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The Orlando-area SunRail commuter train has gotten more than twice the anticipated number of daily riders since it opened on Thursday. Transportation officials say the demand is expected to slacken once they start charging for rides later this month.

Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Olson says SunRail started with a bang.

“This is history that occurred here in Central Florida," he says. 

WUSF News is the proud recipient of not one, but five 2014 Green Eyeshade Awards. These are regional awards for best journalism in 11 states in the Southeast, given out by our peers in the Society of Professional Journalists.

Since 1950, The Green Eyeshades have recognized the very best journalism in the southeastern United States, in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

Free SunRail Rides Start Thursday in Orlando

Apr 30, 2014

SunRail, the first commuter train in Orlando history, starts rolling Thursday. There are 12 stops, starting in the north at DeBary in Volusia County; then Sanford, Lake Mary, Longwood and Altamonte Springs in Seminole County; and Maitland, Winter Park, Florida Hospital, Lynx, Church Street, Orlando Health and Sand Lake Road in Orange County.

Florida's blueberries were a boutique endeavor six to seven years ago as demand for the fruit was taking off. A decent farm had 5 acres of bushes. Growers today are planting 20 acres at a cost of upward of $25,000 each as the state continues "on the way up" in a global niche, said Bill Roe, a marketer with Noble Worldwide of Winter Haven.

Amidst all the hoopla about "green carpets" and Bollywood film stars coming to Tampa for the Bollywood Oscars Saturday, a lot of behind-the-scenes action is taking place. A lot of business connections are being formed, as well.

WUSF has won two regional 2014 Edward R. Murrow Awards.And they both went to…. drum roll please…. WUSF reporter Bobbie O’Brien. For Best Feature Reporting for her story on Autism Defined by Those with the Diagnosis that she did with our intern, Andrew Casey; and for best Sports Reporting for Veteran Athletes Give Super Effort in Super G.

Internet Retailer Amazon to Start Collecting Sales Taxes

Apr 17, 2014

Floridians who rely on Internet giant Amazon.com will have to soon start paying taxes on their online purchases.

A spokesman for the Seattle-based company confirmed Wednesday that Amazon will collect the state's 6 percent sales tax on May 1.

The move follows the decision by Amazon to build two distribution centers in the Sunshine State.

Amazon will open "fulfillment centers" in Lakeland and Ruskin. Each will be more than 1 million square feet. Amazon officials say when both are open, more than 1,000 full-time jobs will be created.

Belleair Commissioners Approve Rezoning Measure

Apr 16, 2014

Belleair commissioners approved the RM-10 rezoning measure that affects the Belleview Biltmore Hotel.

Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Six years after saying they wanted to explore alternative sites to downtown St. Petersburg for a new ballpark, the Tampa Bay Rays still are in search of a location.

“Tampa is obviously very, very attractive on the list, and we expect to at some point, hopefully sooner, look there as well as some other parts of the region,” Rays owner Stuart Stern­berg said Tuesday during a panel at the MLB Diversity Business Summit.

The Tampa Bay Times has won a Pulitzer Prize for an investigation into the squalid conditions of Hillsborough County's homeless housing program.

The Times' award was among the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes announced at Columbia University on Monday.

The paper received a tip from a homeless man that the Tampa Port Authority chairman operated a squalid trailer park for the homeless.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The future of one of the largest wooden structures in the world will be decided Tuesday. Belleview Biltmore hotel near Clearwater is up for demolition if a rezoning measure is approved.

The Belleview Biltmore Hotel, built in 1897, hosted business giants, local socialites and even presidents back in the day. It closed in 2009 for renovations but with the housing market crash it never reopened.

Now, a rezoning measure would allow developers to bulldoze it and build condos in its place.

Fl. Legislators Divided Over Tax Holidays

Apr 11, 2014

Florida legislators are divided over what type of additional tax breaks to offer residents this year.

The Florida House has already passed a bill that calls for four sales tax holidays, including a three day back-to-school holiday. The House also wants a tax holiday on energy efficient appliances, gym memberships and hurricane preparation supplies.

Wikimedia Commons

This year's Florida orange crop is approaching the fruit's lowest harvest in 24 years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released its citrus production forecast.

The 2013-2014 orange forecast is 110.0 million boxes, down 4 percent from last month, and 18 percent less than last season's final production figure.

Orange harvesting ends in June, and if the crop doesn't decline further, it will barely exceed the 110.2 million orange boxes harvested in 1989-90 following the worst freeze in Florida citrus history.

The culprit is citrus greening.

Babcock Ranch Developers Planning a Solar City

Apr 4, 2014

The Babcock Ranch Community Independent Special District filed a document last week with the Florida Public Service Commission, outlining plans for a new municipal utility in Charlotte County. Officials from the Palm Beach development firm behind Babcock Ranch said Thursday that the proposed utility would give them more control of the development, provide lower electric bills for customers and jibe ideally with the 75-megawatt solar farm slated to be the lifeblood of Babcock Ranch.

The study, “Better Business: How Hispanic Entrepreneurs Are Beating Expectations and Bolstering the U.S. Economy,” released in Miami during a panel discussion and press conference, showed that between 2010-2012 the entrepreneurial rate declined overall in the U.S., but among Hispanics the rate shot up, said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of the partnership, an organization of 500 government and business leaders who support immigration reform. “The thing we need more than anything else is young entrepreneurs. This is where the new energy and growth comes from,” he said.

Belleview Biltmore Partners LLC, led by restoration architect Richard Heisenbottle, wants to buy the declining hotel as well as the Town of Belleair-owned golf club. It has secured a funding commitment from a private equity source, Managing Member Gary Rosenberg told TBBJ on Monday. Rosenberg declined to disclose the name, but he said he has signed documents. The current estimate of the cost to buy and renovate the hotel is $190 million, Rosenberg said.

Florida’s unemployment rate is no longer dropping like it once did.

The state’s jobless rate in February was 6.2 percent, which is the same rate it was the two previous months.

The unemployment rate held steady even though the state gained an estimated 33,400 jobs last month. Only California and Texas gained more jobs in February.

WUSF Public Broadcasting took home seven awards at the Florida Associated Press Broadcasters awards banquet Saturday night in Orlando. WUSF took home two first place awards, and five second place awards.

This is a reflection of the great work our staff has done during the past year. At WUSF, we strive to bring you balanced, informative reports every day. Please click on the links below to get a sample of some of these works. Congratulations to our reporters!

-Steve Newborn, Interim News Director.

FIRST PLACE: Sports Feature

This post is being updated.

Satellite images showing objects floating in the Indian Ocean have focused the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the 239 people who were on board to an area about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia.

The state's unemployment rates continues to drop - while job creation in the Tampa Bay area is lagging behind the rest of the state.

That's according to the numbers released today by state economists. The state's unemployment rate in January was 6.1 percent. That's the lowest the rate has been since June 2008.

There are an estimated 581,000 Floridians out of work. Florida's unemployment rate remains below the national average of 6.6 percent.

Gov. Rick Scott has contended the state's unemployment rate is dropping due to his policies.

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