The on-again, off-again saga of whether or not Cameron Kuhn will demolish the entire block west of Orange Avenue between Jefferson and Washington streets, including – sniff – Scruffy Murphy's, seems to be back on. Late last year Kuhn announced his intentions to the Orlando Business Journal, saying this development would be even bigger than the Premiere Trade Plaza he's building at Church Street and Orange Avenue. To our shock and amazement, Buddy Dyer even proclaimed that Kuhn would be funding this baby without taxpayer help.

Then Dyer got arrested, and Kuhn's plans were put on hold. But with Buddy back in the big chair, the project's a go again. We recently stopped in at Scruffy's – research, of course – and spoke to owner Donnie Burke about the perhaps imminent demolition of this Irish house o' tippling. Burke was a touch intoxicated (as were we), but from what we gather the demolition could occur sometime in the next four to six months. Or two years. And if that's not specific enough for you, keep in mind that this conversation took place in a bar on a night when even a wandering dog was drinking.

Upon sobering up, we called Downtown Development Board director Frank Billingsley to get the poop. Billingsley said … um … not much. Kuhn hasn't submitted any applications to the city for anything – other than the remodel of the J.C. Penney building that's currently underway. So all this chitter-chatter is premature.

Billingsley points out that in the past, Kuhn has worked with street-level retail. For instance, when he redeveloped property on Wall Street years ago, Kuhn didn't kick out the Kit Kat Club.

"Cameron does have a history of being sensitive to including active local uses on the ground floor," Billingsley says. Hope springs eternal.

Labor Day without a marathon is kind of like Arbor Day without trees, though no one really gives a shit about Arbor Day because you don't even get the day off. Anyway, up until now, all Labor Day-marathon junkies had to assuage their need for something long and trying was Jerry Lewis and his annual MDA dunfest, which we know is for a good cause and everything, but come on. You know what's really annoying about Lewis' 21-hour pickpocketing of America? That he's always going on about how researchers are this close to a cure. Year after year we're closer all the time, and if you don't give a couple of hundred bucks then it's your fault that they never quite get there, despite the fact that the marathon raises like $400 billion annually. Enough already!

Happily, you don't have to deal with that schmuck to get a marathon fix this year. You can tune in to a cool, local marathon, with good music and fascinating guests (perhaps someone who contributes regularly to this wildly popular column, not that we're logrolling or anything). And best of all, you won't have to put up with come-ons the entire time. It's 91.5-FM WPRK's Labor Day weekend marathon, Sept. 1 to Sept. 5, and if it's anything like the last WPRK marathon, it's gonna rawk!

But it won't be like last January's effort in several respects: It's not a world-record attempt, it's not a fund-raiser, and it's not an endurance test to see how long DJ Dave Plotkin can forgo sleep before a sudden, painful death finally shuts him up. This time four DJs will share the microphone (Plotkin being one of them) and the idea is to cram as many local bands into 96 hours as possible.

"We're trying to come as close as we could to the feel of the marathon in January, without the punch-drunk DJ," says WPRK general manager Dan Seeger. The idea is to get 65 local bands on the air, minimum, says Seeger, some of which could even be playing from a remote location! So screw Jerry Lewis and tune into WPRK instead. You won't cure anything, but that wasn't going to happen anyway.

Salvo returned, again! A few weeks after a special magistrate sided (mostly) with the city in its ongoing labor dispute with its police union, the union's rank and file voted unanimously to reject some of the magistrate's recommendations; specifically, the one that went for a 2 percent pay raise instead of the union-preferred 4 percent – and force Mayor Buddy Dyer into a contentious public hearing.

The cards are stacked against the cops. For starters, once the city holds a public hearing, it can impose whatever terms it sees fit, so long as Dyer manages a majority vote of City Council. But the point, union chairman Sam Hoffman explains, is to give council members an "unfiltered" version of their request, rather than having commissioners reach conclusions based on what Dyer, city staffers or the media have to say. Not that the plan will work: It's a pretty safe bet that Dyer will bring at least three of the commissioners to his side, making a majority.

On the other hand, three commissioners – Phil Diamond, Vicki Vargo and Daisy Lynum – are up for re-election next year, and the union is a power player in local elections. "We want to see how they vote," Hoffman says in response to Happytown™'s question about the implications of the hearing.

Even if the council backs him, Dyer can only impose a contract on the union until the end of this fiscal year, Sept. 30. Then, the whole negotiation process starts over. "It's like Groundhog Day all over again," Hoffman says. Still, he signals that the union is willing to compromise: "We're willing to meet `Dyer` halfway."

Given the bitter nature of this year's negotiations, it seems unlikely that Dyer will do likewise.

Sen. Bill Nelson is not an exciting politician. He's the very definition of milquetoast, a Democrat who goes out of his way to avoid controversy. So when Happytown™ got a fax inviting us to an informal meeting with Nelson, we were, um, busy. But he sweetened the deal with doughnuts, so we found the time.

The meeting was kind of pointless; just a way for Nelson to get some ink, really. There were stock questions and rote answers about Senate's omnibus transportation bill, commuter rail and John Bolton's appointment as the ambassador to the United Nations. ("I don't think he deserves a promotion," says Nelson.)

The one topic that did get a rise out of Nelson was the space shuttle, because a long time ago (1986) in a galaxy far, far away, Nelson hitched a ride on the Columbia, and hasn't stopped talking about it since. There was a gleam in his eye when Nelson sent an aide scurrying down the hall to retrieve his favorite toy: A 2-foot-tall model of the Columbia, complete with detachable fuel tank, which he caressed the same way Ralphie caressed his Red Ryder BB gun in A Christmas Story. Watching a United States senator playing with a toy was weird.

Of course, NASA has no bigger defender than Nelson. Asked about a recent New York Times story criticizing the shuttle program, Nelson declared in no uncertain terms that "the American people are very, very supportive of the space shuttle." All of them. Every single one.

click to enlarge 08.04_happy-larrycableguyjpg
Passing by Rogers Diner on Corrine Drive Aug. 1, we noticed a billboard outside the well-worn greasy spoon announcing that the place would be closed the next day. Turns out it had been shut down by the Health Inspector – but not the public-servant variety.

The temporary closing was the result of the first day of shooting for a new Paramount film, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, set to open in spring 2006 and featuring Joe Pantoliano of Sopranos fame. There were trucks, tents, lights and people filling the lot, waiting for a call to action, giving the plaid-shirted Larry a moment to step over to a group of fans to sign autographs, have photos taken and be handed scripts from hopefuls. We had an up-close exchange with the Florida-spawned celebrity comedian – aka Daniel Lawrence Whitney – and couldn't help but notice his sparkly blue eyes and toned-down Southern drawl. (He probably cleans up good.) When we shared with him the rumor that the film starred the same guy who made Ernest Goes to Camp, he replied with conviction, "Jim Varney is dead."

"He's the next Jim Varney," said producer Alan Blomquist of Parallel Pictures. GIT-ER-DONE, Larry.




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