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Saturday, Dec 16, 2017
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Welcome back to Florida, Mr. President

WASHINGTON – After pardoning a turkey, President Donald Trump this afternoon will get down to his real Thanksgiving tradition: A visit to Mar-a-Lago.

At 3:20 p.m., the president and First Lady Melania Trump are scheduled to depart for Palm Beach, marking the return of regular visits to Mar-a-Lago.

The trips, which will likely last through the spring, are seen as a blessing and a curse for the area as security tightens, roads are closed and protests are staged.

On Saturday, Trump supporters plan a "Welcome Home Mr. President" rally.

Trump's visits have stirred a number of questions about the security of Mar-a-Lago (recall the infamous scene of Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe discussing North Korea's missile test) and access  club members have to him.

But it is Trump's domain and his return fulfills a dream of a "Winter White House."

Here are some observations from third-generation Palm Beacher Alexander Ives, former president of the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.

– Being a small town, the talk is mostly about utility work for undergrounding power lines and redoing water and sewage lines not being conveniently coordinated well with POTUS visit. A lot of normal people visit town for the holiday season as well, so traffic is difficult.

– People are curious to mildly excited to see if Trump will use a helicopter to travel from the airport to his new helipad at Mar-a-Lago. Many hope it will alleviate traffic issues, though streets still have to be closed for security. There is a concern about just how loud that chopper will be.

– Stories that Palm Beach resident and Trump Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have inflated his wealth or mislead (about his business investments) are creating interesting chatter. People really like Wilbur here so I think they question the reports, but it's certainly more the talk than anything Trump.

– The sexual assault and harassment scandals nationally are beginning to be a worry here. A prominent estate attorney and a restaurateur are said to be people who may fall from accusations soon.

– Finally, I don't hear much about the Russian yacht docked nearby but I do hear a joke that you seem to suddenly hear Russian spoken a bit more by "tourists."

From our April 2017 report:

A vacationing Trump first saw Mar-a-Lago in the early 1980s. The estate was built decades earlier by Marjorie Merriweather Post and had fallen into disrepair, rejected by the federal government despite her dying wish it become a winter retreat for presidents.

"It smelled. The roof leaked," said Roger Stone, Trump's longtime friend. "I said, 'This is like a haunted mansion.' But he said, 'This could be incredible.' I couldn't see it. It was really beat up."

Trump got the property for about $10 million in 1985, and in 1995, he turned it into a members-only club. Years of fighting between the town and Trump ensued over a range of issues. Some cast it as old money vs. new.

"They hated him. He didn't come over on the Mayflower and neither did his relatives," said Sherry Frankel, who arrived in 1975 and owns a gift shop in town. She counts herself among those who think the president should spend less time here. She voted for Hillary Clinton but says Trump's dedication to Mar-a-Lago has earned him acceptance.

"He made it a palace," she said.

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