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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 20, 2004 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

This week's items: The Ruben/Vogler split: What really happenedStanley Appel looks for rhythm and identitySt. Armands Circle hires a consultantErik Vonk, chairman and CEO of Bradenton-based Gevity HR, delivers what he promised Wall Stree

Coffee Talk (Sara/Mana edition)

The Ruben/Vogler split: What really happened

Did they get fired? Did they have a disagreement? Did they leave because the founder's son was moving here?

Wayne Ruben and Ed Vogler have fielded all sorts of similar questions in the past two weeks about their surprising departures from Benderson Development. The answers to the questions: No, no and no.

As previously reported in GCBR, Ruben resigned from the nation's largest privately held commercial development and property management firm because of health reasons (he underwent two back surgeries in December and January). Not one to stay down long, however, Ruben has teamed up in a new firm RLH Development with two friends - Larry Lieberman, president of the Barrington Group and Roger Holland, president of Hostetter Construction Co. - and his son, Aaron.

Vogler announced a week ago, he too is leaving Benderson. He is forming a new law firm with Kimberly Ashton, one of his former partners at Blalock Landers & Walters PA. Vogler was a name partner at Blalock Landers before he joined Benderson as a partner about a year ago.

Asked if he was influenced by the departure of Ruben, a friend and business associate of Vogler's for several years, Vogler says: "Not in a direct way." Vogler described a fast-paced environment in which he and Ruben were handling multiple projects. "Here's what really happened," Vogler says. "When I looked at the size and complexity of what we were doing, we couldn't do it all. We had to have a team of lawyers. The choice was hire in-house lawyers or create a boutique.

"It's not that I don't like these people. I have a great relationship with the Bendersons. It's better than it has ever been. It was a manpower dilemma."

Vogler obviously opted for the boutique. "I run the practice. I control that destiny," he says. Vogler's firm will continue to handle Benderson-related business. And he will remain a partner in some of the Benderson developments in which he became involved. But those partnerships typically don't pay off, he says, until there is success "at the end."

Vogler's firm, to be based in a signature building at Lakewood Ranch (he declined to be specific), will focus on real estate deals, land use, environmental and permitting. He and Ashton expect to hire three more lawyers. "The phone calls haven't stopped," Vogler says. "Not one former client has said he's not coming with me." He also has heard from two Sarasota law firms that want to strike affiliations with Vogler's firm.

He looks for rhythm and identity

Stanley Appel doesn't try to create a fuss; in fact, one of his mottos over the past 80 years has been to "be the quiet boys on the street."

It's difficult not to get noticed, however, when you announce plans to invest $15 million in an arts and theater development at Lakewood Ranch Town Center. Appel's firm, S.S. Appel & Co. Inc., unveiled his plans to develop two theaters, several restaurants, retail and office space, an outdoor amphitheater and a bell/clock tower.

Appel, a part-time Sarasota resident for 30 years, has worked in hotel development and management most of his career in such places as Egypt, Scotland, Israel, Thailand and the United States.

A former senior executive with Prime Hospitality Co., Appel supervised the company's acquisition of the Howard Johnson, Ramada Inn and Wellesley Inn chains.

In 1975, Appel and Judith Torres Sheer founded First Hospitality Corp. of America, a marketing management firm. The company's goal was to increase occupancy rates at hotel chains through special promotions and groups, but it became a hotel operator, mainly in Europe. The company grew from operating three hotels to part-ownership and operation of 32.

Appel says he was attracted to do the Lakewood Ranch project because it "reminds me of Milton Keynes in England. The government was trying to fix up some of the slum areas, so they assigned certain (architects) to each city. It's an area about 80 miles outside of London that was largely designed by a friend of mine - Fred Roche. That is an area with definite class and identity. I look for areas that have a rhythm and identity."

St. Armands hires a consultant

Well, we can be sure of one thing: The remake or upscaling of St. Armands Circle won't take on the feel of New York City's Grand Central Station Terminal or Washington, D.C.'s Union Station. The Circle's Business Improvement District has hired a strategic consultant, but it's not the high-priced Blue Chip firm of Williams Jackson Ewing that it had discussions with more than a year ago.

It's Sarasota-based Mike Sisti & Others Inc.

The St. Armands Business Improvement District recently hired Sisti to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for the Circle. "The overall goal is to enhance the brand, to make St. Armands a much more prestigious destination for upscale shoppers," says Sisti, vice president of Sisti & Others. "The Business Improvement District wants St. Armands to become the next Worth Avenue or the next Rodeo Drive. I think it's a very lofty goal, but I think it can be achieved over time."

Prior to launching the campaign, Sisti & Others will conduct a demographics study on shoppers and visitors to the Circle. "Once we have the research data, we'll create a substantial media kit that we'll distribute to news and entertainment media outside the immediate area," Sisti says. "We'll gradually start distributing the media kit to the national publications."

Sisti moved to Sarasota from Rhode Island almost two years ago with his wife, Sara, the company's president. He previously was chief communications officer of Blue Cross, Blue Shield of Rhode Island, where he was responsible for all advertising, public relations, marketing communications, product literature, event planning and Web site development. He spent six years at the health plan.


Erik Vonk, chairman and CEO of Bradenton-based Gevity HR, delivers what he promised Wall Street. Gevity reported fully diluted earnings for 2003 at 62 cents a share, a 182% increase over a year ago. Operating income rose 118%, while sales rose only 13% - a clear sign that Gevity has regained control of its expenses ¦ Harvey Vengroff, founder of Vengroff Williams & Associates and an active investor in rental housing, says he can build affordable housing in Sarasota. Williams plans to build three-bedroom, two-bath homes for less than $125,000 on five acres on Old Bradenton Road just south of the dog track.

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