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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 13, 2004 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

This week's items: Chief judge stands behind Rapkin's decisionRe/Max Properties cretaing commercial division1st National Bank & Trust net down, stock upSarasota's purchasing department has Q&A with Palm developers

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

Chief judge stands behind Rapkin's decision

12th Circuit Chief Judge Robert Bennett says Judge Harry Rapkin acted within his scope as a jurist when he refused to jail Joseph P. Smith on a probation violation for failing to pay $170 in costs assessed for a drug conviction.

In compelling video footage eventually shown around the world, Carlie Brucia's Feb. 1 abduction by a man, authorities say is Smith, was caught on tape at a Sarasota car wash. Smith was later arrested and is now charged with kidnapping and murdering 11-year-old Brucia.

Many people are second-guessing Rapkin's December decision not to jail Smith for the probation violation. The decision has angered community members and elicited harsh criticism from around the world.

But Rapkin's decision, the chief judge says, was based on the law.

"Every appellate district in Florida, including the Florida Supreme Court, has ruled that when a person is placed on probation or community supervision, and is ordered as a condition of the community supervision to pay money like court costs, before you can violate that person and sanction that person for that violation, by placing them in jail or whatever that sanction might be, you must be able to find that the violation has been willful and substantial," Bennett says.

"In other words, if I'm on probation and ordered to pay money, if I don't have the ability to pay that money I can't be violated for that reason. Every circuit judge in the state is aware of that, every circuit judge is required to follow it."

Practically speaking, taxpayers would be footing the bill to jail someone for not paying costs, running up the tab even further.

Rapkin is an honorable and ethical man, the chief says, adding, "The impact on him is just devastating, personally and professionally. How could it not?"

Mystery solved

GCBR last week reported an exodus of commercial agents from Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate to Sarasota's Re/Max Properties Inc. Now we are seeing the results.

Re/Max Properties, it turns out, plans to create a commercial-only division, spearheaded by Dan Page, who was formerly Coldwell Banker's Sarasota commercial director. Page is joined by other former Coldwell Banker agents Vikki Keyser, Dan McLeroy Jr. and Jud Powell.

Handling commercial properties is nothing new for Re/Max, says Chip Hogan, a managing broker, adding: "But now we have the building and the people to make it a focus. We have Dan Page (the Sarasota Association of Realtors') Realtor of the Year. These are some of the leaders in the field. It definitely puts us in the major leagues."

Eventually the new division will consist of 12 people, including Page. Some of the brokers already work for Re/Max, including Howard Sadwin, Doug Kremer and Jim Hansen.

Net down, stock up

Manatee County's 1st National Bank & Trust hired more loan officers last year to boost the lending portfolio in its booming market. Net loans grew 14% in the first nine months of the year.

But that wasn't enough to overcome the nearly $400,000 increase in payroll on top of heavier-than-expected mortgage prepayments. Blame persistently lower interest rates. So the bank's holding company, First National Bancshares Inc., is reporting a 15% drop in 2003 net income.

Investors scarcely noticed. They bid up the stock as the year wore on. (Ticker symbol: FBMT. Trades on Nasdaq.) The stock is just a quarter or two below its 52-week high of $24.63, after dipping as low as $18.67.

What does the market find so appealing?

For one, somebody might want to buy the bank. First National, a one-bank holding company, pays dividends. And the bank has been in business for almost 18 years, with the holding company created in 1999. The chairman, chief executive and biggest shareholder, Francis I. duPont III, 58, leads a stable board.

Net interest income is headed in the right direction, although at a slow pace. The $243-million-asset bank has needed to set aside less for loss reserves, despite the loan growth. Bank executives attribute that to fewer charge-offs since they got out of indirect car lending in 2001.

The bank's investment and trust assets grew 29% in 2003. And, by April, First National is expected to complete its acquisition of The Trust Co. of Florida, a 3-year-old estate planner based in Englewood. Three executives of the trust company have agreed to stay on.

But First National is probably most attractive because of where it does business. The Manatee deposit market is $3.5 billion, with a projected growth rate of 7% to 10% a year for the foreseeable future. The bank has four branches from Anna Maria Island to Ellenton, in addition to its west Bradenton headquarters.

And it's moving into Sarasota County.

Downtown Sarasota retail: 'Subsidized amenity?'

Sarasota's purchasing department recently asked the four possible developers of the city-owned property at Palm and Cocoanut avenues to explain aspects of their proposals. Following are excerpts:

× Arcadia Land Co.: Opera Place

Explain "sell-off" of the project's commercial components in years three and six "at cost" to a master retail investor?

Response: Arcadia has experience with mixed-use retail/commercial in a new urbanist context. "We view it as a subsidized 'amenity' initially operating at a loss or 'break even,' but with a change of character and improvement in value over a long time frame. Given the uncertainties of the market and the project's short sales absorption life, Arcadia plans to 'un-bundle' the retail/commercial space and sell it at a modest price at construction completion to a 'master retailer.' To create an incentive for the retailer to purchase the property, we assume that the sales price will be minimal - 'our cost.' "

× Benderson Development: La Scala

What is the size of the tax increment financing?

Response: "Private uses will be assessed at approximately $41,497,750. The TIF contribution is calculated on this sum at the city's current millage rate. ¦ We anticipate the condominiums will sell at approximately $190 per square foot. Commercial rents will be consistent with the marketplace, ranging from $15 to $25 per square foot."

× Ersa Grae Corp.: Plaza Verdi

Are there any proposed affordable units?

Response: Yes. Sixteen of our units are below $300,000.

What is your proposed developer's cost of managing and administrating the project?

Response: About $2 million

What are the potential project costs to the city?

Response: None

× Sarasota Main Street LLC: The Palm

Economic Research Associates estimates the project's absorption schedule for housing units is 60 to 120 units per year - roughly three times what others are estimating.

Response: "We anticipate an absorption rate of between 10 units on the low side and 15 units per month on the high side. We strongly believe the market for this type of affordable units will be extremely attractive in Sarasota, and will experience an even higher rate during our pre-sale operation, perhaps in the range of 17 to 20 units per month."

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