulder.

“I wanted to fight it,” Murphy recalled this week in an interview with the Sun-Times. “I thought an investigation was an insult to Pittsburgh … that it would be a distraction.

“I was absolutely wrong. It turned out to be a huge benefit to us.”

In 1997, Pittsburgh became the first U.S. city to submit to federal oversight of its police department, under terms of a court settlement called a consent decree. Five years later, the Pittsburgh PD was hailed as a model for the nation.

Since the mid-1990s, the Justice Department has launched probes of nearly 70 departments, and have forced 26 cities into some form of court-monitored reform agreement. Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore appear likely to wind up under DOJ supervision, meaning more than half of the reform deals will have been brokered during Barack Obama’s run as president.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called for a federal probe of the Chicago Police Department, but some experts say the feds likely were already taking a look at Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan called for a federal probe of the Chicago Police Department, but some experts say the feds likely were already taking a look at Chicago. | Sun-Times file photo

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by a CPD officer — with some demanding the resignations of the mayor and other public officials.

But some experts say the feds likely began an informal inquiry into Chicago even before state Attorney General Lisa Madigan called for a federal investigation this week, and well before Emanuel changed his mind and announced he would welcome DOJ “engagement” in the investigation.

Jim Letten served as U.S. attorney in New Orleans before joining Tulane University. | AP file photo

Jim Letten served as U.S. attorney in New Orleans before joining Tulane University. | AP file photo

A single, high-profile case of misconduct might draw the attention of the Justice Department, but any investigation would be dedicated to identifying a pattern of abuses, said Tulane Law School Dean Jim Letten, former U.S. Attorney in New Orleans.

Letten’s office was investigating a pair of post-Hurricane Katrina shootings by police when Mitch Landrieu was elected in 2010. Landrieu contacted Letten soon after he was took office, starting a process that led to a sweeping, 110-page reform agreement with the city that took effect in 2013.

“Everything in there is negotiated by the parties and agreed to before it goes to the judge,” Letten said. “A consent decree does not equate to a total takeover of a department by the Department (of Justice). The Department wants to help effect change, so that when the Department walks away, things are going to remain as they were under the consent decree.”

After signing off on the deal, Landrieu’s administration almost immediately asked a federal judge to let the city to break the agreement, citing the estimated $55 million cost of the mandated reforms. Two years into the deal, the city continues to gripe about costs, but federal monitors have noted improvements. Police union leaders say the consent decree dictates have done little to aid police work, and have contributed to a decline in morale that has left the department unable to hire enough officers to replace a wave of retirements.

Pittsburgh got off to a similarly rocky start. Murphy thought the city could solve problems within the department on its own. But he said his new chief, Robert McNeilly, convinced him that federal intervention could help speed a turnaround.

A court-appointed team of experts monitored the pace of improvement, with a federal judge enforcing deadlines. Court mandates, and monitors’ fees, cost the city millions, but they helped the city quickly overcome resistance to reforms by police unions, Murphy said. When the consent decree was lifted in 2002, the department’s policies and training programs were hailed as national models — and McNeilly became a sought-after consultant.

“We made really big changes in managing police, and the systems we built ended up being used across the country,” Murphy said. Emanuel can look at federal intervention as a positive, Murphy said.

“It’s going to cost money, but I think it gives an opportunity to make the changes that he knows need to be made.”

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