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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 29, 2008 13 years ago

Coffee Talk

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Of fairy tales and housing sales: When Michael Saunders recently addressed the 400 or so real estate agents that make up the bulk of the sales force at the Sarasota-based firm that bears her name, she wanted to combine a pep talk with humor.New Dillard's store may mean transition: Dillard's has started construction on a new store at the sprawling Wiregrass Ranch mixed-use development in Wesley ChapelPopulation slowdown threatens Gators: Construction isn't the only thing that's going to suffer from a decline in population growth in Florida.Non-profit CEO, for-profit style: Mary Labyak, 59, is president and CEO of the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast in Clearwater.Retired entrepreneur gives big for Wellness: An ambitious fundraising campaign for a new building for the Wellness Community, a Sarasota-based support group for cancer patients and their families, is off to a rousing start.Luxury hotel secret officially official: One of the worst kept secrets in the Sarasota development community is no longer a secretCalling GULF COAST entrepreneurs: The Review is seeking the best and brightest Gulf Coast entrepreneurs for its 2008 Entrepreneur Award.

Coffee Talk

+ Of fairy tales

and housing sales

When Michael Saunders recently addressed the 400 or so real estate agents that make up the bulk of the sales force at the Sarasota-based firm that bears her name, she wanted to combine a pep talk with humor. She settled on a fairy tale.

Saunders, speaking at a company-wide meeting Feb. 21, set up the story of Chicken Little versus the story of a Silver Lining. Not surprisingly, she likes the sliver lining better then the alternative, and she even dropped some real figures to back up her optimism: The company grew its overall market share in 2007, reporting more than $1.5 billion in sales, for instance. What's more, seven individual agents closed on more then $20 million worth of properties.

Saunders' competing fairy tales also came with competing chief economists -the often quoted Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach-based housing research consultant, was deemed to be best suited to run the Chicken Little camp. Orlando-based Hank Fishkind, another well-known statewide economist, was chosen by Saunders to preside over the Silver Lining tale, mostly due to his long-term positive outlook for Florida.

McCabe, who has spoken in Sarasota several times in the past month, has already publicly declared Florida to be in a recession. His stock line to people who claim the market has bottomed out is to say the market is really in the third inning, not the bottom of the ninth. McCabe is even quoted in the March 3 issue of Fortune magazine as saying he knows the economy is a recession because his dry cleaner's business was down 25% last year, a sign that people are already in a recession-like mindset.

Don't fall for it, Saunders warned her troops. While acknowledging that the current market is considerably more challenging then earlier this decade, she said that "Jack McCabe is probably the most negative economist this state has even known."

+ New Dillard's store

may mean transition

Dillard's has started construction on a new store at the sprawling Wiregrass Ranch mixed-use development in Wesley Chapel, in south central Pasco County, an action that could cascade into University of South Florida classroom space.

Although it has not publicly announced it, that means the department store may close its Fowler Avenue location at North Tampa's University Mall, which has seen increasing new-mall competition in every direction the past 10 years. Dillard's officials in Little Rock, Ark. could not be reached for comment.

That may open the door for other uses for the anchor pad, including the possibility of USF, which is just down the road, buying it and turning it into classroom space, Tampa real estate brokers told Coffee Talk.

A new owner, Somera Capital in Santa Barbara, Calif., bought the mall in July from Glimcher Realty Trust in Columbus, Ohio, for $150 million in July. Glimcher owns West Shore Plaza in Tampa and told Coffee Talk it plans to retain that property.

Malls typically sell their anchor store pads to their anchor department stores and retain the main mall space. Dillard's closed its West Shore Plaza location when it moved to nearby International Plaza in Tampa.

Although it takes a while for a mall to change uses, it has happened in the Tampa Bay area. Clearwater Mall went from an enclosed facility to an open-air retail power center. Floriland Mall became mainly offices. Tampa Bay Center, a two-level mall, came down and is now the headquarters office and training facility for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

+ Population slowdown

threatens Gators

Construction isn't the only thing that's going to suffer from a decline in population growth in Florida.

Another victim, jokes Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wachovia: the Florida Gators football team.

At a recent Urban Land Institute meeting in Naples, Vitner warned that slowing population growth and declining enrollment in schools in Florida translates into a smaller pool of top-notch players.

Instead, faster-growing states such as Georgia will have the upper hand at homegrown talent, likely leading to football domination.

"If that continues, the Gators are never going to beat the Dawgs again," Vitner warned.

To that, we say: See you in the Swamp.

+ Non-profit CEO,

for-profit style

Mary Labyak, 59, is president and CEO of the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast in Clearwater.

Although it is a non-profit, dedicated to serving the terminally ill and their families, Labyak has earned a reputation for running the organization like a well-managed, growth-oriented entrepreneurial company.

In her tenure, she has rolled five other non-profits into the Hospice fold and started a back-office Hospice software company, Suncoast Solutions, that now provides software for one out of every four Hospice patients nationally.

The organization has grown from four staff members when Labyak joined in 1980 as a program coordinator, to about 1,450 today, along with 3,000 volunteers. It serves more than 2,500 patients and has developed service teams to improve service.

"We were an example of the right idea at the right time," Labyak told Coffee Talk. "We are always trying to build products and services."

That started for people in their own homes. But the services extended to 15 hospitals and 85 nursing homes in Pinellas County.

"Part of our thinking has been that there's a responsibility not only to take from public dollars, but to earn dollars," Labyak says. "This is a wonderful example of how to use social entreprenuership."

Annual revenues are $145 million, which includes funds from Medicare, Medicaid, insurance companies and $11 million the organization raises through grants. Along the way, Hospice believes it has made a lifestyle difference for patients and their families.

"We've taken a frightening experience and created a social context. That has taken it out of the closet," Labyak says.

+ Retired entrepreneur

gives big for Wellness

An ambitious fundraising campaign for a new building for the Wellness Community, a Sarasota-based support group for cancer patients and their families, is off to a rousing start.

Burton "Skip" Sack, a retired restaurant entrepreneur and part-time Longboat Key resident, has committed $1.3 million to the campaign - about 20% of the overall cost for the land and construction.

"It's a milestone not only for the campaign but for our organization," says Jay Lockaby, executive director of the Wellness Community. "Skip is truly making this possible."

The Wellness Community has been operating out of a storefront location in a strip mall off of Clark Road in Sarasota, a spot Lockaby says is both too small and not especially inviting, from an outside glance.

The center's new building is planned for five acres on the Sarasota County side of Lakewood Ranch.

Lockaby tells Coffee Talk the Wellness Community's new home, to be built using several green and sustainable building practices, will be a model for other Wellness centers nationwide. The Wellness Community is seeking $5 million in donations for the building and another $2 million for a Wellness Community Foundation.

Lockaby says he and the board of the Wellness Community, which is a chapter of an international organization, were overwhelmed with Sack's gift. Sack, Lockaby says, was one of about two or three people connected to the organization that could even come close to giving such a large amount. Sack's first wife, Susan, died of cancer.

+ Luxury hotel secret

officially official

One of the worst kept secrets in the Sarasota development community is no longer a secret: Hilton Hotels Corp., parent of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel chain, has officially signed on to the $1 billion Proscenium project, a mixed-used redevelopment planned for two blocks of property just north of downtown Sarasota.

The Waldorf-Astoria Sarasota will be part of the Waldorf-Astoria Collection, launched by Hilton in 2006. When it's completed, the high-end Sarasota hotel, to be built blocks from the Hyatt Sarasota and the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, will be the company's second Waldorf-Astoria built outside New York City, joining Orlando.

In addition to 225 rooms built in an 18-story tower, the Waldorf-Astoria is also expected to provide concierge services to 67 condos, operate a 12,000-square-foot spa and manage the project's resort component on Lido Beach.

"We considered many prestigious locations," Ernest Wooden Jr., Hilton Hotels' executive vice president of brand management, says in a statement, "but the scope and quality of the Proscenium truly complemented the characteristics of a Waldorf-Astoria hotel and vice versa."

The 20-year agreement is a major victory for Gary Moyer, head of Sarasota-based Lion's Gate Development, the firm behind the project. Moyer and two of the project's key partners flew to New York City Feb. 25 to officially sign the deal.

"We are thrilled to be able to make this announcement," Moyer says. "Having a world-renowned luxury brand like the Waldorf-Astoria will draw international attention, not only to the Proscenium, but to the Sarasota-Manatee area as well."

In addition to the hotel, current plans for the project also include an 800-seat theater, 130,000 square feet of retail and 230,000 square feet of office space.

Calling GULF COAST

entrepreneurs

The Review is seeking the best and brightest Gulf Coast entrepreneurs for its 2008 Entrepreneur Award.

And for the third consecutive year, the Review will be recognizing the best from its entire coverage area: Tampa Bay south to Naples.

If you know of a worthy candidate, please send us his or her name. We're looking for entrepreneurs whose company's results over the past three years show exceptional performance and growth.

Nominees should be visionaries and leaders who have overcome obstacles or demonstrated extraordinary characteristics that have led their companies to exceptional achievements. The entrepreneurs must be owners or part-owners of their companies, and their companies must be based on the Gulf Coast.

Last year's overall winner was Todd Gates, founder and chairman of a self-named Naples-based construction firm.

The Tampa region winner was Geoffrey Dyer, founder of Lifestyle Family Fitness; the Sarasota-Manatee region winner was Steve Herrig, founder and chief executive officer of Progressive Employer Services; and the Lee-Collier winner was Jerry Williams, head of Naples-based Orion Bank.

To nominate an entrepreneur, send his or her name to Mark Gordon at [email protected] or call (941) 362-4848. Please include the person's name, company, contact information and a brief description of what distinguishes the candidate.

Gulf Coast existing-home sales

Jan 07 Jan 08 Jan 07 Jan 08

Area sales sales %chg. median price median price %chg.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers 492 321 ‑31% $266,900 $234,000 ‑12%

Naples 135 122 ‑9% $610,000 $432,000 ‑29%

Punta Gorda 155 175 13% $199,400 $156,800 ‑21%

Sarasota-Bradenton 472 490 4% $284,400 $246,300 ‑13%

Tampa-St. Petersburg 1,627 1,235 ‑24% $220,100 $187,100 ‑15%

Florida 9,360 6,737 ‑28% $242,700 $208,600 ‑14%

Gulf Coast existing condo sales

Jan 07 Jan 08 Jan 07 Jan 08

Area sales sales %chg. median price median price %chg.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers 138 122 ‑12% $285,000 $197,100 ‑31%

Naples 126 142 13% $311,000 $350,000 13%

Punta Gorda 20 14 ‑30% $175,000 $100,000 ‑43%

Sarasota-Bradenton 200 176 ‑12% $294,700 $234,400 ‑20%

Tampa-St. Petersburg 378 333 ‑12% $183,600 $159,500 ‑13%

Florida 3,227 2,252 ‑30% $213,900 $190,200 ‑11%

Source: Florida Association of Realtors; Naples Area Board of Realtors

What the data shows: Sales of existing single-family homes and condos continue to show noticeable declines along the Gulf Coast in January compared with the same month a year ago.

What it means: In a few areas, prices have declined so much that sales are beginning to stabilize. Generally, however, prices so far have not fallen steeply enough to reverse the declines in sales volumes.

Forecast: Economists say median home prices in Florida will likely continue to drop in 2008 before they stabilize in 2009. Some areas, such as Cape Coral-Fort Myers, may take longer to recover as inventory and foreclosures mount.

Cape Coral-Fort Myers tops in foreclosure rate

A quick glance at the legal section of this newspaper will confirm that the rate of foreclosures in the area of Cape Coral and Fort Myers in Lee County was the highest in the nation in January, according to RealtyTrac. The percentage of households in Cape Coral-Fort Myers that were in the process of foreclosure was 1.16% and the number of foreclosures was up 1,569% from January 2007, RealtyTrac reports. Here are the numbers for the Gulf Coast:

Jan. '07 Dec. '07 Jan. '08 Annual chg.

Area foreclosures foreclosures foreclosures (Jan. '07 to Jan. '08)

Cape Coral-Fort Myers 218 3,257 3,639 1,569%

Naples 264 562 364 38%

Sarasota-Bradenton 403 1,498 1,461 263%

Tampa-St. Petersburg 1,527 4,181 4,210 176%

Source: RealtyTrac; Data not available for Punta Gorda

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