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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 3, 2007 13 years ago

Coffee Talk

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West Tampa feels the urban awakening: First there was Hyde Park in south Tampa. Then Seminole Heights. Then northern Ybor City. Then Tampa Heights north of downtown. Then Channelside.Bulldozers coming to Westshore: For those who don't know: Westshore is the largest business district on the Gulf Coast with more than 11 million square feet of offices. Some put it past Miami.Homebuilders strive to melt the housing slump: Homebuilders have resorted to all kinds of gimmicks - that is, incentives - when it comes to pushing product in the current slumping real estate market. Boat company sails through good times and bad: Clearwater-based boat retailer MarineMax's hot 2006 has so far only led to a cold 2007.What's in a name?: If you're wondering whether Raymond James & Associates Inc. made a wise investment in sponsoring Raymond James Stadium, the answer is yes, says one family member.Loan-seeking entrepreneurs experience express success: Budding small business owners and entrepreneurs know the drill when it comes to getting loans for a new business venture: Swallow hard, close your eyes and brace for the dreaded "no."And now, Governor blah, blah, blah

Coffee Talk

+ West Tampa feels the

urban awakening

First there was Hyde Park in south Tampa. Then Seminole Heights. Then northern Ybor City. Then Tampa Heights north of downtown. Then Channelside.

Now, Coffee Talk is wondering, is West Tampa the next popular neighborhood for urban redevelopment in Tampa?

A growing number of businesses are moving into the area to open up shop and take advantage of the historic Latin neighborhood, once known for cigar making. Are new residents next?

Recently, the area got a boost: A new apartment complex, The Vintage Lofts at West End. National real estate development company Zaremba Group, based in Cleveland, is planning a large master-planned community debuting in West Tampa in the fall of 2008. It's epicenter will be Cypress Street and Rome Avenue, south of Interstate 275. Other redevelopment efforts have focused north of the interstate.

It's big. And it's diverse. It will cover eight city blocks and include 249 apartments, town homes, condominiums, parks and retail.

Coffee Talk thinks this development and West Tampa has potential. New residents would include young workers or empty nesters tired of the long drive to work who want an urban experience. The Lofts will be less than two miles from downtown Tampa and not that far from Westshore, either.

Every neighborhood evolves, so West Tampa needs to evolve more and convince people it's safe and offers good retail services, as well as being accessible. These new developments can be a catalyst, but for a neighborhood to really take off, there needs to be safe, supporting real estate around it.

+ Bulldozers coming

to Westshore

For those who don't know: Westshore is the largest business district on the Gulf Coast with more than 11 million square feet of offices. Some put it past Miami.

The past week, a development company said it was going to make it even bigger, by about 5%.

Philadelphia-based Rubenstein Partners LP said it will build West View Corporate Center, 580,000 square feet of offices, which will open in 2009 at the foot of the Howard Frankland Bridge off Interstate 275.

To make room for the project, Rubenstein will take down Executive Square Office Park.

Coffee Talk wasn't astonished, since office vacancy rates in the area have dipped below 10%, but the size of the project, with its waterfront view and spacious common area flanked by rows of palm trees, is impressive.

+ Homebuilders strive

to melt the housing slump

Homebuilders have resorted to all kinds of gimmicks - that is, incentives - when it comes to pushing product in the current slumping real estate market. These include rewarding top agents with cars, such as a Lexus or a Mercedes, giving buyers a generator with a certain home purchase and the old-standby: $1 dollar in closing costs.

Now, courtesy of the Tampa division of Taylor Woodrow and Morrison Homes, comes something really cold: Snow.

This is no Florida summer humidity humor. The companies plan on using trucks to deliver man-made snow to a few of its communities the weekend of Aug. 4. For as long as the snow remains solid, a company sales and marketing executive says, home prices will be reduced and "frozen" throughout all of its 18 Tampa area communities. Once the snow melts, so too will the "frozen" prices.

The promotion is being dubbed the Price Meltdown and it's the first joint sales venture between the two companies, whose British-based parent firms merged together earlier this year to form the largest homebuilder in England.

"Buying a home is not something most people do every day," says John Hennebery, vice president of sales and marketing for Taylor Woodrow's Tampa Division. "We want buyers to feel like we are throwing a party in their honor."

But wait, there's more. The homebuilders say that "to add to the fun and 'icy' nature of this sale," anyone who visits any home community during the sale will be treated to an ice cream sandwich.

No word on the flavor.

+ Boat company sails

through good times and bad

Clearwater-based boat retailer MarineMax's hot 2006 has so far only led to a cold 2007.

In the same seven-day period late last month, the company released both a statement touting its inclusion in a "Hot 100" revenue list and its 2007 third quarter earnings, which included sales and earnings drops and inventory increases.

Good news first: Stores Magazine, the official publication of the National Retail Federation, ranked Marine Max 16th nationwide in its second annual Hot 100 Retailers list, published this month. All public companies in retail with more than $100 million in sales were eligible for the list, which ranks companies based on year-over-year revenue percentage growth.

MarineMax's revenues grew 28.1% in 2006, from $947.3 million in 2005 to $1.2 billion. In addition to placing 16th overall, that percentage growth was good enough to represent the largest gain in the Sporting Goods/Recreation section of the list.

Now the bad news: The slumping housing market had a negative impact on the company's 2007 third quarter, as consumer purchases of big-ticket items such as boats slowed considerably.

Sales dropped 9.9%, from $421.3 million in the 2006 third quarter to $379.8 million this year. Net profits dropped too, from $17.5 million in the 2006 third quarter to $13.9 million this year, a 20.7% decrease. Finishing off the faltering quarterly trifecta was the company's earnings, which dropped 18.9%, from $.90 cents a share to $.73 cents a share.

Despite the rough earnings report - which was released July 26, when the overall market was in a major sell-off - MarineMax shares haven't fallen significantly. Company shares, traded on the NYSE under the symbol HZO, closed just under $20 after the earnings report, about $2 lower than what it was trading for throughout most of July.

+ What's in a name?

If you're wondering whether Raymond James & Associates Inc. made a wise investment in sponsoring Raymond James Stadium, the answer is yes, says one family member.

Courtland W. James, director of human resources for Raymond James, and son of company CEO Tom James, said the stadium naming has been a big marketing coup for the company.

"I was working in California when we did this and people were approaching me about it out there," James said.

Then, there's this: The naming arrangement is tiered by year, but is costing RJ about $2 million a year. This is much less than newer naming deals, which have run companies more than $100 million.

If the goal is to be national, than stadium naming can help. The St. Pete Times has been hammering at the Tampa market for years and decided to take the plunge and name the Ice Palace in downtown Tampa The St. Pete Times Forum. Before that, the Times ran its name across the top of a downtown Tampa building facing I-275.

Coffee Talk knows that marketing is empty if it isn't supported by good quality service and a good product. But getting a good, enduring market presence is helpful. It says you're here to stay.

Loan-seeking entrepreneurs

experience express success

Budding small business owners and entrepreneurs know the drill when it comes to getting loans for a new business venture: Swallow hard, close your eyes and brace for the dreaded "no."

Banks are especially quick to hit the "reject" button, as the potential recipients can normally only show just that, potential. But Shannon Willits and Steve Abbe, a pair of Sarasota-based business partners seeking to open a Pilates fitness studio, recently found a way to get to yes-land.

The partners used Business Loans Express, one of the country's largest non-bank lenders, for their loan. The New York City-based company, which focuses on small businesses and commercial lenders, has programs geared toward women, minority and military veterans, an extra bonus for Willits and Abbe, a retired U.S. Marine.

While those boundaries, by definition, are restrictive to many Coffee Talk readers, the loan program worked for Willits and Abbe, who were able to utilize a $25,000 BXL loan to open their Pilates studio late in 2006.

What's more, non-bank business loans catering to specific groups are gaining trend-like traction nationwide. The U.S. Small Business Administration, for example, recently started a Patriot Express loan program, which provides up to $500,000 in loans to businesses run by military veterans or their families. And Gulf Coast-based credit unions, as previously reported by Coffee Talk, have also been focusing marketing efforts on finding small business clients.

BXL, a subsidiary of Washington D.C.-based private-equity firm Allied Capital, says it has provided more than $4 billion in loans and financing packages to thousands of companies in 30-plus industries. Its programs are designed especially for entrepreneurs seeking up to $5 million.

But it was BXL's other strengths, speed and accessibility, that were more important to Willits and Abbe. "They don't have the greatest rates in the world," Abbe says of BXL, "but they are quick and liberal."

The partners received the $25,000 in less then two weeks, with an interest rate of about 14%. Willits, who has been a Pilates instructor in the Sarasota-area for several years and Abbe, a local Realtor and former client of Willits, used the money for studio equipment.

Willits, who suffered through countless bank rejections until she learned about BXL from a local SCORE business advisor, was relieved to hear about the program. "They were trying to find ways to give us the money," says Willits, "not ways to not give us the money."

(For more on small businesses getting financing, read Andy Reeves guest column on page 23.)

And now, Governor

blah, blah, blah

Looking for the latest compelling economic insights on the Gulf Coast to help you be more successful, Coffee Talk was ready, pen and pad in hand, to hear Gov. Charlie Crist's speech at the St. Pete Chamber's Florida Economic and Job Summit recently at the tony Vinoy Resort.

Well...

Here are some sound bites anyway:

• "I'm so proud to be from St. Pete. This town is on fire! So much is happening. Mayor Baker calls it a renaissance. It is!"

• "I'm Republican. I'm proud to be from the party of Lincoln. But I'm just as proud of all the people who serve in the Legislature. What matters is that we're all Floridians. We want to lower property taxes, provide more jobs."

• "We're still growing by 1,000 people every day. There's not more moving trucks leaving Florida than coming in. Those reports are wrong."

• "We have a duty to protect this precious place. It's not a typical Republican thing. But it's important that we continue to do it."

• "I want to keep taxes low and make sure there's affordable health care. I have a responsibility to customers, like you do. You're my boss."

Really? The boss? Okay then. How about simplifying building codes, reducing licensing fees and generally making the cost of doing business lower in Florida? That is, if we really are the boss.

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