Festival hopes for great turnout despite presidential traffic

Schools had moments to spare before roads closed
Posted at 7:44 PM, Feb 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-17 19:44:50-05

President Donald Trump is on the ground in Palm Beach County for a third straight weekend as spends time at his Mar-a-Lago estate.

If you have plans this weekend, you may have to make adjustments. That's what schools, parents, businesses and even an entire festival prepared for on Friday.

Conniston Middle School, which sits just off Southern Boulevard, cleared out students Friday afternoon when the bells rung at 2:55 p.m., giving parents just moments to spare before the roads were shut down at 3:15 p.m.

Luckily, school officials cleared the campus quickly before the Secret Service shut down the route for the presidential motorcade.

"Why doesn't he stay in Washington?" asked parent Darcy Scavo, who was nervously waiting to pick up her kids ahead of the road closures. "I hope my daughter makes it out here in time. Right in the middle of school hours it's a pain the butt, not to mention if you have a business or work in palm beach as my mother does, we have to go all the way around Palm Beach to even get there."

Just down the street, St. Catherine's Greek Orthodox Church is gearing up for a big weekend.

"This is the 42nd year we've done the Greek festival," said festival volunteer Lee Esopakis.

But it's first year the Greek Food and Wine Fest has had a United States president living just up the street.

"It's pretty surreal to see the president driving by," said Esopakis.

Each year, thousands of people flock to St. Catherine's for the Greek Fest. The church so happens to sit at the base of Southern Boulevard bridge, across from the so-called "Winter White House."

"Everyone was asking, 'Are you open, is the festival still going on? The president is coming into town?'" said Esopakis. "So yes, we are open! Business as usual, no issues here."

The church is hopeful presidential traffic won't keep visitors away but it could bring newcomers to the festival.

"Last weekend, he was here. So we had protesters out front and he had everybody lined up to see the motorcade. So if you want to watch the president drive through this is the place to do it and then you can come in for a bite to eat afterwards," said Esopakis. "We've been in communication with the local law enforcement and they tell us there's nothing to worry about. But they don't tell us exactly what time and where."

Secret Service shuts down Southern Boulevard each time President Trump travels in and out of Mar-a-Lago. The times vary depending on what the president's schedule calls for, but the roads don't usually shut down until about 15 minutes before Trump's motorcade departs PBIA. The roads open immediately after the motorcade has arrived at Mar-a-Lago, so the total closure time can run anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.

Demetra Galazoudis, 87, and her bakery team spent days baking 800 pounds of Greek pastries. She told me this festival is the church's bread and butter and they can't afford a cut in the crowds.

"Tomorrow we'll find out what it is if he leaves again, but don't stay away. We've worked very hard," she said. "This is so important for St. Catherine's. It's not just a slush fund for us. This helps us to pay our salaries, to pay the utilities, pretty much anything for the church."

Greek Fest is keeping an eye on the president’s coming and goings. He will head to Melbourne on Saturday and then come back to Palm Beach.

"We want to honor our president, we do honor him. We're happy to have him. But not on the days of our festival!" joked Galazoudis.

There are other ways to the road closures around Southern Boulevard.

"You can still access church parking if you come through Washington Road," said Esopakis. "You can come down Olive Avenue and come down one of the side streets."

One thing that might help alleviate motorcade traffic is the helipad that is set to be built at Mar-a-Lago. The final approval was made on Thursday and construction could be finished in just a few months.

President trump will be in town until Tuesday, so be sure to visit for the latest on road closures this weekend.