|By Rob Shaw, Tampa Tribune,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 5, 2010 --PENSACOLA -- He's survived hurricanes, an airplane crash and being shot at in Jamaica, so Jimmy Buffett isn't about to let a little oil stop him from opening his first hotel here in a couple of weeks.
With the national media descending upon Pensacola Beach to show images of tar balls by the thousands washing up on the white sands, Buffett dropped by with Gov. Charlie Crist to share another message.
"I thought I could lend a hand and tell people that the sky is not falling," the singer-songwriter said this morning. "I'm always an optimist. Handle a crisis and go on."
The biggest oil spill ever in the United States is presenting a world of trouble for Gulf Coast states, including Florida. Hotels are getting more cancellations and those who make their living on the water are facing hard times.
But Buffett insisted that the uncertainty over how bad the Gulf of Mexico gusher will get in Florida won't affect his first foray into the hotel business. His Margaritaville Beach Hotel is set to open July 1 on the site of a Holiday Inn wiped out by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.
"We're going to be open for business come hell or high water," said Buffett, his words almost sounding like a song. "We go through hardships in life. People in the Panhandle are a tough people. We go clean it up and we get on with our lives."
His appearance with the governor created quite the scene. People stopped him -- Buffett, not Crist -- for an autograph and to pose for pictures. Several thanked Buffett for what he's doing on the Emerald Coast with his hotel.
"God bless him for being here," Crist said.
Buffett said he planned to be in town for a job fair today at the hotel, where earlier 1,000 people showed up to apply for 40 positions. He joked about not knowing how many rooms the place has, saying he's only been involved in the project for the past six weeks and hasn't had time to count them all. He said he was trying to make sure the hotel had all the cool things, such as a Ping-Pong table.
The 63-year-old singer known for his love of the Florida Keys said Pensacola Beach has always had a special place in his heart because he grew up in Mobile, Ala.
"This was always my first Florida. Pensacola Beach is the first pretty water you see," he said. "I thought we should have a place up here. It's kind of my back yard."
As Crist and Buffett talked, people swam in the surf and sunned themselves on the sand despite the scores of tar balls littering the beach for the second day in a row. Many of the tar balls were larger than those seen Friday and were shaped like pancakes.
"This is an environmental disaster that nobody asked for," Buffett said. "I'm not satisfied with the way that BP has handled anything. I am pissed off, but what are you going to do about it?"
Reporter Rob Shaw can be reached at (813) 259-7999.
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