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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Apr. 8, 2005 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa)

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Trump going up?: Rumors are circulating that Turner Construction Co. is no longer the general contractor for the much-touted Trump Tower Tampa.We're No. 1: Does the Tampa Bay area have more white-collar crooks than anywhere else in Florida?Payday, payday: New research by a University of Florida professor claims that stateside payday lenders are targeting America's men and women in uniform.Barr none: Former Georgia congressman Bob Barr couldn't make it. New guy at Fifth Third: Fifth Third Bank (Florida) has a new leader in Hillsborough County.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Coffee Talk (Tampa)

Trump going up?

Rumors are circulating that Turner Construction Co. is no longer the general contractor for the much-touted Trump Tower Tampa. It seems Turner revised its preliminary figures, raising the cost of the project, according to the buzz.

And, of course, most of the condominiums, priced from $700,000 to $5.5 million, are already under contract to be sold at prices based on initial projections.

A Jan. 10 press release, put out by The Trump Organization, touted the $220 million luxury condominium project, saying it would be designed by Smith Barnes Santiesteban Architecture Inc. and built by Turner Construction Co.

But on Wednesday, April 6, Trump spokesman David Hooks said a general contractor hadn't been chosen.

"Turner was never confirmed," Hooks says. "There were discussions with them. Nothing has been finalized. But we will soon, probably within the next month, be announcing a general contractor."

January newspaper articles that listed Turner as the contractor were premature, Hooks says, adding: "They reported erroneously."

Coffee Talk wonders who's wrong here?

There is nothing on the Turner Web site to confirm or deny the rumor. And Turner General Manager Scott Skidelsky was out-of-town and unavailable for comment prior to press time.

But a projection by Turner, released in late February, stated the company's construction costs were expected to rise 9.35% in the first quarter from the same period a year earlier because of a cement shortage.

We're No. 1

Does the Tampa Bay area have more white-collar crooks than anywhere else in Florida?

That appears to be the word from Safe at Work, a coalition of business and law enforcement officials who advise Florida employers on protecting their work forces and property.

The coalition, which includes Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist's office, hired a Florida State University professor to calculate the local effects of business crime for 20 metropolitan areas in the state. Guess who came out on top?

White-collar crime cost businesses in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan statistical area almost $2 billion last year, according to Tim Lynch, director of FSU's Center for Economic Forecasting and Analysis.

We even beat Miami, which had to settle for second place. Lynch figures white-collar crime cost Miami about $139 million less than it did in the Bay area. Finally, South Florida has some good news to report about crime.

Lynch is merely projecting the impact of business crime, using what Safe At Work calls "the best available statewide and national data on the costs of crime to employers."

Still, his guesstimates should give the average Florida business owner pause. The folks in the suites appear to be stealing you blind - usually through asset misappropriation, bribery and fraud, says Lynch. The criminal inclinations of the suits and pantsuits cost nearly as much as the grunts out back on the dock.

In the Bay area, for example, the blue collars and others rang up $2.11 billion in costs from their 2004 criminal activities. The white collars managed to cost their employers $1.98 billion.

Payday, payday

New research by a University of Florida professor claims that stateside payday lenders are targeting America's men and women in uniform.

"Our study found that the ratio of payday lenders to banks was most lopsided in counties and ZIP codes with a military base," writes Christopher L. Peterson, an assistant professor at UF's Levin College of Law.

Peterson, who has written extensively about the sub-prime loan industry, enlisted California geography professor Steven M. Graves to map the addresses of payday loan offices in relation to military installations around the country. The two profs didn't sound too surprised to find that storefront shylocks tend to migrate to locations close by the base gates.

In Florida, where payday lenders can legally charge an effective annual interest rate of up to 390%, Hillsborough County has the second-highest concentration of payday lenders. The leader in Florida is Duval County, which includes Jacksonville.

But Peterson and Graves were reluctant to ascribe Hillsborough's ranking solely to the presence of MacDill Air Force. The base is in Tampa. Peterson and Graves were more comfortable studying the payday phenomenon in sparsely populated and rural counties, where large demographic groups of non-military borrowers wouldn't skew the study's conclusions so much.

The researchers did note that there are only three payday lenders in adjacent ZIP codes to MacDill. Within five miles of the base, however, there are more than 50.

Exploitation of military personnel by the financial services industry has gotten congressional attention following a recent New York Times expose of insurance sales practices on the post.

Barr none

Former Georgia congressman Bob Barr couldn't make it. So Tampa attorney Rebecca Harrison Steele helped a Pinellas County political club line up a substitute anti-USA Patriot Act speaker.

On paper, retired U.S. Army colonel Mike Pheneger would seem to be about as likely to criticize the Patriot Act as Barr, the outspoken ex-prosecutor who voted for the 2001 law while still in Congress.

But both Pheneger, who worked in military intelligence, and Barr are part of a campaign by advocates across the political spectrum to rewrite portions of the Patriot Act, some of which are set to expire later this year.

Steele, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida's local office, called on fellow ACLU member Pheneger to fill in for Barr at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on April 5.

"Right now, what we need is more light and less secrecy," Pheneger told the Tigers at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg.

Pheneger, 65, might be the only lifelong Republican in history who, according his Tiger Bay Club introduction, got his ACLU card at the same time he registered to vote.

New guy at Fifth Third

Fifth Third Bank (Florida) has a new leader in Hillsborough County. William Thorla relocated to Florida in January to assume the position of vice president and regional manager for the area. Thorla, who most recently served as a vice president and regional manager for Fifth Third Bank Western Ohio, has been with the bank for five years.

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