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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 12, 200112:00 PM EST

Attacks impact downtown businesses, government

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The terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. also impacted Jacksonville, with bomb threats, business closings and postponed government meetings disrupting downtown’s daily life. In the aftermath of the attacks, Daily Record staff writers Monica Chamness, Michele Newbern Gillis, Bill Johnson, Mike Sharkey and Glenn Tschimpke spent most of the day tracking how the city was coping with the disaster.

Hotels get unexpected business

Area hotels received some unexpected business Tuesday after 25 commercial aircraft were diverted to Jacksonville International Airport in the wake of terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington D.C.

JIA community relations manager Laurene Carson said an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 passengers received an unscheduled stop in Jacksonville after the Federal Aviation Administration effectively grounded the entire United States’ commercial fleet. Although three charter buses drove some passengers to destinations farther south in Florida, many more were faced with spending the night here.

The Jacksonville and the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau stepped in to assist, tracking down more than 1,200 rooms across the First Coast.

“It’s basically our mission to assist visitors to the area,” said Stacy Badics of the CVB. “Some people may not even know what’s going on. It’s our job to help those people.”

Hotel rooms nearest JIA filled first. After eight cancellations, the 59-room Comfort Suites on Airport Road had 40 spaces available to travelers on unscheduled hiatus.

“They’re just as surprised and dazed — just as much as all of us,” said manager Annette Roberts about her unexpected guests. “Some are furious. They want to track [the perpetrators] down and kill them all. They didn’t care about our innocent victims so we won’t care about them. Other people are more reserved.”

Manager John Remmers had 16 rooms available at the Radisson on the Southbank, all of which were filled by stranded air passengers.

“I like getting business, but I don’t like getting business this way,” he said.

The impact of stranded passengers faded farther from JIA as downtown and beaches hotels bore less of the brunt, but cancellations of meetings and conventions illustrate the ripple effect of the shutdown of the airlines.

“We were already sold out for tonight,” said Clifford Ferrara, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton on the Southbank, “but it has affected business. We’ve had many canceled meetings.”

Fererra noted that in addition to 40 room cancellations, two meetings this week were canceled, which would have brought in nearly $18,000 in catering revenue.

Despite the impact, Badics added that community response was open-armed.

“We’ve had residents calling who offered their homes to passengers,” she said. “Over 20 called to offer their homes.”

Buildings evacuated

Many downtown buildings were evacuated and closed following terrorists attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Some workers at Independent Square were allowed to go home early and the building was later evacuated following a bomb threat.

A bomb threat was also reported at the Bank of America tower, but security officials denied the report. The bank closed and employees were sent home, but the building remained open to other tenants.

Bomb threats were also reported at Riverplace Tower on the Southbank and at City Hall.

According to Lt. Cookson, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office watch commander for Zone 3, officers were called to Riverplace Tower to investigate a suspicious briefcase.

“Precautionary measures were taken,” said Cookson. “We partially evacuated the immediate area. The bomb squad responded and checked it out.”

The call turned out to be a false alarm, as was the one at City Hall.

The Federal Courthouse closed early in the day, and an afternoon fashion show at the Landing, featuring two Jacksonville Jaguars players, was canceled and the Landing was closed.

At several buildings, security officials manned doorways, allowing only employees to enter.

Council adjourns until Thursday

Tuesday’s terrorist attack has been likened by many to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The horror and shock is not limited to the cities involved. For that reason, City Council president Matt Carlucci decided that the regularly scheduled council session for Tuesday night would be abbreviated and continued Thursday.

“I just don’t think that this is a time for business as usual,” Carlucci told Council members and onlookers in a jam-packed conference room in City Hall. “I think tonight is a time, I think, to go home to be with family and pray for those who have been directly affected by this.”

Carlucci said he didn’t think many Council members’ minds would be focused on the business at hand, and he agreed that many citizens who might have wanted to address the council on various subjects, including its budget, might not want to attend given the events of the day.

Security, Carlucci said, was not the reason for changing the meeting, despite an earlier evacuation of City Hall Tuesday afternoon following a bomb threat.

Council’s legal advisers said that because public hearings had been advertised for the meeting, it was necessary to hold the meeting. Carlucci said he would open the public hearing on this technicality, but said it would only be to formally continue it to Thursday.

After continuing the public hearing to Thursday, Carlucci said he will call for a moment of silence followed by a prayer lead by Council member Doyle Carter.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of thoughts that all of us could say tonight,” Carlucci said. “But I would ask that we save those until Thursday.”

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. Thursday.

“We have some important issues,” Carlucci said of the meeting. “I don’t think that we should allow terrorists to keep us from our business. I don’t have any security reasons for why we shouldn’t meet tonight. To me it’s more a matter of respect and reverence. So that’s what drew my decision to have this short, abbreviated meeting and to have this full meeting on Thursday.”

The meeting in the conference room was supposed to be the Council’s agenda session for its regular public meeting. Instead it was packed with more that 50 people, many concerned about the happenings around the nation and in City Hall itself.

Carlucci asked Fire Chief Ray Alfred to address the crowd about the local situation, much the way he did an hour earlier during Mayor John Delaney’s emergency press conference.

Alfred said all leave had been canceled for all fire department employees until further notice. He also reiterated the fact that several years ago Jacksonville had been one of 27 cities cited as vulnerable to terrorist attack. Because of that, he said, the city’s emergency personnel received more money for special training.

As for the bomb threats, he said there would likely be more.

“We’re probably going to continued to receive bomb threats all day long — probably all week long.”

JIA shuts down

Tuesday’s national disaster in New York and Washington, D.C., sent shock waves across the country as the Federal Aviation Administration shut down all the nation’s airports, including Jacksonville International, and ordered all commercial air traffic out of the sky.

“We are at security level four, which is the highest level of security,” said Carson. “We’re closing the airport down.”

Carson said 25 planes were rerouted to JIA when the FAA decided to close the nation’s airports and ground all commercial air traffic.

“Once the airport is completely closed, we will do a full sweep of concourses and the cargo area,” said Carson said. She had no idea when airport operations would resume. She told travelers to get in touch with their airlines for further information.

Carson said many flights had left the airport earlier in the morning, about the same time the hijacked airliners took off in Boston, D.C., and Newark, N.J.

“Flights did go out this morning, but once notification came from the FAA, which was approximately at 10:30 a.m., we began grounding all the aircraft per the FAA instructions,” said Carson.

“This is really, really beyond words for me,” she added. “It’s a real crisis situation. I’m pleased, though, with the way everyone is handling it. We practice for these types of situations never thinking we’d have to kick into operation. But the team has shown that in this instance the practices have been well worth the time.”

The CVB pitched in early, sending five employees to assist JIA and airlines with trying to get stranded passengers either alternate transportation or a hotel room in the city. They set up shop in the welcome center on the ground floor of the main terminal, doing what they could for travelers whose plans had been grounded.

“Yes, the CVB has been assisting us for finding hotels,” said Carson. “It’s really been a cooperative effort between the airlines, the CVB, parking companies, rental car companies — all working together to accommodate these people. There are a lot of people around looking for other alternatives.”

Badics said “some of the people we have up there are swamped.” The organization has found 1,200 hotel rooms in which to place people, and has organized bus transportation for groups going to Tampa and Orlando.

Carson said she had had no word from the Florida National Guard, which has planes stationed at JIA.

Major Ron Tittle of the Guard said military aircraft is not included in the no-fly order that has grounded commercial air traffic, but he said all routine flights, such as training missions, have been canceled.

All National Guard units, however, are on standby, he said. Its threat condition has been raised to Bravo from Alpha. More serious conditions are Charlie and Delta.

He said one Guard plane at JIA, a C-130, is not at the base and could possibly be in use elsewhere, but he was not sure.

Tittle said no requests have been made for assistance in New York or in Washington, D.C. He confirmed that the New York National Guard had been activated for duty in New York City while rescue efforts are underway for the victims of the World Trade Center catastrophe.

Silence in the sports world

Considering the magnitude, both personally and patriotically, of Tuesday’s terrorist attack on the United States, it may seem a bit crass or insincere to be concerned about the sports world.

And, while the images of the World Trade Center falling into itself will dominate the airways, our minds and our dreams over the next several days, the world of balls, strikes and touchdowns will also be affected.

At the Florida Times-Union, there will be a sports section today (Wednesday). For Deputy Sports Editor Mike Bambach, it will be a tough section to fill, but it might be easy compared to what could be waiting come Sunday and Monday.

Virtually every sporting event that involved an American citizen was postponed Tuesday. No Major League Baseball. No Southern League Championship. PGA Tour events are going to be compressed into two and three-day affairs. No pro-am golf tournaments. No Women’s World Cup soccer matches.

The challenge for Bambach at this point is to not let the void created by the postponements create a massive void in today’s T-U. With no live events to cover, Bambach said his staff will concentrate on the impact of the attack on the world of fun and games.

“The things we’ll focus on tomorrow, [Wednesday] like everyone else is the aftermath,” said Bambach, explaining that the section’s first four pages will likely contain schedules of the canceled games and possible make ups as well as house ads.

Looking ahead is where Bambach sees potential trouble. This weekend is the second week of the National Football League schedule and three college football games involving the Sunshine State’s Big Three — Florida State, Florida and Miami. Bambach said the NFL, Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference are all considering canceling this weekend’s slate. For a paper heavily reliant on football this time of year, that decision could make it very difficult to put out a quality sports section.

“It would basically shut us down,” said Bambach, adding that his department would view it as a unplanned vacation, albeit one for all the wrong reasons. “We would probably look at what’s going on with baseball, college football and the Jaguars and do those kind of stories.”

Bambach also said he would encourage many on his staff to offer their journalistic services to the news sections.

“I think all of us would go to work on the news side,” said Bambach. “There may not be any games to cover and that in itself is an interesting dynamic.”

While there is the real possibility that many of this weekend’s football games could get canceled, Bambach said he can understand the dilemma the respective commissioners will face. He compared the current situation to 1990 when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle seriously considered calling off the Super Bowl because of the Gulf War.

“That’s a question we are posing to our readers on the Internet,” said Bambach. “Should the games go on? [sports columnist] Mark Woods is going to talk about the Rozelle situation in column tomorrow [Wednesday].”

Bambach said he was torn in both directions. The professional in him needs for the sports world to continue, business as usual, while the personal side feels the sports world should respect the gravity of the situation. Playing, he feels, may be one the ways the country heals itself.

“What is the greater good,” he asked, rhetorically, not really after an answer.

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