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Airstream Ranch Earns Documentary Status

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May 17, 2010 by   2 Comments

Airstream Ranch near Dover, Fla. Photo courtesy of Ahren Davis

Airstream Ranch near Dover, Fla. Photo courtesy of Ahren Davis

The eight silver Airstreams seem quieter now, smug. Freed from two years of litigious squabbling, the gigantic upended RVs are open for fanfare.

And here it comes.

Plans for spotlights, walkways, gazebos and a full-length documentary film are in the works at the Airstream Ranch along Interstate 4 near Dover, Fla., according to the St. Petersburg Times.

A three-judge panel ruled the conspicuous attraction legal in February after the Hillsborough County Code Enforcement board deemed the site a nuisance. County commissioners decided in March not to fight the decision.

“I’m excited,” said Frank Bates, who installed the Airstream Ranch near his business, Bates RV, in 2007. “There are not very many things you can build in your life that might be there forever ā€” things that make people smile and make people happy.”

Bates remains adamant in calling the Airstream Ranch a piece of art. Built to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Airstream Inc., Bates said he hopes the work inspires thoughts of travel and freedom.

His first order of business? Lighting up the attraction at night, pending permit approval.

As a class project, about a half-dozen Tampa Bay Technical High School architecture students planned further improvements, including a walkway made of recycled tires, pagodas for picnic lunches, a projector to cast images onto the trailers and possibly a playground.

“It deserves being beautiful now,” said teacher Bryant Martinez, who assigned the project before the county challenged the ranch. “I’m appreciative Frank stuck it out.”

Martinez and his students went to the hearings to defend Bates’s vision. Surprised by neighbors’ objections to the display, he said their arguments offered the students a useful lesson.

“In architecture, not everyone sees something in the same way,” Martinez said.

Brian Connell, who lives directly behind the ranch, was one of the more vocal of the peeved neighbors.

“How would people like it if it were in their back yard?” Connell asked recently, looking toward the gleaming recreational vehicles from his driveway. “What can I do?”

Connell said he’s most bothered by the sight of the RVs, but the increased traffic along the quiet Castlewood Road is a major annoyance, too.

Tourists often park in Connell’s front yard to pose for pictures. He said they’ve knocked his fence down three times.

But visits from tourists may not stop anytime soon with a new documentary about the ranch preparing to debut.

The film follows the ranch’s planning, building and county battle and will soon be pitched to major networks, said executive producer Ashley Gracile, from GPI Content Corp. in Los Angeles.

(Bates isn’t expecting any profit from the film, just publicity.)

Gracile, who has a nationally syndicated RV show, became fast friends with Bates in the early 1990s at a convention. Making a film about Bates’s roadside display was a no-brainer, he said.

Filming halted, though, when the ranch was tied up in legal proceedings. Gracile said producers wanted the story to have a happy ending before airing it.

“It was that David and Goliath thing,” Gracile said. “In a certain way, Frank Bates is a throwback to a time when individuals had the guts and courage and foresight to stick to their values.”

Bates’s lawyer, Luke Lirot, gave one of the last interviews for the documentary.

“It’s certainly creative,” Lirot said. “And it’s got a clear message ā€” the ideals of freedom and the open road.”

He said the ranch victory is one of his proudest. Not only because he says he believes in Bates’s artistic message, but because the case clarified legal issues about land development codes.

He said other lawyers frequently call asking how he won and what he learned.

Last month, county officials lifted a lien on the ranch ā€” imposed after Bates RV incurred $100-a-day fines during the code violation battle. With that last step, Lirot said, it seems the attraction is here to stay.

Jim Blinck, operations manager for county code enforcement, disagrees.

“We haven’t forgotten about the Airstream trailers,” Blinck said.

Blinck said he plans to call a meeting with representatives from the county’s code enforcement, billing, zoning and attorney’s offices to determine how to further fight the ranch. “It’s never going to be over,” Blinck said.

Bates said he’s not worried.

He’s fielded calls from mapmakers, such as Rand McNally, and creators of online road trip guides who are ready to include the Airstream Ranch in attraction resources.

“They didn’t want to put it in their maps until it was permanent,” Bates said.

He looked up at his creation and smiled. “It’s really becoming a landmark.”

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Comments

2 Responses to “Airstream Ranch Earns Documentary Status”

  1. Bob Taylor on May 18th, 2010 4:39 pm

    Maybe the taxpayers will put a stop to Blinck and his mis-guided do-gooder role. Florida lives and dies by tourism. I would rather the Airstream Ranch be next to me than an alligator petting zoo.
    The same way that I am glad that Frank can do what he wants with his property, I think that people should respect Brian Connell’s fence and property. I have no way of knowing if it was an RVer or just a local person who tore the fence down. There are people in every group who do not live up to the ideals of the majority.

  2. 0***0 on May 25th, 2010 12:01 am

    I love toilets, tubs and sinks. I have a great idea. I own several properties in Hillsborough County. I think on each property I will partially plant on an angle toilets, tubs and sinks of all colors, shapes and sizes that will commemorate the anniversary year of each brand.

    A few people have no problem with Bates doing his own thing on his own property no matter the damage it poses on the neighbors or the safety of the public.

    I probably own property next to you in which I do plan to plant toilets, tubs and sinks. I think you will love it since it will be considered art and since I am able to do whatever I want with my own property.

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