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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 15 years ago

Coffee Talk (Tampa Edition)

This week's items: Bradenton and St. Petersburg models of redevelopment success? Larry Staff, of ResortQuest, forecasts good news for winter tourism The happenings of entrepreneur, developer and philanthropist Harvey Vengroff

Coffee Talk (Tampa Edition)

Role models

If Paul Wilborn has any say about it, Tampa policymakers would adopt downtown Bradenton and St. Petersburg as models of redevelopment success.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's creative industries manager, a Tampa native who spent the past several years in Los Angeles, expressed his amazement at a recent Tampa Downtown Partnership meeting about the progress of redevelopment in the two neighboring cities.

The former newspaper reporter hailed a decision by elected leaders in Bradenton to vacate prime waterfront property for public-private redevelopment opportunities and a separate initiative there to create a village for artists. He also cited the decision by St. Petersburg policymakers about 10 years ago to put more emphasis on arts and culture as a catalyst for downtown redevelopment.

With that in mind, however, Wilborn took a swipe at past redevelopment efforts in Tampa's Ybor City district. He cited one Ybor City building owner who spoke about his unsuccessful efforts to attract a tenant. Each of supposedly 40 prospective tenants claimed Ybor City's "Bourbon Street" image and haven for teen clubs does not suit their corporate needs, Wilborn says. "Now we're struggling to find an identity down there," he says.

It's high season again

Good news for all of those businesses tied to the snowbirds: Watch for a strong winter season.

Larry Starr, chief executive of the Gulf Coast operations for ResortQuest International Inc., the Destin-based $190 million (sales) rental resort property management firm, is expecting more double-digit sales growth this upcoming winter.

We say "more" double-digit growth because Starr tells Coffee Talk his firm's July sales exceeded 2002 sales by double-digit percentages. "It was the first breath of fresh air" since 9-11, Starr says, of July's results. ResortQuest's August sales along the Gulf Coast exceeded 2002 as well. September sales (usually a dog of a month) doubled over 2002, as did October sales.

For November and December, Starr says his firm's reservations are running 25% and 33% ahead of a year ago, respectively. For January through March, he says, reservations will be up 10% over 2002. Even the international traffic has begun rebounding. Over the summer, Starr says, his firm's international sales were up 25% to 30% over the same period a year ago.

"As our business goes up, everybody's business goes up," says Starr. "I think you can tell everyone the season is going to fine."

More anecdotal forecasts: Jim Layfield, president of Wedebrock Real Estate Co. on Longboat Key, says his rental reservations for the season are running well ahead of 2002. Meanwhile, fitness trainers at a Longboat Key resort are booked up entirely for the season. That was not the case last year. Also overheard: Several regular snowbirds have called the resort to say they're coming down two to three weeks earlier than originally planned.

Hot dogs for Harvey

The Downtown Association monthly lunch forums at the University Club are becoming an increasingly hot ticket. The latest one, Oct. 14, drew attendees from Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton - to hear Harvey and Carol Vengroff explain their ambitious Backlot venture.

The sleek multifunctional project planned for eight acres at Fruitville west of Lime Avenue will have a versatile 250-seat black box theater at its core, with a variety of artistic and creative uses surrounding it, such as a digital art gallery and studio, Sarasota Film Festival offices and screening room/ education space, performing arts and dance schools and other production and artistic support functions. Affordable rental housing for artists is a longer-term part of the scheme, depending on zoning.

Mrs. Vengroff is president of the Backlot and co-creator of the project concept. Her husband, successful local entrepreneur, developer and philanthropist, is part of the project as well. The audience heard from Mrs. Vengroff, project manager Mark Marvel, and architects Doug Driscoll and Janeen Pernigotti of the firm MOTHER.

But the Downtown Association members also wanted to hear from Vengroff, the shorts-and-T-shirt CEO who is not normally one for public speaking and adulation. After some cajoling, Vengroff finally agreed, on one condition: He did not want the fancy University Club lunch but would be willing to come if he could have two hot dogs with melted cheese.

Fortunately, Relish This had recently become a member of the Downtown Association and was happy to accommodate the request. With much fanfare, Vengroff was presented with the hot dogs on a plastic "to go" plate, adorned with a signature University Club orchid blossom.

Now, the hard part

The 18 Tampa Bay branches of Southern Exchange Bank officially came under the flag of Naples-based First National Bank of Florida Oct. 14.

The renaming was the culmination of parent FNB Corp.'s roughly $150 million purchase of the Tampa holding company for Southern Exchange, an all-cash deal that closed in March.

Now comes the challenge. The Florida banking industry will be watching to see if First National Bank of Florida can add to the former Southern Exchange's loan portfolio fast enough to make its entry into Hillsborough County worth the hefty price.

"The deal is strategically sound, but very expensive," financial services analyst Jefferson Harralson has observed. Harralson's firm, Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., does investment banking for FNB and is a market-maker in the stock.

The FNB price for Charter Banking Corp., the Southern Exchange holding company, was 3.9 times tangible book value. That's not out of line with other recent Florida bank sales, says Harralson. Some closed for around four times book value.

But FNB is counting on increasing Southern Exchange's loan-to-deposit ratio from 35% to 80% in three years. (It was 38%, as of June 30.) That pencils out to be $60 million a year in new loans.

FNB already has a loan office in Tampa. Plus, FNB enjoys a Pinellas County presence from its 1998 purchase of Clearwater's former Citizens Bank & Trust Co.

Still, Harralson has reservations. Although "no Florida franchise is complete without a Tampa presence," he concludes, "the significant loan growth assumptions could be more difficult in this low loan growth environment."


× Coffee Talk incorrectly reported last week the amount of the property tax bill on the Mattison's restaurant property. The correct amount is $4,978.55.

× William Kalish is a lawyer in the Tampa office of Akerman, Senterfitt & Eidson PA. His firm was misidentified in the Oct. 10 edition.

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